The Development Of The Roman Empire
( Originally Published 1893 )
It is only the nineteenth century which has been conscientious in preserving the monuments of the past, but it is also like its predecessors in not fearing to pull down what has been done within a century or two, a system which, when applied for centuries, leaves very little to speak for any. As it frequently happens in our own time, so it was with the Romans. In the days of wealth and power the old buildings were not good enough or large enough to suit the new ideas of the people and were replaced by those whose ruins have partly come down to our time. Some of the walls built by King Servius Tullius and the Etruscan drainage aqueduct and sewer known as the Cloaca Maxima are the chief visible remains of the Roman monarchy (750—510 B.C.).
The early republic has been equally unfortunate. The first important remains of Roman construction in point of time are some of the aqueduct ruins of the Campagna dating about 150 B.C.
Meantime, before this date, still farther and more important revolutions, or evolutions, had befallen the Roman state. Mistress of Italy after B.C. 275,t herpower had become a standing threat to that of the Phenician Carthage which ruled the coasts of North africa and Eastern Spain, and the Islands of Sardinia and Corsica, with much less attention to the well-being of the conquered populations than was displayed by Rome with the conquered states of Italy. The contrast was apparent to the peoples oppressed by the Phenicians, who in their turn were conscious of the hatred which their oppressions caused. Both saw in Rome the rival of the oppressor and consequently the champion of the oppressed. Hence a jealousy which led to the wars with Car thage (260–200 B.C.), whose ultimate result was Roman supremacy throughout the whole Western Mediterranean and over its shores. This enormous access of power roused the jealousy of the states of the Macedonian Greeks which had succeeded to Alexander's great Oriental empire. After B.C. 200 Rome thus became involved in contentions with the Greek Asiatic states, and with the Macedonian rulers, which by the time of Julius Caesar (B.C.50) had resulted in turning all the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean into Roman provinces.
We know Julius Caesar as the founder of the later empire and Augustus as its first recognized ruler. Its territories were ultimately (according to modern. designations) England, South and West Germany, Austria, France, Spain, North Africa, Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, European Turkey, Greece, Roumania, and the Danube countries, Southern Hungary, and, of course, Italy. As regards the art of the Roman Empire, which, as already explained, is mainly the only art of the Romans known now to us, we must insist on the process accomplished through its history, which corresponds to that already explained for the Romans of Italy and the Italians conquered by Rome. The same facts, on a broader scale, hold for all the territories above named but with one grand distinction between the eastern and the western halves of the empire. The East had a civilization long antedating that of the Romans, but affiliated with it, not only by correspondence of derivation and character, but also by a long series of transmissions and expansions to and over Italy herself. The art of the whole Eastern Mediterranean was Greek or Grecianized since Alexander.
In Africa the Romans succeeded to the heritage of Carthaginian civilization which had become itself much Grecianized. In Spain the Romans succeeded to the heritage of the Phenicians and the Greeks. In France they succeeded to the heritage of Phenician and Greek influences —and yet in all these countries they were themselves largely the founders and fathers of later civilization, and for England, Northern France, and West and South Germany, they were almost entirely so.
The distinction then between the eastern and western parts of the empire is that very largely in the West the Romans were the propagators and pioneers, while in the East they were the heirs and the learners. The case briefly stated, is that the Romans were the lawyers, the engineers, the systematizers, and the pathfinders of the later centuries of Mediterranean history. All the peoples of the empire became Roman in language, in governmental systems, and in rights of citizenship, and the Romans themselves were transformed into the general mass of the population which they had solidified and endowed with their own laws and culture.
It is only in this way that we can rightly conceive the significance and importance of Roman ruins and works of art as found in England, Spain, France, Germany, Africa, Syria, etc. It is of great importance not to view these things as they have been viewed in a more elementary stage of modern studies—as monuments of conquest, as exported works of art, as relics of a foreign domination—in a word as intrusive and as foreign to the countries where they are found. They represent on the contrary, the native civilization and the native art of the countries in which they were made, for the time in which they were made—as the result not of military conquest but of commerce and of intercourse working through centuries. The power of the Roman did not lie in force of arms but in the catholic self-abnegation of the statesmen and heroes who conceived of history as an evolution of commerce, not as a carnage of rival armies. Soldiers and legions and generals there were, combats and jealousies of interior rival forces, and selfishness—as always in history. But the legions of the empire were not raised to trample on the liberties of Roman citizens, and all freemen were Roman citizens or so became. These legions were the guardians of the civilization of their day. Their post was the frontiers of the State and their indirect mission largely was to continue the expansion of the domestic arts and sciences beyond its borders.
The illustrations have been chosen through these immediate pages as symbols of the diffusion of Roman civilization under the conditions just explained. On the other hand it is most important where illustrations from Italy or the city of Rome are concerned, to look at them as representing buildings or objects which once covered all the territories named.
The most marvelous witnesses to the character of Roman civilization are the Roman ruins east of the Jordan in Syria, where there are more Roman ruins today than in the entire area of the old Roman world otherwise considered—the explanation being simply that the Bedouin Arabs now dwelling in this country and whose tribes have had it in possession since the seventh century A.D., live in tents and have never treated the ruins as quarries for building material. It is this use of Roman ruins as quarries by the later populations of all other territories named which has caused their destruction and disappearance, so that it is difficult to imagine now the territories of England, France, Spain, or North Africa, as having once exhibited the same wonderful number of constructions which the East Jordan territory still bears to view.