Chapter 3 of Volume 3

How the Romans raised themselves to Empire

September 27, 2015

Modern Europeans have very near the same arts, the same arms, the same discipline, and the same manner of making war.

The prodigious fortune to which the Romans attained, seems incredible to us. Besides, power is at this time divided so disproportionably, that it is not possible for a petty state to raise itself, merely by its own strength, [16] from the low condition in which Providence has placed it.

A European prince who has 1 million people cannot maintain more than 10,000 soldiers or 1= 100 without destroying himself. Consequently, only large nations have armies.

But this was different with ancient commonwealths. Their proportion of citizens to soldiers was 1= 8.

The founders of ancient commonwealths had made an equal distribution of the lands. This alone raised a nation to power by creating a well-regulated society.

This also strengthed its armies. It let everyone exert himself in defence of his country.

When laws were not executed in their full rigour, affairs returned back to the same point in which we now see them. The avarice of some particular persons, and the lavish profuseness of others, occasioned the lands to become the property of a few; immediately arts were introduced to supply the reciprocal wants of the rich and poor; by which means there were but very few soldiers or citizens seen; for the revenues of the lands that had before been employed to support the latter, were now bestowed wholly on slaves and artificers, who administered to the luxury of the new proprietors; for otherwise the government, which, how licentious soever it be, must exist, would have [17] been destroyed.

Before the state’s corruption, its original revenues were divided among the soldiers, that is, the labourers. After it was corrupted, they went first to the rich, who let them out to flaves and artificers, from whom they received by way of tribute a part for the maintenance of the soldiers.

It was impossible that people of this cast should be good soldiers, they being cowardly and abject; already corrupted by the luxury of cities, and often by the very art they professed; not to mention, that as they could not properly call any country their own, and reaped the fruits of their industry in every clime, they had very little either to lose or keep.

In the survey * of the people of Rome, some time after the expulsion of the kings, and in that taken by Demetrius Phalerous at Athens found the population nearly equal.

Rome had 440,000. Athens had 431,000. But the census at Rome was made when its establishment was come to maturity. That of Athens was done when it was quite corrupt.

The adult population at Rome was 1/4 of the total population. At Athens, it was a little less than 1/20. Rome’s strength, therefore, to that of Athens, was at these different times almost five times larger.

Agis and Cleomenes observed that instead of 30,000 citizens, (for so many were at Sparta in Lycurgus’s time) there were only 700. Scarce 100 of them had lands. All the rest were no more than a cowardly populace. They undertook to revive the laws enacted on this occasion. From that period Sparta [18] recovered its former power, and again became formidable to all the Greeks.

It was the equal distribution of lands that at first enabled Rome to soar above its humble condition. This the Romans were strongly sensible of in their corrupted state.

This commonwealth was confined to narrow bounds, when the Latins, having refused to succour them with the troops which had been * stipulated, ten legions were presently raised in the city only= scarce at this time, says Livy, Rome, whom the whole universe is not able to contain, could levy such a force, were an enemy to appear suddenly under its wall= a sure indication that we have not risen in power, and have only increased the luxury and wealth which incommode us.

Tell me, would Tiberius Gracchus say † to the nobles, which is the most valuable character, that of a citizen or of a perpetual slave; who is most useful, a soldier, or a man entirely unfit for war? will you, merely for the sake of enjoying a few more acres of land than the rest of the citizens, quite lay aside the hopes of conquering the rest of the world, or be exposed to see yourselves dispossessed by the enemy, of those very lands which you refuse us?


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