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Life in the Roman World of Nero and St. Paul by T. G. Tucker

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governor of no less important a province than "Asia"--that nearer
portion of Asia Minor which contained flourishing cities like Smyrna,
Ephesus, and Rhodes. In that office, as in any other which he may
hold, it behoves him to comport himself with caution and modesty. If
he is a man of unusual influence or popularity he will do well to keep
the fact concealed. There must be nothing in his demeanour or his
speech to lay him open to a charge of becoming dangerous to the
emperor. That emperor is Nero; and even stronger and saner emperors
than Nero watched suspiciously the behaviour of aspiring men.



To undertake to set forth with any definiteness the "religious ideas
of a Roman" of A.D. 64 would be an extremely difficult task. Those
ideas would differ with the individual, being determined or varied by
a number of considerations and influences--by locality, education, and
temperament. Silius would not hold the views of Scius and probably not
those of Marcia. We may speak of the "State religion" of Rome, as
distinct from various other religions tolerated and practised in
different parts of the empire, but it is scarcely possible to define
the contents of that "State religion." There were certain special
priests and priestly bodies who saw to it that certain rites and
ceremonies should be perfortied scrupulously in a prescribed manner
and on prescribed dates; but these were officers of the state, whose
knowledge and functions were confined to the ritual observances with
which they had to deal. They were not persons trained in a system of
theology, nor were they preachers of a code of doctrines or morals;
they had no "cure of souls," and belonged to no church; they had no
_credo_ and no Bible or corresponding authority to which to refer.
Though most well-informed persons could have told the names of the
prominent deities in the calendar--such as Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, and
Ceres--perhaps scarcely any one but an encyclopaedist or antiquarian
could have named one-half of the total. It is not merely that the
deities on the list were so numerous. There were other reasons for
ignorance or vagueness. In the first place, the line between the
operations of one deity and those of another was often too fine to
draw, and deities originally more or less distinct came to be confused
or identified. Secondly, it was often hard, if not impossible, to make
up one's mind whether a so-called deity--such as Virtue, Peace, or
Health--was supposed to have a real existence, or whether it was
simply the personification of an abstract quality. Thirdly, many of
the ancient divinities had fallen out of fashion, and to a large
extent out of memory, while many new ones--Isis and Serapis for
example--had come, or were coming, into vogue.

The state possessed its old-established calendar of days sacred to a
number of deities, and its code of ritual to be performed in their
honour. There were ancient prescriptions as to what certain priests
should wear, what they should do or avoid in their priestly character,
what victims--ox, sheep, or pig--they should sacrifice, what
instruments they should use for the purpose, and in what formula of
words they should pray in particular connections. There was a standing
commission, with the Pontifex Maximus--at this date that excellent
religious authority, the emperor Nero--at its head, to safeguard the
state religion, to see that its requirements were carried out, and
that no one ventured to commit an outrage towards it. But the state
could not have told you with any precision that you must believe in
just so many deities and no others; it could not have told you
precisely what notions to entertain concerning those deities whom it
did officially recognise; it dictated no theological doctrines;
neither did it dictate any moral doctrines beyond those which you
would find in the secular law. It reserved the right to prevent the
introduction of foreign or new divinities if it found sufficient
cause; but so long as the temples, the rites and ceremonies, the
cardinal moral axioms of the Roman "religion," and the basic
principles of Roman society were respected, the state practised no
sort of inquisition into your beliefs or non-beliefs, and in no way
interfered with your particular selection of favourite deities.

Polytheism in an advanced community is always tolerant, because it is
necessarily always indefinite. What it does not readily endure is an
organised attack upon the entire system, whether openly avowed or
manifestly implied. Even undisguised unbelief in any deity at all it
is often willing to tolerate, so long as the unbelief is rather a
matter of dialectics than anything else, and makes no attempt at a
crusade. When a state so disposed is found to interfere with a novel
religion, it will generally be easy to perceive that the jealousy is
not on behalf of the deities nor of a creed, but on behalf of the
community in its political, economic, or social aspect. This, however,
is perhaps to anticipate. Let us endeavour to realise as best we can
the religious situation among the Roman or romanized portion of the

Though we are not here directly concerned with the steps by which the
Roman religion had come to be what it was, we can scarcely hope to
understand the position without some comprehension of that
development. The Romans were a conservative people, and many of the
peculiarities of their worship were due to the retention of old forms
which had lost such spirit as they once possessed.

In the infant days of the nation there had been no such things as gods
in human shape, or in recognisable shape at all. There were only
"powers" or "influences" superior to mankind, by whose aid or
concurrence man must work out his existence. The early Romans and such
Italian tribes as they became blended with were, as they still are,
extremely superstitious. In a pre-scientific age they, like other
peoples, were at a loss to understand what produced thunder and
lightning, rain, the fertility or failure of crops, the changes of the
seasons, the flow or cessation of springs and streams, the
intoxication or exhilaration proceeding from wine, and a multitude of
other phenomena. Fire was a perplexing thing; so was wind: the woods
were full of mysterious sounds and movements. They could comprehend
neither birth nor death, nor the fructification of plants. The
consequence was a feeling that these things were due to unseen
agencies; and the attempt was made to bring those powers into some
sort of relation with mankind, either by the compulsion of magical
operations and magical formulae, or by sacrifices and offerings of
propitiation, or by promises. A superhuman power might be placed under
a spell, or placated with food and drink, or persuaded by a vow. Such
"powers" were exceedingly numerous. Greatest of all, and recognised
equally by all, was the power working in the sky with the thunder and
the rain. Its presence was everywhere alike, and its operations most
palpable at every season. Countless others were concerned with
particular localities or with particular functions. Every wood, if not
every tree, and also every fountain, was controlled by some such
higher "power"; every manifestation or operation of nature came from
such an "influence." There was no kind of action or undertaking, no
new stage of life or change of condition, which did not depend for
help or hindrance upon a similar power. At first the "powers" bore no
distinctive names, and were conceived in no definite shapes. They were
not yet gods. The human being who sought to work upon them to favour
him could only do, say, and offer such things as he thought likely to
move them. But in process of time it became inevitable that these
superhuman agencies should be referred to under some sort of title,
and the title literally expressed the conception. Hence a multitude of
names. Not only was there the ever-prominent Jupiter or "sky-father";
there a veritable multitude of powers with provinces great and small.
Among the larger conceptions the power concerned with the sowing of
seed was Saturn that with the growth of crops was Ceres, that with the
blazing of fire was Vesta. Among the smaller the power which taught a
babe to eat was Edulia that which attended the bringing home of a
bride was Domiduca. The ability to speak or to walk was supposed to be
imparted by separate agencies named accordingly. Flowers depended on
Flora and fruits on Pomona.

[Illustration: FIG. 109.--JUPITER.]

But to assign a name is a great step towards creating a "power" into a
"god," and such agencies began to take shape in the mind of those who
named them. This was the second stage. Jupiter, Ceres, Saturn, and
almost all the rest became "gods." The powers in the woodlands--a
Silvanus or Faunus--became embodied, like the more modern gnomes and
kobbolds. Once imagine a shape, and the tendency is to give it visible
form in an image "like unto man," and to honour it with an abode--a
temple or shrine. The earliest Romans known to us erected no images or
temples, but they were not long in creating them. Particularly rapid
was the reducing of a god to human form when they came into close
contact with the Etruscans and the Greeks. For all the important
deities poetry and art combined to evolve an appropriate bodily form,
which gradually became conventional, so that the ordinary notion of a
Jupiter, a Juno, a Mercury, or a Ceres was approximately that which
had been gathered from the statue thus developed. This trouble was not
taken with all the most ancient divinities. Many of the old rural and
local deities, and many of those with quite minor provinces, were left
vague and unrealised. They were represented in no temples and by no
statues. Naturally as the Roman state grew from a set of neighbouring
farms into a great city, and from a small settlement into a vast
empire, the little local gods fell into the background. The deities
which concerned the state, and to which it erected temples, were those
with the more far-reaching operations--such as the gods identified
with the sky and its thunders, with war, with fertility, with the sea,
with the hearth-fire of all Rome. The rest might well be left to
localities or to domestic worship.

From the early days of Rome there existed a calendar for festivals to
certain divinities important to the little growing town, and a code of
ceremonies to be performed in their honour, and of formulae of prayer
to be offered to them. The later Romans, in their characteristic
conservatism, adhered to those festivals, to that ritual, and to those
formulae, even when some of the deities had ceased to be of
appreciable account, and when neither the meaning of the ritual nor
the sense of the old words was any longer understood by the very
priests who used them.

Reflect a moment on this situation. First, we have a number of deities
of the first rank, housed in temples, embodied in statues, and
recognised in all the Roman world; next a number of minor divinities
whose operations and worship may be remotely rural or otherwise local,
and whose functions are by no means always distinguishable from those
of the greater gods; then a series of more or less unintelligible
ceremonials carried out by ancient rule in honour of divinities often
practically forgotten; outside these a number of vague powers
presiding over small domestic and other actions; finally, a peculiar
Roman tendency--in keeping with the last--to erect into divinities,
and to symbolise in statue housed in temples, all manner of abstract
qualities and states, such as Hope, Harmony, Peace, Wealth, Health,
Fame, and Youth.

[Illustration: FIG. 110.--A SACRIFICE.]

Reflect again that, when the Romans, as they spread, came into contact
with Greeks, Egyptians, or other foreigners, they met with deities
whose provinces were necessarily often identical with or closely akin
to their own. Then remember that there is no church and no official
document to define the complete list of Roman gods. Does it not
follow, as a matter of course, on the one hand, that the importation
of new gods was an easy matter, and on the other, that no individual
Roman could draw the line as to the number of even the old-established
deities in whom he should or should not believe?

The guardians of the public religion were satisfied if the due rites
were paid by the state to those deities, on those dates, and precisely
in that manner, which happened to be prescribed in the official
religious books. For the rest they left matters to the individual.

So much it has been necessary to say in order to account for existing
attitudes. We must use the plural, since the attitude of the state
officials is but one of several, and, inasmuch as the state officials
themselves were not a theological caste but only secular servants of
the community administering the regulations for external worship as
laid down in the records, it often happened that their official
attitude had nothing to do with their individual beliefs. Often they
did not know or care whether there was a real religious efficacy in
the acts which they performed; sometimes all that they knew was that
they were doing what the state required to be done properly by some

Cicero quotes a dictum of a Pontifex Maximus that there was one
religion of the poet, another of the philosopher, and another of the
statesman. This is true, but it is hardly adequate. We must at least
add that of the common people. A well-known statement of more modern
birth puts the case--rather too strongly--that at our period all
religions were regarded by the people as equally true, by the
philosopher as equally false and by the statesman as equally useful.
We may begin with the ordinary people of whatever station, who were
not poets nor thinkers nor magistrates. It is an error to suppose that
such Romans of the first century were either atheistic or indifferent
to religion. Their fault was rather that they were too superstitious,
ready to believe too much rather than too little, but to believe
without relating their belief to conduct. They did not question the
existence of the traditional gods, nor the characters attributed to
them; they were ready to perform their dues of worship and to make
their due offerings, but all this had no bearing upon their own
morality. They believed with the terror of the superstitious in omens
and portents, and in rites of expiation and purification to avert the
threatened evil. They were alarmed by thunder and lightning,
earthquakes, bad dreams, ravens seen on the wrong side of the road,
and other evil tokens. They commonly accepted the existence of malign
spirits, including ghosts. They were prepared to believe that on
occasion a statue had bled or turned round on its base; that an ox had
spoken in human language; or that there had been a rain of blood.
There were doubtless exceptions, and superstition was less dire and
oppressive than once it was. More than fifty years before our date
Cicero had said that even old women no longer shuddered at the terrors
of an underworld, and fifty years after it the satirist asserts the
same of children. But both writers are speaking somewhat
hyperbolically. Doubtless it had been wondered how two augurs could
look at each other without a smile, but there is nothing to show that
even a minority of augurs were acutely conscious of anything to smile

[Illustration: FIG. 111.--ISIS WORSHIP. (Wall-Painting.)]

In the multiplicity of deities the ordinary people were prepared to
accept as many more as you chose to offer them, especially if the
worship attaching to them contained mystic or orgiastic ceremonies. By
this date the populace had become exceedingly mixed, especially in the
capital, and the cool hard-headed Roman stock had been largely
replaced or leavened by foreign elements, especially from the East.
The official worship of the state was formal and frigid; it offered
nothing to the emotions or the hopes. Many among the people felt an
instinct for something more sacramental, and especially attractive was
any form of worship which promised a continued existence, and probably
a happier existence, after death. Even the mere mysteriousness of a
form of worship had its allurements. Hence a tendency to Judaism,
still more to the Egyptian worship of Isis and Osiris. The latter made
many proselytes, particularly among the women, and contained ideas
which are by no means ignoble but to our modern minds far more truly
"religious" than anything to be found in the native Roman cults. To
pass through purification, to practise asceticism, to feel that there
was a life beyond the grave apportioned to your deserts, to go through
an impressive form of worship held every day, and to have the emotions
thus worked upon--all this supplied something to the moral nature
which was lacking in the chill sacrifices and prayers to Jupiter and
the other national divinities. In vain had the authorities, in their
doubt as to the moral effects, tried on several occasions to suppress
this foreign worship; it always revived, and it now held its
established place both in the imperial city and in the provinces,
particularly near the sea, for it was especially a sailors' religion.
Rome, like Pompeii, had its temple of Isis and her daily celebrations.
There was, however, no necessary conflict between this worship and the
official religion. It was quite possible to accept Isis while
accepting Jupiter. Nor, though this particular cult has required
mention, must it be taken as belonging to more than a section of the
Roman population. Most Romans would look upon it and other deviations
with acquiescence, some with contempt, and perhaps some with a shake
of the head, while themselves satisfied with an indifferent conformity
to the more established customs of the state.

Setting aside the devotees of the mystic, the more ordinary point of
view was that between Romans and the established gods of Rome there is
an understanding. The gods will support Rome so long as Rome pays to
them their dues of formal recognition. Their ritual must not be
neglected by the authorities; it is not necessary for an individual
member of the community to concern himself further in the matter. The
state, through its appointed ministers, will make the necessary
sacrifices and say the necessary words; the citizen need not put in an
appearance or take any part. He will not do or say anything
disrespectful towards the deities in question, and he will enjoy the
festivals belonging to them. If remarkable portents and disasters
occur, he will agree that there is something wrong in the behaviour of
the state, and that there must be some public purification or other
placation of the gods. If the state orders such a proceeding, he will
perform whatever may be his share in it. So far he is loyal to the
"religion of the state."

[Illustration: FIG. 112.--HOUSEHOLD SHRINE. (Pompeii.)]

In his private capacity he has his own wants, fears, and hopes. He
therefore betakes himself to whatever divinity he considers most
likely to help him; he makes his own prayers and vows an offering if
his request is granted. Reduced to plain commercial language his
ordinary attitude is--no success, no payment. A cardinal difference
between the religion of the Romans and our own is to be seen in the
nature of their prayers. They always ask for some definite
advantage--prosperity, safety, health, or the like. They never pray
for a clean heart or for some moral improvement. Of more importance
than the man's moral condition will be his scrupulous observance of
the right external practices. Unlike the Greek, he will cover his head
when he prays. He will raise his hand to his lips before the statue,
or, if he is appealing to the celestial deities, he will stretch his
palms upwards above his head; if to the infernal powers, he will hold
them downwards. These are the things that matter.

At home, if he belongs to the better type of representative citizen,
our Roman has his household shrine and his household divinities, whom
he never neglects. If he is very pious, he may pray to them every
morning, or at least before every enterprise. In any case he will
remember them with a small offering when he dines. There are the "gods
of the stores"--his "penates"--certain deities whom he has selected as
guardians of his belongings, and who have their little images by the
hearth in the kitchen. There is the household "protector," or more
commonly there are two, who may be painted under the form of
lightly-stepping youths in a little niche or shrine above a small
altar. To these he will offer fruits, flowers, incense, and cakes. And
there is the "Genius" of the master of the house, who is also painted
on the wall, or who may be represented by his own portrait bust or by
the picture of a snake. That "Genius" means the power presiding over
his vitality and health and wellbeing. If he is an artisan and belongs
to a guild, he will pay special worship to the patron god or goddess
of that guild--to Vesta, if he is a baker, to Minerva, if he is a
fuller. Out of doors he will find a street shrine in the wall at a
crossing, pertaining to the tutelary god of what may be called his
"parish," and this he will not neglect. Like all other orthodox Romans
he will not undertake any new enterprise--betrothal, marriage,
journey, or important business--without ascertaining that the auspices
are favourable.

In a general way he has a notion that the gods are displeased at
certain forms of crime, and that they approve of justice and the
carrying out of compacts. The gods overlook the state, because the
state engages them so to do, and therefore to break the laws of the
state is to anger the gods of the state. But this is rather subtle for
the common man, and there is generally no understood immediate
relation between these gods and his moral conduct, unless he has sworn
an oath by one or other of them. The purpose of calling a god to
witness is to bring upon a perjurer the anger of the offended deity.
But he entertains no such conception as the modern one of "sin" or of
"remorse for sin." "Sin" is either a breach of the secular law or
breach of a contract with a deity and "remorse" is but fear of or
regret for the consequences.

His morality is determined by the laws of the state, family
discipline, and social custom. For that reason his vices on the
positive side will mostly be those of his appetites, and on the
negative side a want of charity and compassion. He may be guiltless of
lying and stealing, murder and violence; he may be honest and
law-abiding; but there is nothing to make him temperate, continent, or
gentle. His avowed code is "duty," and duty is defined by law and

If this is the religious condition of the common-place man or woman--a
blend of superstition, formalism, and tolerance--it is by no means
that of the educated thinker. Such persons were for the most part
freethinkers. Many of them, finding no better guide to conduct,
conform to the "religion" of the state without any real belief in its
gods or attaching any importance to its ceremonies. They do not feel
called upon to propagate any other views, and they probably think the
current notions are at least as good for the ignorant as any others.
If they are poets, like Horace or Lucan, they will dress up the
mythology, mostly from Greek models, and write fluently about Jupiter
and Juno, Venus and Mercury, either attributing to them the recognised
characters and legends, or varying them so as to make them more
picturesque and interesting--perhaps even improving them--but all the
time believing no more in the stories they are telling, or in the
deities themselves, than Tennyson need have believed in King Arthur
and Guinevere. The gods are good poetic material and are sure to
afford popular, or at least inoffensive, reading. The poets doubtless
do something to humanise and beautify the popular conception of a
deity, but they seldom deliberately set out with any such purpose. If
the educated are not poets, but public men of affairs, they may
believe just as little, and yet regard the established cult of the
gods as an excellent discipline for the vulgar and the best known
means of upholding the national principle of "duty." If they are
philosophers they may not, and the Epicureans in reality do not,
believe in the gods at all--certainly not as they are generally
conceived--and will openly discuss in speech and in writing the
question of their existence or non-existence, and of their character
and nature if they do exist. They will endeavour to substitute for the
barren formalism of rites and ceremonies, or the inconsistent or
incomplete traditional morality of duty, another set of principles as
a sounder guide to life and conduct. Some are monotheists, some are
simply in doubt. Says Nero's own tutor, Seneca, "Do you want to
propitiate the gods? Then be good. The true worshipper of the gods is
he who acts like them." "Better," remarks Plutarch, "not believe in a
God at all than cringe before a god who is worse than the worst of
men." In the actual worship of images none of them believe. One
conspicuous writer of the time says: "To look for a form and shape to
a god, I consider to be a mark of human feebleness of mind."
Concerning the schools of thought and in particular the tenets of
those Stoics and Epicureans whom St. Paul met at Athens, and whom he
could meet in educated circles all over the Roman Empire, we shall
have to speak in a following chapter, when summing up the intellectual
and moral condition of the time. Meanwhile it should be understood
that, though a profound or anything approaching a professional study
of philosophy was discouraged among the true Romans--more than once
the professional philosophers were banished from the capital--there
were few cultivated persons who did not to some extent dabble in it,
and even go so far as to profess an adherence to one school or
another. None of these men believed in the "Roman religion" as
administered by the state, although many of them were administering it
themselves. The same man could one day freely discuss the gods in
conversation or a treatise, and the next he might be clad in priestly
garb and officially seeing that the rites of sacrifice were being
religiously carried out in terms of the books, or that the auspices
were being properly taken.

It does not, however, follow at all that because poet or public man
cared nothing for the pantheon and all its mythology, he was therefore
without his superstitions. He might still tremble at signs and
portents, at comets, at dreams, and at the unpropitious behaviour of
birds and beasts. He might believe in astrology and resort to its
professors, called the "Chaldaeans." On the other hand he might laugh
at such things. It was all a matter of temperament. It certainly was
not every man who dared to act like one of the Roman admirals. When it
was reported that the omens were unpropitious to an imminent battle
because the sacred chickens "would not eat," he ordered them to be
thrown into the sea so that at least they might drink. The
freethinkers were in advance of their times. "Science" in the modern
sense hardly existed, and until phenomena are explained it is hard to
avoid a perplexity or astonishment which is equivalent to

Consider now these various states of mind--that of the people, ready
to add almost any deity to the large and vague number already
recognised; that of the poet, who finds the deities such useful
literary material; that of the magistrate or public man, who, without
enthusiasm or necessary belief, regards religion as a thing useful to
society; and that of the philosopher, who thinks all the current
religious conceptions unsound, if not absurd, and morally almost

Manifestly a society so composed will be one of unusual tolerance. The
Romans had no disposition to force their religion on the subject
provinces of the empire. Their religion was the Roman religion; the
religion of the Greeks might be left Greek, the Jewish religion
Jewish, and the Egyptian religion Egyptian. Any nation had a right to
the religion of its fathers. Nay, the Jews had such peculiar notions
about a Sabbath day and other matters that a Jew was exempted from the
military service which would have compelled him to break his national
laws. All religions were permitted, so long as they were national
religions. Also all religious views were permitted to the individual,
so long as they were not considered dangerous to the empire or
imperial rule, or so long as they threatened no appreciable harm to
the social order. If a Jew came to Rome and practised Judaism well and
good. It was, in the eyes of the Romans, a narrow-minded and
uncharitable religion, marked by many strange and absurd practices and
superstitions, but if a misguided oriental people liked to indulge in
it, well and good. Even if a Roman became a proselyte to Judaism, well
and good, so long as he did not flout the official religion of his own
country. If the Egyptians chose to worship cats, ibises, and
crocodiles, that was their affair, so long as they let other people
alone. In Gaul, it is true, the emperor Claudius, predecessor of Nero,
had put down the Druids. Earlier still the Druids had already been
interfered with; but that was because the Druids--those weird old
white-sheeted men with their long beards and strange magic--were
performing human sacrifices--burning men alive in wicker frames--and
such conduct was not only contrary to the secular law of Rome, but
even to natural law. And when Claudius finally suppressed them, or
drove the remnant out of Gaul into Britain, it was not simply because
they worshipped non-Roman gods and performed non-Roman rites, but
because they were, as they had always notoriously been, a dangerous
political influence interfering with the proper carrying out of the
Roman government.

And when we come to Christianity it must be remarked that, so long as
that nascent religion was regarded as merely a variety of Judaism, it
was actually protected by the Roman power, and owes no little of its
original progress to the fact. In the Acts of the Apostles it is
always from the Roman governor that St. Paul receives, not only the
fairest, but the most courteous treatment. It is the Jews who
persecute him and work up difficulties against him, because to them he
is a renegade and is weaning away their people. To the philosophers at
Athens he appears as the preacher of a new philosophy, and they think
him a "smatterer" in such subjects. To the Roman he is a man charged
by a certain community with being dangerous to social order, to wit,
causing factious disturbances and profaning the temple; and since he
refuses to let the local authorities judge his case, and has exercised
his citizen privilege by appealing to Caesar, to Caesar he is sent.
And, when a prisoner in somewhat free custody at Rome, note that he is
permitted to speak "with all freedom," and that in the first instance
he is acquitted.

True, but the fact remains that Nero burnt Christians in his gardens
after the great fire of Rome, and that certain later emperors are
found punishing Christians merely for avowing themselves such. Why was
Christianity thus singled out? It was not through what can be
reasonably called "religious intolerance," for, as has been said, the
Romans did not seek to force Roman religion on other peoples nor did
they make any inquisition into the beliefs of Romans themselves. The
reasons for singling out Christianity for special treatment are
obvious enough. The question is not whether the reasons were sound,
whether the Romans properly understood or tried to understand, whether
they could be as wise before the event as we are after it, but whether
the motive was what we should call a "religious" one. To allow
Epicureans to deny the existence of gods at all, and to make scornful
concessions to the peculiar tenets of Jews, could not be the action of
a people which was bigoted. If there was bigotry and intolerance, it
was political or social bigotry and intolerance, not religious. To
prevent any possible misconception let the present writer say here
that he considers the principles of Christianity, as laid down by its
Founder and as spread by St. Paul, to have been the most humanizing
and civilising influence ever brought to bear upon society. But that
is not the point. The early Christians were treated as they were, not
because they held non-Roman views, but because they held anti-Roman
views; not because they did not believe in Jupiter and Venus, but
because they refused to let any one else believe in them; not because
they threatened to weaken Roman faith, but because they threatened to
weaken and even to wreck the whole fabric of Roman society; not
because they were known to be heretics, but because they were supposed
to be disloyal; not because they converted men, but because they
appeared to convert them into dangerous characters. As it has been
put, the Christians were regarded as the "Nihilists" of the period. We
are apt to judge the Romans from the standpoint of Christianity
dominant and understood; it is fairer to judge them from the
standpoint of a dominant pagan empire looking on at a strange new
phenomenon altogether misunderstood and often deliberately
misrepresented. Moreover--and the point is worth more attention than
it commonly receives--we have only to read the Epistles to the
Corinthians, to perceive that the early Christian gatherings were by
no means always such meek, pure, and model assemblages as they are
almost always assumed to have been. Some of the members, for instance,
quarrelled and "were drunken." There were evidently many unworthy
members of the new communion, and of course there were also many
manifestations of insulting bigotry on their part. The class of
society to which the Christians belonged was closely associated in the
Roman mind with the rabble and the slave, if not with criminals. What
the pagan observer saw in the new religion was "a pestilent
superstition," "hatred of the human race," "a malevolent
superstition." He thought its practices to be connected with magic.
The _intransigeant_ Christian refused to take the customary oath in
the law courts, and therefore appeared to menace a trustworthy
administration of the law. He took no interest in the affairs of the
empire, but talked of another king and his coming kingdom, and he
appeared to be an enemy to the Roman power. He held what appeared to
be secret meetings, although the empire rigidly suppressed all secret
societies. He weakened the martial spirit of the soldier. He divided
families--the basis of Roman society--against themselves. He was a
socialist leveller. He threatened with ruin all the trades connected
with either the established worship--as amongst the silversmiths at
Ephesus--or with the luxuries and amusements of life. Those amusements
in circus or amphitheatre he hated, and therefore appeared
misanthropic. He not only stood aloof from the religious observances
of the state and the household, but treated them with contempt or

Moreover, at this date, he refused to acknowledge the one great symbol
of the imperial authority. This was the statue of the emperor. When
that statue was set up in every town it was not understood by any
intelligent man that the emperor was actually a god, or that, when
incense was burnt before the statue, it was being burned to the
emperor himself as deity. But just as every householder had his
attendant "Genius"--the power determining his vital functions and
well-being--which was often represented as a bust with the man's own
features, so the statue of the Augustus, "His Highness," represented
the Genius of that Head of the State, and the offering of incense was
meant as an appeal to the Genius to keep the emperor and the imperial
power "in health and wealth long to live." The man who refused to make
such an offering was necessarily considered to be ill-disposed to the
majesty and welfare of the Head of the State, and therefore of the
state itself. The Roman attitude towards the early Christians was
partly that of a modern government towards Nihilists, and partly that
of a generation or two ago to a blend of extreme Radical with extreme

We are not here concerned with the whole story of the persecution of
the Christians, but only with the situation at and immediately after
the date we have chosen. It is at least quite certain that when Nero
burned the Christians in the year 64 he was treating them, not as the
adherents of a religion, but as social criminals or nuisances. How far
his notions of Christianity may have been influenced by Poppaea we do
not know. At least he believed he was pleasing the populace.



In describing the education of a Roman youth, and also in setting
forth the various religious attitudes of the time, mention has been
made of the pursuit of philosophy. Religion supplied no real guide to
moral conduct, and education provided little exercise for the
cultivation of the higher intellectual faculties. It was left for
philosophy to fill these blanks as best it could. Unlike the Greeks,
the Romans, great as they were in law-making and administration, had
little natural gift or taste for abstract thought. All the philosophic
sects had been founded and continued by Greeks, and it was still to
the Greek half of the empire that the contemporary world looked for
the best schools and teachers of philosophy. The genuine Roman spirit
at all times felt some mistrust of such studies, especially if they
tended to carry the student away from practical life into the "shade"
and the "corner," or if they tended to subvert the traditional notions
of "duty" as inculcated by Roman law, Roman custom, and the religion
of the state. Nevertheless, not only did many Romans, even of mature
years, resort to the philosophic "Universities" of the time, but
wealthy houses often maintained a domestic philosopher, whose business
it was to supply moral teaching and intellectual companionship to his
employer. Some, indeed, preferred merely a _savant_, who might "post"
them with information concerning Greek writers, explain difficulties,
and act in general as a literary _vade mecum_. In many cases, if not
in most, the Roman aristocrat or plutocrat treated such a retainer as
a social inferior.

The Roman attitude towards thought and learning too often reminds one
of a certain modern type which has been irreverently described as
being "death on culture." While the Greek and graecized oriental loved
research, discussion, dialectics, ethical and scientific conversation,
and literary coteries for their own sake, the Roman more commonly
regarded such things as means for sharpening his abilities and for
imparting distinction in social intercourse. Doubtless there were, and
had been, exceptions. No Greek philosopher could be more in earnest
than Lucretius, the Roman poet of the later republic, and doubtless
there were no few Romans unknown to fame who both grappled seriously
with Greek philosophy and also endeavoured to carry it religiously
into practice. Yet for the most part the Roman, even when he is a
writer upon such subjects, carries with him the unmistakable air of
the amateur or the dilettante. In reading Seneca, as in reading
Cicero, we feel that we are dealing with an able man possessed of an
excellent gift for popular exposition or essay-writing, but hardly
with a man of original philosophic endeavour or of strong practical
conviction. And when we read the letters of the younger Pliny, we
perceive a genuine admiration for men of thought and a genuine liking
for "things of the mind," but we also discern that his dealing with
philosophers and philosophy is strictly such as he deems "fit for a

In his own way and for his own ends the Roman could be intensely
studious. He was eager to know and to possess information; but his
native taste was for information of a positive kind, for definite
facts more or less encyclopaedic--the facts of history, of science, of
art, of literature, or even of grammar. His natural bent was not
towards pure speculation. The elder Pliny was in his prime in the
later days of Nero, and though he is perhaps an extreme type, he is
nevertheless a type worth contemplating. His nephew writes a letter to
a friend in which he gives a formidable list of works which the uncle
had written or rather compiled, culminating in that huge miscellany
known as his _Natural History_--a book dealing, not only with
geography, anthropology, physiology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, but
also with fine art. How did he lead the ordinary Roman official life
and yet accomplish all this before he was fifty-six? Here is the
explanation. "He had a keen intellect, incredible zeal, and the
greatest capacity for wakefulness. The end of August had not come
before he began to work by lamplight long before dawn; in winter he
began as early as one or two o'clock in the morning. It is true that
he could readily command sleep, which visited and left him even during
his studies. Before daylight he used to go to the emperor
Vespasian--who also worked before day--and thence to his appointed
duty. Returning home he gave the remainder of his time to his studies.
After his _dejeuner_--which, like any other food that he took in the
daytime, was light and digestible in the old-fashioned style--if it
was summer, some leisure moments were spent in lying in the sun; a
book was read, and he marked passages or made extracts. He never read
anything without making excerpts, for he used to say that no book was
so bad as to contain no part that was useful. After sunning himself he
generally took a cold bath. He then took a snack and a very brief
siesta, subsequently reading till dinner-time as if it were a new day.
During dinner a book was read and marked, all very rapidly. I recall
an occasion on which a certain passage had been badly delivered by his
reader, whereupon one of the company stopped him and made him read it
again. Said my uncle, 'I suppose you had caught the meaning?' The
friend nodded. 'Then why did you call him back? We have lost more than
ten lines by this interruption of yours.' So economical was he of
time. In summer he rose from dinner while it was still light, and in
winter within an hour after dark, as if compelled by some law. Such
was his day amid all his work and the roar of the city. But when on
holiday the only time he was not I studying was bath-time. By bath I
mean when he I was actually right inside; for while he was under
scraper and towel he would be read to or dictate. When travelling he
thought of nothing else: at his side was a shorthand writer with a
book and his tablets. In winter the writer's hands were protected by
mittens, so that not even the sharpness of the weather should rob him
of a moment. For the same reason even at Rome he used to ride in a
sedan-chair (and not in a litter). I remember how he once took me to
task for walking. Said he, 'You need not have wasted these hours;' for
he considered as wasted all hours not spent upon study. It was by
application like this that he completed all those volumes and also
left to me a hundred and sixty note-books full of selections, written
in very small hand on both sides of the paper. He used himself to say
that, when he was the emperor's financial agent in Spain, he could
have sold these note-books to Largius Licinus for L3000, and at that
time they were considerably less numerous." ... "And so," writes the
nephew, "I always laugh when certain people call _me_ studious, for,
compared to him, I am a most indolent person."

And yet what does this "most indolent person" himself do in the course
of a lifetime? After a complete oratorical education of the typical
Roman kind he enters upon a full public career. He undergoes his
minimum military service with the legions in Syria. He returns to Rome
and passes right up to the consulship, acquiring particular ability in
connection with the Treasury. Often he acts as adviser to other
officers. Apart from his public position he is a pleader before the
courts. He takes a prominent part in the debates of the senate. He
belongs to one of the priestly bodies. He does his share in providing
the public games. He is appointed "Minister for the regulation of the
Tiber and of the Sewerage." He is afterwards made governor of
Bithynia, which has fallen into financial disorder and requires
reorganisation. He possesses numerous estates and has many tenants to
deal with. He writes speeches, occasional poems, and a large number of
letters carefully phrased with a view to publication. His social or
complimentary duties are numerous and exacting. One day he goes out
hunting wild boar on one of his estates, and kills three of them. How,
think you, does he pass the time while the beaters are driving the
animals towards the net? He is thinking up a subject and making notes,
and actually finds the silence and solitude helpful. He concludes his
short letter on the subject by advising his friend "when you go
hunting, take my advice and carry your writing-tablets as well as your
luncheon-basket and flask: you will find that Minerva roams the hills
no less than Diana." Pliny the Younger is writing, it is true, a
generation after Nero, but there had been no appreciable change in
Roman intellectual tastes during that short interval.

The Roman may have had little inclination towards abstract thinking,
but he was not an idle-minded man. Even the emperors often cultivated
the muse. Nero we have seen, wrote verses, while his predecessor
Claudius bore a strangely near resemblance to our own James I., not
only in respect of his weakness of character, but also of his
pretensions to erudition and authorship. We can hardly read the
literature of this and the next half-century without being amazed at
the number of names of writers who gained or sought some share of
repute, although few of them have left works important enough to have
been kept alive till now. It is true that through all the writing of
this time there runs what has been called the "falsetto" note, a fact
which is due partly to the absence of live national questions or the
freedom to discuss them, and partly to the false principles of the
rhetorical training already described. The general desire was to show
cleverness, wide reading, and information; there was no impulse to
great creation or to exhibitions of profound feeling. Epigram and
"point" are no less compassed in the overstrained epic of Lucan, and
in the philosophic essays of Seneca, than in the satires of Persius.
It is probable that what have been called intellectual "interests"
were never more widely spread than in the _pax Romana_ of the first
and second centuries A.D. We gather from literature that books
innumerable were produced on subjects often as special and minute as
those selected for a German thesis, and that almost every town worth
the name, at least in the Greek-speaking part of the empire, produced
an author of sorts. But when we look into the symposia or chat of
Plutarch or Aulus Gellius, we cannot fail to note that a large
proportion of this intellectual and literary activity was being
frittered away on questions either stereotyped and threadbare, or of
no appreciable utility either to knowledge or conduct. As for
dilettante production at Rome itself Pliny remarks in one letter:
"This year has produced a large crop of poets: there was scarcely a
day in the whole month of April on which some one did not give a
reading." During the generation into which Nero was born and that
which followed him, we meet with no great creative work in either
prose or poetry, no great contribution to the progress of science or
thought. The most generally interesting writer of the whole period was
the Greek Plutarch, but though the _Parallel Lives_ which he was
preparing are immortal in their kind, and though his _Moral Essays_
are often most excellent reading, it cannot be said that he is a
profound original thinker or a creator of anything more than a taking
literary form. Next to him in value, earlier in date, stands Seneca,
who, like Plutarch, is a lively thinker and a deft essayist, with the
same love for a quotation and the same wide interests, but assuredly
not a considerable enlarger of the field of human thought. To those
who know Montaigne, the best notion of Seneca and Plutarch will be
formed by remembering that his essays are admitted by himself to be
"wholly compiled of what I have borrowed from them." The elder Pliny
supplies us with extracts and summaries of the knowledge or the
notions then extant, and we have writings on agriculture by Columella.
The youthful and rather awkward satirist Persius sees the life which
he criticises rather through the medium of books than through his own
eyes. Such works of the period as have gained any kind of immortality
are certainly interesting and often instructive, but they indicate a
period in which reading is chiefly cultivated amusement, and knowledge
rather sought as a pastime and an accomplishment than as a power. The
favourite reading must contain matter or sense, not too deep or
exacting; and it must possess a style. Perhaps writers as various as
Dryden, Pope, Horace Walpole, Samuel Johnson, De Quincey, Macaulay,
or, on a lower platform, the authors of collections like the
_Curiosities of Literature_ would have been quite at home in this
period: but it would have produced no Shakespeare, Milton, or
Wordsworth. The agreeable poem, the well-expressed essay, are the
approved reading for men of indolent bent: the informative collection
for the more curious, serious, or practical-minded. If the early
empire is "despotism tempered by epigram," it is perhaps not
altogether untrue that the contemporary literature was pedantry
tempered by epigram, or at least by quotation.

Science, though its matter was attractive enough to the practical
Roman, was at a standstill. So far as it existed it was Greek. The
Greeks had done almost all that could be done by sheer brain-power and
acumen. They could hardly proceed further without those finer
instruments which we possess, but which they did not. Though they knew
of certain magnifying glasses, they had no real telescopes or
microscopes, no mariner's compass or chronometers, no very delicate
balances. They possessed a magnificent thinking apparatus and put it
to admirable use. The modern scientist has generally nothing but
admiration for their keen insight, and for the brilliant hypotheses
which they invented and which were frequently but unverified
anticipations or partial anticipations of theories now in vogue. Where
they stopped short was at experiment in test of hypothesis. Of all
exploits of pure thinking in the domain of science perhaps the
greatest has been the conception that the earth, instead of being a
flat disk, is a sphere. This theory was held before the age of Nero by
ancient astronomers and geographers, who had derived the notion partly
from the eclipses of the moon--of which they well understood the
cause--and partly from the rising of objects above the horizon. They
understood also that in a sphere there was gravitation to the centre,
and were able so to comprehend the level surface of water on the
globe. The geographer Strabo, more than a generation before our chosen
date, readily conceives that, if one sailed straight westward out of
the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar, he would
ultimately come back round the world by way of the East--that is to
say, by India. It was not left for Columbus to invent that doctrine.
It is true that in calculating the circumference of the earth they had
made it as much as one-seventh too large, but the wonder is that they
came so near as they did. In regard to the distance of the moon they
were not more than 1/12th from the modern estimate. The possibility of
error in dealing with the sun was much greater, and their 51,000,000
miles is little more than half of what it should have been. Exactly
how far this doctrine of the sphericity of the earth was popularly
entertained we cannot tell; it was probably almost confined to those
directly interested in the question. A theory, anticipating Galileo,
that it is the earth which moves round the sun, had been mooted, but
certainly had very little currency. Nor was speculation confined to
such astronomical conclusions. In the region of physical geography
rational attempts were made to account for various phenomena, such as
the existence of deltas or the risings of the Nile, or the appearance
of sea-shells high on dry land. Strabo, in dealing with the Black Sea,
has his theories of the elevation or subsidence of land. He also
suggests previous volcanic conditions of certain districts which had
been quiescent from before the memory or tradition of the inhabitants.

[Illustration: FIG. 113.--WORLD AS CONCEIVED ABOUT A.D. 100.]

Sound methods of discovering latitude and longitude were not yet in
use, and therefore a map of the world according to ideas current in
the first century would present a strange aspect to us. There is much
error in the placing of towns or districts upon their parallels; and
coasts or mountain ranges, particularly, of course, on the outskirts
of the empire or in the less familiar lands beyond its bounds, are
perhaps made to run north instead of north-west, or east instead of
south-east. It follows that measurements of distances especially
across the wider seas, were often very inaccurate, although within and
about the Mediterranean there was so much traffic and such close
observation of the stars that the errors were gradually reduced. The
mariner, when he did not follow the coast and guide his course by
familiar landmarks, steered by the stars, but of these he had a very
intimate knowledge, to which he joined a close observation of the
prevailing direction of the winds at the various seasons. There was a
well-ordered system of lighthouses, and charts and mariners' guides
were not wanting. In the winter months navigation over long distances
was regularly suspended, and ships waited in port for the spring.

So far as acquaintance with the world was concerned, we have
sufficient evidence that the trader knew his way very well down the
African coast as far as Zanzibar, and along the southern shores of
Asia as far as Cape Comorin. With Ceylon his acquaintance was vague,
and only by tradition did he know of Further India by way of the sea
and of China by way of the land. In the interior of Africa the
caravans reached the Oases, and by way of Nile or caravan there was
trade with the Soudan. Outside the Straits of Gibraltar, the Canary
Islands and Madeira--known indiscriminately as the "Fortunate Isles,"
or "Isles of the Blest"--were in touch with the port of Cadiz. The
shape of Great Britain beyond England was indefinite, although it was
known to be an island, with the Shetlands lying beyond. Ireland was
also recognised as an island and its relative size was not greatly
misconceived. The chief misconception in this corner of Europe was
that of orientation, Britain being placed either far too near or far
too parallel to Spain (through a large error as to the shape of the
Bay of Biscay). Meanwhile the coast of the Netherlands and Germany was
made to run in a line much too closely parallel to the eastern shores
of Britain. Scandinavia was known from navigating explorers and from
the amber trade, but was commonly regarded as a large island.
Knowledge of the Baltic did not extend beyond about the modern Riga,
and of the whole region thence to the Caspian only the dimmest notions
were entertained.

From what has been said concerning the calculation of the earth's
diameter and of the distances of the sun and moon, it may be readily
understood that the ancient mathematician had arrived at great
proficiency in the geometrical branch of mathematics. This should
cause no surprise when we remember what is meant by "Euclid." That
eminent genius had lived at Alexandria three centuries and a half
before the age of Nero, and he by no means represents all that was
known of such mathematics at the latter date. The ancients were quite
sufficiently versed in the solution of triangles to have made the
necessary calculations in geography and astronomy, if they had but
possessed the right instruments. Perhaps only an expert should
deal--even in the few sentences required for our purpose--with such
matters as the calculation of the capacity and proportional relations
of cylinders, or with the mechanics and hydrostatics of Archimedes.
That philosopher so far understood the laws of applied force that he
had boasted: "Give me a place to stand on and I will move the world."
What he and others had learned concerning fluid pressure, or
concerning pulleys, levers, and other mechanical devices, had not been
lost by the Greeks and had been borrowed from them for full practical
use by the Romans. They knew how to lift huge weights, and how to hurl
heavy missiles by the artillery previously mentioned. Experiments had
been made at Alexandria in the use of steam-power, but had led to
nothing practical. It is obvious also from their buildings and works
of engineering, even without explicit statement, that they well
understood the distribution of weight and the laws of stability. The
laws of acoustics were understood with sufficient clearness to make
them applicable with success to theatres. In practical mensuration--a
daily necessity for men who were perpetually allotting lands or
marking out camps--the Romans were experts. In pure arithmetic the
contemporary world had made some considerable advance, such as in the
extraction of square-roots and cube-roots; but, as has been already
said, the Roman interest was virtually confined to such arithmetic or
mathematics as appeared to possess some bearing on actual use.

Of chemistry, in the modern scientific sense, the ancients knew almost
nothing. Empirically they were aware of certain properties exhibited
by substances, and could perform certain manipulations; but, like
moderns down to a very recent time, they had no real understanding of
the quantitative or qualitative relations of elements. Long ago Greek
philosophy, followed by the Epicurean school, had set forth an "atomic
theory," which on the surface is surprisingly like the modern chemical
hypothesis; but this contained strange and illogical features and had
no connection with actual practice. In this department the chief
proficiency of the world of this date lay in metallurgy, in which the
processes empirically discovered, chiefly by Egyptians and
Phoenicians, were closely similar to those now employed. They
thoroughly understood the smelting of ores, but could render no
scientific account of the processes. Botany was in a very crude
condition, scarcely extending beyond such knowledge as was required on
the one hand for farming and horticulture, and on the other for the
vegetable medicines used by contemporary physicians.

The doctoring of the time was also, of course, largely empirical, but
assuredly hardly more so than it was a century or so ago, and
distinctly more rational than it became in the Middle Ages. We cannot
conceive of a reputable doctor at Rome prescribing the nauseous
mediaeval absurdities. Practical surgery must have been surprisingly
advanced, and there is scarcely a modern surgeon who does not exclaim
in admiration of the instruments discovered at Pompeii and now
preserved in the Naples Museum (see FIG. 69). In physic it is, of
course, tolerably certain that many of the remedies or methods of
treatment were of the sound and simple kind discovered by the long
experience of mankind and often put in use by our grandmothers.
The defect contemporary medicine was that it was almost wholly
empirical. The ancient surgeon could doubtless perform ordinary
operations--amputations and excisions--with neatness, and the ancient
physician knew perfectly well what to do with the ordinary
complaints--the fevers and agues, the bilious attacks, the gout, or
the dropsy--but he was baffled by any new conditions. Moreover, if he
could diagnose and cure, he could seldom prevent, inasmuch as he had
little understanding of the causes of maladies. He had everything to
learn in regard to sanitation and the preventing of infection. A
plague would sometimes kill half the people in a town or district, and
the loss of 30,000 persons in the metropolis would probably appear to
most Romans as a visitation of the gods, nor is it certain that the
doctors would generally disagree with that view. Though there were
many quacks, it is not the case that the reputable medical men--most
of them Greek, some of them Romans, who borrowed a Greek name because
it "paid"--lacked the scientific spirit or such knowledge as the time
afforded. They went to the medical school at Alexandria or elsewhere,
and studied their treatises on physic and anatomy, but, at least in
the latter subject, they were sadly hampered. Dissection of human
bodies was forbidden by law as being a desecration of the dead, and
though it might sometimes be practised _sub rosa_, it was the general
custom to perform the dissections on other animals, particularly
monkeys, and to argue thence erroneously to mankind.



With such an unsatisfactory equipment of science, and with such a
vague and morally inoperative religion, it was no wonder that the
higher minds of the contemporary world turned to the study of
philosophy. Of such studies there had been many schools or sects, but
at this date we have chiefly to reckon with two--the Stoics and
Epicureans. There were, it is true, the Academics, who disputed
everything, and held no doctrine to be more true than its contrary.
There were Eclectics, who picked and chose. But the majority of those
who affected a positive philosophy attached themselves either to the
Stoic or else to the Epicurean system, not necessarily with orthodox
rigidity on every point, but as a general guide--at least in
theory--to the conduct of life. Where we belong to a certain religious
denomination or church, and "sit under" a certain class of preachers,
they belonged to a certain school of philosophy, and attended the
lectures of certain of its expounders. Instead of a chaplain or parish
clergyman they engaged or associated with an expert in their special
system. But just as the Frenchman remarked, "_Je suis catholique, mais
je ne pratique pas_," so might one be in principle a good Stoic
without much exercise of the accepted doctrines. The distinction
between the tenets of the two great schools was wide, but within each
school itself individuals might differ as widely as "Broad Church"
from whatever its opposite may be called. The choice between the two
schools was mainly a matter of temperament. Persons of the sterner
type of mind, caring comparatively little for the physical comforts
and gracious amenities of life, and possessed of a strong sense of
duty and decorum--inclined, perhaps, not only to piety and
self-abnegation, but also to be somewhat dour and uncompromising--were
naturally attracted to Stoicism. Those of the complementary character
preferred the doctrines of Epicurus. The Stoics were the Pharisees,
the Epicureans the Sadducees, of pagan philosophy. As the Pharisees
were the most Hebraic of the Hebrews, so it was Stoicism that came to
be the characteristic Roman creed. The ordinary Roman had been brought
up in the tradition of obeying the law of the state and the claims of
duty; he had high notions of personal dignity and a leaning to the
heroic virtues. Give him a strong, consistent, and elevating religion
and he would be normally a pious man. Stoicism supplied him with a
standard which was in keeping with such tendencies. About Epicureanism
there was nothing heroic or elevating.

Put briefly, and therefore crudely, the Epicurean doctrine was that
happiness is the end of life. What men seek, and have a right to seek,
is the most pleasant existence. Our conduct should secure for us as
much real pleasure as possible. Now at first sight this looks like
what it was opprobriously called by its enemies, "the philosophy of
the pig-sty." It by no means meant this to its founder. For what is
"pleasure"? Not by any means necessarily the gratification of the
moment, physical or otherwise. A present pleasure may mean future
pain, either of body or of mind. Wrong actions and bestial enjoyments
bring their own penalty. You must choose wisely, and so direct your
life that you suffer least and enjoy most consistently. Temperance and
wisdom are therefore virtues necessary to a true Epicurean. You desire
health; therefore you will live, as Epicurus lived, on simple and
wholesome food. You desire tranquillity or peace of mind; therefore
you will abstain from all perverse acts and gratifications, desires
and emotions, which disturb that peace. In short the thing to be
sought is nothing else but this grateful composure of mind--a thing
which you cannot have if you are always wanting this or that and
either abusing or misusing your bodily or mental functions, or
needlessly mortifying yourself. To the plain man this apparently meant
"Take life easily and keep free of worry." Naturally the plain man's
ideas of taking life easily became those of taking pleasures as they
come, indolently accepting the agreeables of life and feeling no call
to make much of its duties. It is all very well for a high-minded
philosopher to avoid a pleasure in order to avoid its pain, and to
realize that a pleasure of the mind is worth more than a pleasure of
the body, but one cannot expect the ordinary pupil--the _homme moyen
sensuel_--to comprehend this attitude with heartiness sufficient to
put it into practice. It followed therefore that the Epicurean tended,
not only to become lazy, but to become vicious, or to make light of
vices. This was not indeed true Epicureanism, and Epicurus is not to
blame for it; it simply shows that Epicureanism, whatever its logical
or other merits, provided no sufficient stimulus to a right life. As
regards theology the position of the school was that there might very
well be such things as higher beings--there was nothing in physical
philosophy to make them any more impossible than a man or a fish--but
that, if they existed, they were not concerned with man's affairs; his
moral conduct, like his sacrifices and prayers, was not matter for
their consideration. No need, therefore, to let superstition worry
you, or to trouble about future punishment. Conduct your life
according to the same principles laid down, and let the gods--if there
be any--look to themselves. Naturally the result of such a position is
that ceasing to regard the gods means ceasing to believe in them, and,
as a Roman writer says: "In theory it leaves us the gods, in practice
it abolishes them."

The other school--that of the Stoics--is perhaps less easily
comprehended, nor can it be said that its doctrines were always quite
so coherent. Again we may put the position briefly, and therefore,
perhaps, only approximately. The rule of life is to live as "nature"
directs. Nature has its laws, which you cannot disobey with impunity.
The law of nature is the mind of God. The material universe is the
body, God is its soul, and He directs the workings of nature with
foreknowledge and perfect wisdom. If man can only be brought to act in
strict accordance with the mind of God--or law of nature--he is sure
of perfect well-being, because he can do nothing as it should not be
done. If he can only arrive at such perfect operation of his mental
processes, he will necessarily be the perfect speaker, the perfect
ruler, the perfect craftsman, the perfect performer of every task,
including the securing of his own happiness. Doubtless this is logical
enough, but how is one to attain to such right mental operations, and
to become what was called a "sage"? Only by acting always according to
reason and not according to passion. That and that alone is "virtue."
The divine mind is not swayed by passion--by hope, fear, exultation,
or grief--but only and always by reason. Learn therefore to obey
reason and reason only. Do not permit yourself to be drawn from the
true path by fear of threats, even of death, nor by grief, even for
your dearest friends. Such feelings warp your reason, distract
your judgment, and deflect you from the right course. When
passion--feeling--comes in conflict with reason, you must drive
feeling away. Your reason may not always be right; nevertheless it is
the best guide you have, and you must cultivate it to act as rightly
as possible. Remember that the power to act in accordance with the
divine mind--the law of nature--lies in your own will; things external
have nothing to do with that straight-forward proceeding--they cannot
help you, and you must not let them hinder you. The condition of your
mind is everything; as long as its operation is right, you are living
in the right way. Your mind may act as rightly in poverty as in
riches; you may be equally wise and virtuous whether you have the
external advantages or not. You must therefore learn to ignore these
things--pain, grief, fear, joy, and all the other perturbing
influences. Cultivate, therefore, right reason and the absence of

This, you will say, is a very high, unattainable, if not inhuman,
standard. Quite so, and therefore, while Epicureanism often produced
vicious men, this often produced pretenders and even hypocrites.
Nevertheless it is better to set oneself a high standard than a low
one, and a Roman who endeavoured to control himself by reason, and to
place himself above fear and pain, was thereby on the way to be brave,
patient, truthful, and just. Those who would see what high character
could be associated with Stoicism--whether as the result or as the
motive of the choice of the school--should read Epictetus, whose text,
written early in the next century, was "sustain and abstain," and also
the great-minded gentle Emperor Marcus Aurelius. A logical outcome of
Stoicism was that you should say only the thing which reason approved,
and say it unafraid. A good republican virtue, this, but under the
emperors a dangerous one, as an honest Stoic like Thrasea found out.
In practice there was naturally much qualifying or mellowing of the
rigid Stoic attitude: the exigencies of actual life had to be met part
of the way, and both Greek and Roman Stoics were often only Stoics in
part--the complete "sage" was of course impossible.

As for the gods, it is obvious that the Stoics were pantheists; there
was one God, and He was the soul of the universe. They also, of
course, recognised His providence. What then of the gods of the state?
Some did not attempt to discuss them. Others treated the various
so-called separate deities in the list as being only so many
manifestations or avatars of the same divine power, and whether they
were content or not with that attempt at harmonisation, who shall say?

Meanwhile, at least in the eastern part of the empire, you might meet
with another type of philosopher, the Cynic, belonging to the same
school as the famous Diogenes, who had lived in that large earthenware
jar commonly known as his "tub." Like the Stoic, the Cynic held that
externals were of no value, and therefore he contented himself with a
piece of bread, a wallet full of beans, and a jug of water. Like the
Stoic, he believed in perfect freedom of speech, and therefore he
spoke loudly and often abusively of all and sundry who appeared to him
to deserve it. Some such men doubtless were sincere enough, like the
earlier hermits or preaching friars, but many of them were simply idle
and virulent impostors who thoroughly deserved that name of the "dog"
which was commonly given to them, and which came to designate their

The mention of impostors and hypocrites brings us naturally to a point
which may have been foreseen. To the ancient world the professional
philosophers were the nearest approach to our professional clergy.
They affected an appearance accordingly; and the philosopher was
regularly known by his long beard, his coarse cloak, and his staff.
But, alas! there were many who disgraced their cloth. There were Stoic
teachers who practised all manner of secret vices, and whose behaviour
was in outrageous contradiction to their creed of the "absence of
emotions." There were not only many Honeymans, there were many
Stigginses. There were idlers and vagabonds on a level with the
mendicant friars and pardon-sellers of the time of Chaucer. There were
pompous hypocrites. Also side by side with the serious and earnest
philosopher, as deeply learned in the books of his sect as a modern
divine, there were charlatans and dabblers. It is unfortunately in
this last light that the Apostle Paul appeared to the professional
Stoic and Epicurean teachers of Athens. They were the finished
products of the philosophic schools of the most famous universities,
while he was supposed by them to be teaching some new kind of
philosophy. Philosophers were apt to be itinerant, and St. Paul was
looked upon as but another of these new arrivals. In his language they
detected what seemed to be borrowed notions not consistently bound
together, and they therefore called him by a name which it is not easy
to translate. Literally it is "a picker up of seeds"--that is to say,
a sciolist who gathers scraps from profounder people and gives them
out with an air. Perhaps the nearest, although an undignified, word is
"quack." That Paul possessed a knowledge of Greek philosophy, and
particularly of Stoicism, is practically certain. He came from Tarsus
in Cilicia, and Cilicia was the native home of many leading Stoics,
including its greatest representative in all antiquity. He had been
taught by Gamaliel, who was versed in "the learning of the Greeks."
His address at Athens was deliberately meant to bear a relation to the
philosophy of the experts who were present, but necessarily it could
only introduce a few salient allusions, such as even a dabbler could
have picked up, and we can hardly blame the specialists for their
erroneous judgment. As he says himself: "The Greeks demand philosophy;
but we proclaim a Messiah crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block,
and to the Greeks a folly."

To discuss further the moral ideas of the Roman world would consume
more space and time than can be afforded here. It may, however, be
worth while to mention that suicide was commonly--and especially by
the Stoics--looked upon as a natural and blameless thing, when calm
reason appeared to justify the proceeding, and when due consideration
was given to social claims. To seek a euthanasia in such cases was an
act of wisdom. Belief in an underworld or an after life was not rare
among the common people, but it certainly did not exist in any force
among the cultivated classes. It was taught neither by philosophy nor
by the religion of the state. Yet the sense that rewards or
punishments are unfairly meted out in this world was strong in many a
mind, and this is one of the facts which account for the hold taken
upon such minds, first by the religion of Isis, and then in a still
greater and more abiding measure by Christianity.



[Illustration: FIG. 114.--THE DYING GAUL.]



It would be a more than agreeable task to deal at some length with the
art of the Roman world of this period, but the subject is vast, and
demands a treatise to itself. How general was the love of art--or at
least the recognition of its place in life--must be obvious to those
who have seen the great collections in Rome, gathered partly from the
city itself and partly from the towns and country "villas" of Italy,
and those in the National Museum at Naples, acquired mainly from the
buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Nor are we amazed merely at
the quantity of statues, statuettes, busts, reliefs, paintings, mosaic
gems and cameos, and artistically wrought objects and utensils, which
have been preserved while so many thousands of such productions have
disappeared in the conflagrations of Rome, the vandalisms of the
ignorant, or the kilns and melting-pots of the Middle Ages. The
quality is still more a source of delight than the quantity. This last
sentence, of course, contains a truism, since art is no delight
without high quality. If we had only preserved to us such masterpieces
as the Capitoline Venus, the Dying Gaul, the Laocoon, the Dancing
Faun, the so-called Narcissus, and the Resting Mercury, we should
realise something of the exquisite skill in plastic art which had been
attained in antiquity and has never been attained since. But we might
perhaps imagine that these were altogether exceptional pieces and the
choicest gems possessed by the world of the time. Yet the preservation
of these is but an accident, and there is no reason to believe them to
be more than survivals out of many equally excellent. On the contrary,
our ancient authorities--such as the elder Pliny--prove that there was
a multitude of similar creations contained in public buildings alone.
Pompeii, it has already been said more than once, was a provincial
town in no way distinguished for the high culture of its inhabitants;
yet there is scarcely a house of any consideration which has not
afforded some example of fine art in one form or another. We know that
several of the Roman temples--such as those of Concord in the Forum
and of Apollo on the Palatine--were veritable galleries of
masterpieces; and that the rich Romans adorned both their town houses
and country villas with dozens of statues, colossal, life-size, or
miniature, by distinguished masters. But still more striking is the
fact that the comparatively small homes of Pompeii often possessed a
work for which no price would now be too large, and of which we are
content even to obtain a tolerably good copy. At Herculaneum there
evidently lived persons of greater literary and artistic I refinement
than at Pompeii, and the discoveries from that only very partially
excavated town make an incalculably rich show of their own. What then
would be the case with Naples, Baiae, the resorts all along the coast
as far as the Tiber, the luxurious villas on the Alban Hills, and the
great metropolis itself?

Yet the fact of this universal recognition of art is scarcely made so
impressive by these collected specimens of perfect taste and perfect
execution, as it is incidentally by observing the delicate and
graceful finish of some moulding on a chance fragment from a building,
such as the Basilica Aemilia or the office of the Pontifex in the
Forum, or the exquisite chiselling of trailing ivy upon a cup from
Herculaneum (FIG. 56), or the dainty pattern wrought on no more
important a thing than a bucket (FIG. 58), or the graceful shape
imparted to a household lamp (FIG. 54). Water could hardly be
permitted to spout in a peristyle or garden without doing so from some
charming statuette, animal figure, or decorative mask or head. When
fine art is sought in things like these, we may guess how
uncompromisingly it was sought in things more avowedly "on show."

The age with which we have been dealing fell within the most
flourishing period of Roman, or rather Graeco-Roman, taste and
craftsmanship. A hundred years later both taste and execution were
declining, and by the age of Constantine--two centuries and a half
after Nero--not one artist could pretend to achieve such work as had
belonged to a multitude between the reigns of Augustus and Hadrian.

It is not indeed probable that, even at our date, the large and noble
simplicity of the older Greek masters could be rivalled. It is not
probable that most of the former creations of art still preserved
could have been wrought as originals by any Greek or Roman artist
living in the time of Nero. Nevertheless technical craftsmanship was
still superb, and while the contemporary artist could not create a
splendid original, he was at least able to create an almost perfect
copy. The Roman public buildings and private houses were enriched with
a host of such copies, or, when not exact copies, with modifications
which, though not improvements, were at least such as could not offend
by displaying a lack of technical mastery. Let us grant that it was
for the most part Greeks who were the artists; nevertheless the Greek
is an active member of the Roman world and of its metropolitan life,
and he executes his work to the order of the Roman state or the Roman
patron; and therefore the art of the time deserves to be called Roman
in that sense. There is little doubt that the Romans, if left to
themselves, would have developed only the solid, or the gorgeous, or
the baroque. But influences which penetrate a society are part of that
society, and the Greek influence accepted by the Roman becomes a Roman

Perhaps it is also true that many a Roman who possessed fine works of
art, and even exquisite ones, was not in reality a true connoisseur;
that, even if he were, he lacked instructive and ardent appreciation
of art for its own sake; and that, like his cultivation of
intellectual society or learning, his cultivation of art was rather
that of a man determined to be on a level with the culture of his
times. Nevertheless the fact is palpable, that the cultivation was
there, and was displayed in public architecture and in household
embellishment in a way which puts the modern world to shame. With us
art is a luxury for the few, and a keen enjoyment for still fewer; in
the age of Nero it penetrated the life of every class.

In architecture the native Roman gift was for the practical combined
with the massive and grandiose. The structures in which they
themselves excelled were the amphitheatre, the public baths, the
triumphal arch, the basilica, the bridge, and the aqueduct. Their
mastery of the arch, their excellent concrete, and their engineering
genius, enabled them to produce works in this kind which had had no
parallels in the Greek world. Nor had the Greeks felt the same need
for such buildings. They had been innocent of gladiatorial shows, and
they had been unfortunately too innocent of large conceptions in the
way of water-supply. When an amphitheatre or aqueduct of the Roman
kind was to be found in the graecized half of the empire, it was
constructed under Roman influence. The modern may well afford to
wonder at and envy the profusion of such structures in the ancient
world. How noble and at the same time how strong was the work of the
Romans when they undertook to supply even a provincial town with
abundant and adequate water, is manifest from such aqueducts as are
still to be seen at Nimes (FIG. 1) or at Segovia. In other
architectural conceptions the Romans of the time of Nero mainly
followed the Greek lead and employed Greek artists. The architectural
"orders" were Greek, with sundry Graeco-Roman modifications,
particularly in the way of more ornate or fantastic Corinthian
capitals; the notions of sculptural decoration were equally of
Hellenic origin. Their theatres also were of the Greek kind adapted in
non-essentials to the somewhat different conditions of a Roman
performance. The Greek taste in decoration was the simpler and purer:
the Roman cultivated the sumptuous and the ornate, sometimes, with
conspicuous success, often with an overloaded effect. As Friedlander
(who, however, deals with a much longer period than ours) puts the
matter: "Nowhere, least of all at Rome, was an important public
building erected without the chiseller, the stucco-worker, the carver,
the founder, the painter, and mosaic-maker being called in. Statues,
single or in groups, filled gables, roofs, niches, interstices of
columns, staircases in the temples, theatres, amphitheatres,
basilicas, public baths, bridges, arches, portals, and viaducts. . . .
Triumphal arches generally had at their summits equestrian figures,
trophies, chariots of four or six horses, driven by figures of
victory. Reliefs and medallions bedecked the frieze, and reliefs or
paintings the walls; ceilings were gay with stucco or coloured work,
and the floors with glittering mosaics. All the architectural
framework, supports, thresholds, lintels, mouldings, windows, and even
gutters were overloaded with decorative figures."

It was above all in plastic art that the contemporary world was
enormously rich. Not only could no public building dispense with such
decorations as those above mentioned; no private house of the least
pretensions was without its statues, busts, statuettes, carved
reliefs, and stucco-work. Never was statuary in marble or bronze so
plentiful in every part of the empire, in public squares, or in the
houses of representative people--in reception-hall, peristyle court,
garden, or colonnade. Portrait statues in the largest towns were to be
counted by hundreds, and sometimes by thousands. Men distinguished in
war, in letters, in public life, and in local benefactions were as
regularly commemorated by statues or busts as they are in modern times
by painted portraits. Sometimes--unlike the modern portraits of
course--these were paid for by the recipient of the compliment. In the
comparatively unimportant Forum of Pompeii there stood five colossal
statues, between seventy and eighty life-size equestrian statues, and
as many standing figures, while the public buildings surrounding this
open space contained their dozen or twenty each. As has been said
already, most of the best work in sculpture--apart from these bronze
and marble portraits of contemporaries--was reproduction of Grecian
masterpieces dating from the time of Pheidias onward. Particularly did
the Roman affect the more elaborate work of the period of the later
"Macedonian" kings. Where the actual work was not exactly copied it at
least supplied the main conception or motive. It followed naturally
that there would be in existence many copies of the same piece, and,
in procuring these, both the public and the householder would feel
relieved of any danger of betraying the wrong taste. The workshops or
studios of Greek artists turned out large numbers of a given
masterpiece--a Faun, a Venus, or a Discobolus--at prices from L50 or
so upwards. It followed also that there were numerous imitations
passed off as originals, and many a wealthy man boasted of possessing
an "original" or a genuine "old master"--a Praxiteles or a
Lysippus--when he owned but a clever reproduction. The same remark
applies, not only to the statues, but to the genre-groups and animal
forms of which such fine examples can be seen in the Vatican Museum,
and also to silver cups by "Mentor" or to bronzes of Corinth.
Petronius, the coarse but witty "arbiter of taste" under Nero, mocks
at the vulgar _nouveau riche_ who imagined that the Corinthian bronzes
were the work of an artist named Corinthus.

[Illustration: FIG. 117.--WALL-PAINTING. (Woman with Tablets.)]

[Illustration: FIG. 118.--WALL-PAINTING FROM HERCULANEUM. (Women
playing with Knuckle-Bones.)]

Next to sculpture came painting, and in this art Romans themselves
appear to have often acquired a technical skill which rivalled that of
the Greeks. There is also plenty of evidence that among the pictorial
artists there were no few women. For us practically the only painting
of the time which has been preserved is that upon the walls of private
houses, and it is probable that we see some of the worst specimens of
the kind as well as some of a high order of excellence. It is not
difficult to distinguish between the truly artistic design and
colouring of wall-pictures in the House of Vettii or of the "Tragic
Poet" and the crude journeyman work in sundry other Pompeian houses
which must have belonged to anything but connoisseurs. Paintings, it
must be remembered, were the ancient wall-papers, as well as the
ancient pictures. Here, as in sculpture, we find the same or similar
motives and groupings repeated in a way which shows that the
painter--or rather the collaborating painters--must have been
reproducing or adapting an original which was particularly admired or
had obtained a fashionable vogue. The wall-pictures, done in fresco or
distemper and in various dimensions, fall into four main classes.
There are landscapes, from a pretty realistic garden scene to a
fantastic stretch of sea and land diversified with woods, rocks,
figures, and buildings. There are subjects from mythology and from
poetical "history" or legend, chiefly representing "moments of
dramatic interest." There are genre-pictures, such as those of the
Cupids acting as goldsmiths, oil-dealers, or wine-merchants. Finally
there are pictures of still-life--of fishes, birds, fruits, and other
objects--often admirable in their kind. Serving as frame or setting to
many of the scenes there are architectural paintings--sometimes in
complicated but highly skilful perspective, but often extremely unreal
and confusing in conception--representing columns and pediments of
buildings. It must here suffice to offer one or two characteristic
examples out of the multitude of wall-paintings which have been found
(see also Figs. 43, 44).

Though Romans themselves, and even persons of standing, sometimes
dabbled in the fine arts, it is unquestionable that they commonly
regarded the professional artist as only a superior tradesman. They
admired his skill, but rendered little esteem to the man. A Roman
knight or a Roman lady might occasionally paint for pleasure; Nero
himself might model a figure or handle a brush; but so soon as art
ceased to be dilettante and became a calling, so soon as its work was
produced for payment, the artist ranked with other hirelings, however
superior he might be in kind. Seneca expresses an open contempt,
although he is perhaps, here as elsewhere, judging by a standard more
severe than that of his contemporaries in general. To some extent this
attitude is explained by the very abundance of objects of art, and by
the immense number of artists, now nameless, belonging to the period;
it is also to some extent excused by the fact that the craftsmanship,
however consummate, was not at this period accompanied by the
originality of the great Greek times from which it borrowed. Much of
the work--particularly perhaps in painting and metal-chasing--was done
by slaves. Apart from this consideration, the studios were so numerous
and taught so well, that there must have been thousands of persons
working either alone or co-operatively, whose position, however
excellent the performance, became analogous to that of a
house-decorator. On a wall to be painted in fresco a number of
painters would be employed together. Throughout the Roman world,
wherever works of art were wanted, the professional would travel,
often with his assistants, and take up a contract. In modern parlance,
the communities requiring some monument of art "called for tenders"
and were prone to accept the lowest.

Whatever abundance of art the Roman world cultivated and possessed;
however indispensable to a public place was a wealth of buildings with
lavish decoration of sculptured pillars, of statues, or of triumphal
arches; however necessary to a private house were originals, supposed
originals, and copies in the way of statuary, paintings, bronzes,
mosaics, and other means of artistic adornment; it is very doubtful
whether any large number of Romans entertained that spontaneous
enjoyment of the beauty of art which is known as genuine "artistic
feeling." In their literature we look in vain for any expression of
enthusiasm on the subject. There are many references to works of art,
but none which possess any intense glow of warmth. Doubtless art was
so abundant that, as has already been said in reference to the
appreciation of natural beauty, the absence of "gush" need not
indicate absence of real enjoyment. Enjoyment there was, but it was
apparently for the most part the enjoyment either of the collector or
of the man who realises that an appreciation of art demands a large
place in culture, and who is determined to be as well supplied and as
well informed as his neighbour, while his judgment of a piece of work,
though far from unintelligent, and often excellent in regard to
principles of design and technical execution, is mainly the result of
a deliberate training and cult, and is in consequence somewhat chill
and detached.

[Illustration: FIG. 119.--LYRE AND HARP.]

Of music the Romans were passionately fond, but the music itself was
of a description which perhaps would hardly commend itself to modern
notions, particularly those of northern Europe. The instruments in use
were chiefly the harp, the lyre, and the flageolet (or flute played
with a mouthpiece). To these we may add for processions the straight
trumpet and the curved horn, and, for more orgiastic occasions or
celebrations, the panpipes, cymbals, and tambourine or kettledrum.
Performers from the East played upon certain stringed instruments not
greatly differing from the lyre and harp of Greece and Italy. Women
from Cadiz used the castagnettes. Hydraulic organs with pipes and keys
were coming into vogue, and the bagpipes were also sufficiently
familiar. In the use of all these instruments the ancients knew
nothing of the harmonisation of parts; to them harmony and concerto
implied no more than unison, or a difference of octaves. Whatever
emotions may have been evoked by the music so produced, it cannot be
imagined that they were of the intensity or subtlety of which the
modern art and instruments are capable. Apart from the professionals,
many Roman youths and the majority of Roman girls learned both to play
and Sing, the instrument most affected being the harp, and the teacher
of harp-playing being held in the highest esteem and receiving the
highest emoluments. Sacrifices were regularly accompanied by the
flageolet; processions by this and the trumpet; the rites of Bacchus
by pipes, tambourines, and cymbals; performances in the theatre by an
immense orchestra of various instruments; the more elaborate dinners
by flute, harp, concerto of the two, singing, and such coarser and
more exciting performances as were to the taste of the host or his
company. The greatest houses kept their own choir and orchestra of
slaves; the less wealthy hired musicians as they needed them. As for
the Romans themselves, certain religious ceremonies called for singing
of boys and girls in chorus; and in a purely domestic way the women of
the house played on the harp and sang. Where there was singing, the
words dominated the music and not the contrary, but snatches from
recent popular pieces were sung and hummed in the streets for the sake
of their taking air, just as they are in modern times. We cannot
conceive of any Roman festivity without abundance of music. When in
spring at Baiae on the Bay of Naples the holiday frequenters of that
resort were rowed about the Lucrine Lake in their flower-bedecked
gondolas or boats with coloured sails, the musicians were no less in
evidence than they are now at every opportunity on the waters of the
same bay or in the evening on the Grand Canal at Venice. In the truly
Greek portion of the empire music, though no more advanced in method,
was for the most part of a finer and severer kind; but at
Alexandria--where it amounted to a mania--the influence of the native
Egyptian style, blent with the more passionate among the Greek modes,
had produced a music extremely exciting and highly demoralising.

On the whole, it may reasonably be held that music played at least as
important a part both in the houses and the public entertainments of
the ancient Romans as it plays in modern Italy. The artists were as
carefully trained, the audiences as critical or as receptive, the
personal affectations of the musicians as characteristic, and their
effect on emotional admirers of the opposite sex as great, as they are
at the present day. The difference between the two ages consists in
the nature of the music itself, and in the instruments through which
it is respectively delivered; and in these respects the advantage is
entirely with the modern world.



Whatever conceptions may have been entertained as to existence beyond
the grave, there was no doubt in the Roman mind as to the claim of the
dead to a proper burial and a worthy monument. It had once on a time
been a matter of universal belief that the spirit which had departed
from an unburied corpse could find no admittance to the company in the
realms of Hades. It could not join "the majority" below. Originally no
doubt the notion was simply that, as the body had not been consigned
to the earth, the spirit also remained homeless above ground.
Gradually this fancy shifted to the notion that, through neglect of
burial, the dead man was dishonoured--he had no friends--and that his
spirit was thereby disgraced and unworthy of reception by the powers
beneath. It must therefore remain shivering on the near side of the
river across which the grim Charon ferried the more fortunate souls.
Even when the body had been decently buried, the spirit, though
received into the gloomy realm, called for continued respect on the
part of its friends on earth. Unless it received its periodical
honours and was commemorated by a fitting sepulchre, it would meet
with slights from other ghosts and would feel its position keenly.
Naturally it would then do its best, by some form of haunting, to
punish the living for their disregard and forgetfulness. From such
considerations there arose in very ancient days in Italy, as in
Greece, a great anxiety to perform scrupulously "the dues" of the
defunct. Even if the body could not be found, it was obligatory to
perform the obsequies and to build a cenotaph. If a stranger came
across a dead body he must not pass it by without throwing at least
three handfuls of dust or earth upon it and bidding it "Farewell."

Though the burial customs still employed sprang from old fancies like
these, we are not to suppose that such notions were in full life in
the Roman world of our period. Poets might play with them, and some
ignorant folk might still vaguely entertain them. The mere belief in
ghosts was doubtless general, and even the learned argued the question
of their existence. Here are parts of another letter culled from Pliny
already several times quoted. He writes to his friend Sura: "I should
very much like to know whether you think that apparitions actually
exist, with a real shape of their own and a kind of supernatural
power, or that it is only our fear which gives an embodiment to vain
fancies. My own inclination is to believe in them, and chiefly because
of an experience which, I am told, befell Curtius Rufus." He then
speaks of a phantom form which prophesied that person's fortune.
"Another occurrence, quite as wonderful and still more terrifying, I
will relate as I was told it. There was at Athens a house which was
roomy and commodious, but which bore an ill-name and was
plague-stricken. In the silence of the night there was heard a sound
of iron. On closer attention it proved to be a rattling of chains,
first at a distance and then close at hand. Soon there appeared the
spectre of an old man, miserably thin and squalid, with a long beard
and unkempt hair. On his legs were fetters, and on his hands chains,
which he kept shaking. In consequence the inhabitants spent horrible
and sleepless nights; the sleeplessness made them ill, and, as their
terror increased, the illness was followed by death.... As a result
the house was deserted and totally abandoned to the ghost.
Nevertheless it was advertised, on the chance that some one ignorant
of all this trouble" (note the commercial morality) "might choose to
buy it or rent it. To Athens there comes a philosopher named
Athenodorus, who reads the placard. On hearing the price and finding
it so cheap, he has his suspicions" (the ancient philosopher had his
practical side), "makes enquiry, and learns the whole story. So far
from being less inclined to hire it, he is only the more willing. On
the approach of evening he gives orders for his couch to be made up in
the front part of the house, and asks for his tablets, pencils, and a
light. After dismissing his attendants to the back rooms, he applies
all his attention, as well as his eyes and hand, steadily to his
writing, for fear his mind, if unoccupied, might conjure up imaginary
sounds and causeless fears. At first there was the same silence of the
night as elsewhere; then there was a shaking of iron, a movement of
chains. The philosopher refused to lift his eyes or stop his pencil;
instead he braced up his mind so as to overcome his hearing. The noise
grew louder; it approached; it sounded as if on the threshold; then as
if within the room. He looks behind him; sees and recognises the
apparition of which he has been told. It was standing and beckoning to
him with its finger, as if calling him. In answer our friend makes it
a sign with his hand to wait a while, and once more applies himself to
tablet and pencil. The ghost began to rattle its chains over his head
while he was writing. He looks behind him again, sees it making the
same signal as before, and promptly picks up the light and follows. It
goes at a slow pace, as if burdened with chains, then, after turning
into the open yard of the house, it suddenly vanishes and leaves him
by himself. At this he gathers some grass and leaves, and marks the
spot with them. The next day he goes to the magistrates and urges them
to dig up the spot in question; and they find bones tangled with
chains through which they were passed... These they put together and
bury at the public charge. The spirit being thus duly, laid, the house
was henceforward free of them."

Whatever the Roman beliefs on this point, so far as funeral rites and
ceremonies were concerned, they were carried out simply in accordance
with custom and tradition. The Romans of this date no more analysed
their motives and sentiments than we do ours in dealing with such
matters. They honoured the dead with funeral pomp and conspicuous
monument; but, at the bottom, it was often more out of respect for
themselves than because they imagined that it made any difference to
the departed. In a very early age it had been considered that the
spirit led in the underworld a feeble replica of human existence: it
required food, playthings, utensils, money, as well as consideration.
Hence food was periodically poured into the ground, playthings and
utensils were burned on the pyre or laid in the coffin, and money was
placed in that most primitive of purses, the mouth. Conservatism is
nowhere so strong as in rites and ceremonies, and therefore the Romans
continued to burn and bury articles along with the remains of the
dead, and they continued to put a coin in the mouth before the burial.
But it would be absurd to suppose that an intelligent Roman of our
date would have offered the original and ancient motives for this
conduct as rational motives still actuating himself. Enough that
convention expected certain proceedings as "due" and "proper": a true
Roman would not fail to perform what convention decreed.

[Illustration: FIG. 120.--"CONCLAMATIO" OF THE DEAD.]

Our friend the elder Silius dies a natural death, after completing the
fullest public career. His family has its full share of both affection
and pride, and therefore his obsequies will be worthy of his character
and standing. When his Greek physician Hermogenes assures the watching
family that life is departing, Marcia or Publius or Bassa will
endeavour to catch the last breath with a kiss, and will then close
the eyelids. Upon this all those who are present will call "Silius!
Silius! Silius!" The original motive of this cry--which has its modern
parallel in the case of a dead Pope--was to make sure that the man was
actually dead and beyond reply. This point made certain, the
professional undertaker is called in and instructed to take charge of
all the proceedings usual in such cases. It is he who will provide the
persons who are to wash and anoint the body and lay it in state, and
also, on the day of the procession, the musicians, the wailing-women,
the builders of the funeral pyre, and others who may be necessary,
together with the proper materials and accessories. He will further
see that the name of Quintus Silius Bassus is registered in the
death-roll in the temple of "Juno the Death-Goddess," and that the
registration fee is paid. The name will also appear in the next issue
of the "Daily News." The body, anointed so as to preserve it till the
third day, and dressed in the toga--which will be that of the highest
position he ever occupied--is laid in state in the high
reception-hall, with the feet pointing to the door. On the bier are
wreaths, by it is burning a pan of incense, in or before the vestibule
is placed a cypress tree or a number of cypress branches for warning
information to the public.

On the day next but one after death the contractor, attended by
subordinates dressed in black, marshals his procession. Though it is
daytime, the procession will be accompanied by torches--another piece
of conservatism reminiscent of the time when funerals took place at
night, as they still did with children and commonly with the lower
orders. First go the musicians, playing upon flageolet, trumpet, or
horn; behind these, professional wailing-women, who raise loud
lamentation and beat their breasts. Next come the wax-masks, already
mentioned, of the distinguished ancestors of the Silii. These, which
are life-like portraits, have been taken out of their cupboards in the
wing of the reception-hall, and are worn over their faces by men of a
build as nearly as possible resembling that of the ancestors
represented. Each man also wears the insignia of the character for
whom he stands. The more of such "effigies" a house could produce, the
greater its glory. Such, however, was not the original purpose of this
part of the procession, for--though it had doubtless been generally
forgotten--the intention was to represent the deceased as being
conducted into the underworld by an honourable company already
established there. After the effigies comes that which would
correspond to our hearse. It is, however, no hearse of the modern
kind, but a bier or couch with the usual embellishment of ivory and
with covers of purple worked with gold. On this the body lies, open to
the sky, like that of Juliet. The bearers are either relatives or such
slaves as have been set free under Silius's last will. Behind come the
nearest relatives or heirs, the freedmen, friends, and clients, all
clothed in black, except the women, who are in white, without colour
or gold upon their dress. Young Publius will walk with his head
covered by his toga; Bassa with her hair loose and dishevelled. The
whole party will utter lamentations, though under more restraint than
those of the professional women in front.

Silius having been a senator and a man of other official standing, the
procession passes from the Caelian Hill along the Sacred Way to the
Forum, as far as the Rostra or speaking-platform. There the bier is
set down, the "ancestors" seat themselves on the folding-stools which
were the old-fashioned chairs of the higher officers, and one of the
relatives delivers an oration in praise, not only of Silius, but of
his family as represented in the ancestors.

[Illustration: FIG. 121.--TOMB OF CAECILIA METELLA.]

[Illustration: FIG. 122.--STREET OF TOMBS. (POMPEII.)]

The procession then forms again, and the party proceeds to whatever
place outside the walls may contain the family tomb of the Silii. No
burial is allowed within the city proper, and for our purposes we will
assume that the place is distant nearly a mile along the Appian Way.
We will assume also that Silius is to be cremated, and not simply
buried in a coffin or a marble sarcophagus. Few persons of the higher
classes, except certain of the Cornelii, are buried at this date,
although there is nothing in law or custom to prevent the choice.
There exists no "crematorium," and the Silii are regularly burned at
their own sepulchral allotment beside the "Queen of Roads."

If you were with the procession on this day you would find yourself
before one of an almost continuous chain of monuments, built in all
manner of shapes and sizes--such as great altars, small shrines,
pyramids (like that of Cestius on another road), or round towers like
the beautiful tomb of Caecilia Metella. The exterior of these
structures is often adorned with commemorative or symbolic carvings,
and the inside, which may be wholly above the surface or partly sunk
beneath--is a chamber surrounded by niches, in which are placed the
urns containing the ashes of the dead. Perhaps an illustration of the
present state of the "Street of Tombs" at Pompeii will afford some
notion, although the sepulchres of that provincial place by no means
matched those upon the various roads outside the Roman gates. Often
the monumental chamber stands somewhat back from the road, leaving
space for a large semicircular seat of stone open to public use, its
back wall being inscribed with some statement of honour to the family.
Round the sepulchre--"where all the kindred of the Silii lie" is a
space of ground, planted with shrubs and trees, and surrounded by a
low wall. Somewhere near, on an open level, the funeral pile has been
built of pine-logs, with the interstices stuffed with pitch,
brushwood, or other inflammable material. It is natural that the pyre
should take the shape of an altar and that cypress branches should
lean against the sides.

Upon the summit of this pile is laid Silius on his bier; incense and
unguents are shed over him; wreaths and other offerings, often of no
little value, are cast upon the heap. While loud cries of lamentation
are being raised by the company present, a near kinsman approaches the
pile with a torch, and, turning his face away, sets fire to the whole
structure. It speedily burns down, the last embers are quenched with
wine, the general company thrice cries "farewell," and, except for the
nearest relatives, the procession returns to the city. The relatives
who stay take off their shoes, wash their hands, and proceed to gather
up the bones--which they cleanse in wine and milk--and the ashes,
which they mix with perfume. These remains are then placed in the urn
of bronze, marble, alabaster, or maybe of coloured glass, and the urn
fills one more niche in the chamber of the monument.

[Illustration: FIG. 123.--COLUMBARIUM.]

Now and then there were more magnificent obsequies than those of
Silius. A "public" funeral might be decreed to a man who had deserved
conspicuously well of the state. On such an occasion the crier would
go round, calling "Oyez, come all who choose to the funeral of
So-and-So." The invitation meant, not merely participation in a solemn
procession, but also in the funeral feast, and probably an exhibition
of gladiators. On the other hand the majority of burials were
naturally of a far more simple and inexpensive kind. The poor could
not afford to use unguents and keep their dead till the third day;
they could not afford real cypress trees, but must use cheaper
substitutes, if anything at all. They could not afford all the
processionists and paraphernalia of the undertaker, but must be
satisfied with four commonplace bearers, who hurried away the corpse
in the evening, not on a couch but in a cheap box, and carried it out
to the common necropolis beyond the Esquiline Gate. Seldom could they
afford the fuel to burn the body, and in many cases it must simply be
thrown into a pit roughly dug and there left without monument. To
secure more respect and decency there were many burial clubs, whether
connected with the trade-guilds or not, and these procured a joint
tomb of the kind known as a "dovecote," or columbarium, from the
resemblance of its niches to so many pigeon-holes. These cooperative
sepulchres were underground vaults, and it is perhaps hardly necessary
to point out their direct relation to the Christian catacombs. Similar
tombs were sometimes used by the great Roman families for the remains
of the freedmen and slaves of their house.

[Illustration: FIG. 124.--TEMPLE OF JUPITER ON THE CAPITOL (Platform


Actors, contempt for, 268
Advertisements, 257
Aemilia, Basilica, 108
Africa, 45
Age, coming of, 332
Agriculture, implements of, 252
Alexander the Great, 34
Alexandria, 14, 25, 34, 44
Amphitheatres, 280
performances, 282
Amulets, 318
Andalusia, 36
Antioch, 14, 43
Appian Way, 22, 118
Aqueducts, 136
Architecture, 112, 422-424
Argiletum, the, 108
Aristocrat, clients of, 206
daily life of, 193
dress of, 196
as pleader in law-courts, 216
social duties of, 217
Army, the, 12, 52, 338-358
artillery, 356
auxiliaries, 352
camping arrangements, 349
cavalry, 339, 353, 356
composition, 339
dress and equipment, 342
Imperial Guards, 353
infantry, 339, 352
legionaries, 339
pay and rations, 344
promotion, 347
terms of service, 340
training, 340, 345
typical soldier's life, 342-350
Art, 416-433
apparent lack of artistic feeling, 429
contempt for professional artists, 428
influence of Greece, 421
profession and quality of, 416-420
statues, 418, 424
wall-paintings, 425-428
Artemis, temple of, 42
Artillery, 356
Asia Minor, towns of, 42
Astronomy, 359
Athens, 40
Athletics, 263
Auctioneers, receipt tablets of, 250
Augustus, title of emperor, 55
Augustus, Forum of, 188
mausoleum of, 120
Authors, amateur, 219, 235

Baetica (_see_ Andalusia)
Bakers, 248
Bandits, 24
Banking, 216, 239
Basilica Aemilia, 108
of Julius, 106
Baths, 122, 124
Beard, method of wearing, 195
Beds, 182
Beggars, 243
Betrothal ceremony, 296
Boadicea, 39
Books, size and shape of, 335-337
Booksellers, 109, 247
Boots (_see_ Shoes)
Boxing-gloves, 265
Breakfast, 200
Britain, 39
Burial, 434-447
funeral rites, 439-445
offerings to the dead, 438
tombs, 444, 446

Caligula, 73, 95, 115, 234
Camps, military, 349
Campus Martius, the, 120
Carpets, absence of, 180
Carriages, 19
regulation of traffic, 131
Cavalry, 339, 353, 356
Census of Augustus, 85
Chariot-races, 263, 274, 280
colours in, 274, 278
horses, 275
prizes, 278
procession of chariots, 277
Charts, 18
Chemistry, 402
ceremony at birth and naming, 317
coming of age, 332
early life, 319
education, 320-335
parental power over, 315-317
privileges of parents, 314
registration, 318
Christians, earlier tolerance towards, 383
their subsequent persecution, 79, 384-387
Circus Maximus, 128, 173
Citizens: as clients of the wealthy, 206
doles of corn and money to, 242
freed slaves may become, 204
rights of, 56, 92
Civilisation, Roman, 30
Greek, 32
Asiatic, 33
_Claqueurs_, in law-courts, 217
in theatres, 273
Nero's use of, 77
Class distinctions, 66
Clients, 206, 222, 245
dinner to, 235
escort to patron, 211
literary, 208
Cloaks, 220
Clocks, water, 192
"Colony," formation of, 84
Columbarium, joint sepulchre, 447
Commerce, 36
Concord, Temple of, 105
Concrete, extensive use of, in building, 138
Consulship, the, 359
Cook-shops, 258
Corinth, 40
Corn, monthly allowances of, 242
corn-lands, 45
Couches, 181, 226
Cremation, 445
Crops, rotation of, 252
Customs duties, 87
Cynics, the, 412

Damascus, 44
Dancing girls, 232
Dead, offerings to the, 438
Decoration, house, 150, 164
in theatres, 267
Deities, festivals of, 261
household, 376
official duties to, 374
variety of, 362, 366, 368
Delphi, 40
Dicing, 232, 258
conversation and entertainment at, 231, 235
description of, 229, 234
exaggerated accounts, 228
extravagance of Court, 234
to clients, 235
wine at, 233
Dissection, human, prohibition of, 404
Divorce, 304
Doles of corn and money, 242
Doors, 145
Dowry, 299
Drainage, 161
Drama, low level of the, 268, 270
distinctions of, 65
for dinner, 226
hats, 212
mantles, 221, 274
military, 342
toga, 197, 332
theatrical, 269
typical aristocrat's, 196
women's, 308-313
Druids, the, 382

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