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Until the privileges of Romans had been progressively extended to all the inhabitants of the empire, an important distinction was
preserved between Italy
and the provinces. The former was esteemed the centre of public unity, and the firm basis of the constitution
Italy claimed the birth, or at least the residence, of the emperor
s and the senate. 26
The estates of the Italians were exempt from
taxes, their persons from the arbitrary jurisdiction of governors. Their municipal corporation
s, formed after the perfect model of the
, were intrusted, under the immediate eye of the supreme power, with the execution of the laws. From the foot of the Alps to
the extremity of Calabria, all the natives of Italy were born citizens of Rome
. Their partial distinctions were obliterated, and they
insensibly coalesced into one great nation, united by language, manners, and civil institutions, and equal to the weight of a powerful
empire. The republic gloried in her generous policy, and was frequently rewarded by the merit
and services of her adopted sons. Had
she always confined the distinction of Romans to the ancient families within the walls of the city, that immortal name would have been
deprived of some of its noblest ornaments. Virgi
l was a native of Mantua
was inclined to doubt whether he should call himself
an Apulian or a Lucanian; it was in Padua
that an historian was found worthy to record the majestic series of Roman victories. The
patriot family of the Catos emerged from Tusculum; and the little town of Arpinum claimed the double honor of producing Marius and
, the former of whom deserved, after Romulus
and Camillus, to be styled the Third Founder of Rome
; and the latter, after
saving his country from the designs of Catiline, enabled her to contend with Athens for the palm of eloquence. 27
Note 26: The senators were obliged to have one third of their own landed property in Italy. See Plin. l. vi. ep. 19. The qualification
was reduced by Marcus to one fourth. Since the reign of Trajan, Italy had sunk nearer to the level of the provinces.
Note 27: The first part of the Verona Illustrata of the Marquis Maffei gives the clearest and most comprehensive view of the state
of Italy under the Caesars.
Note: Compare Denina, Revol. d' Italia, l. ii. c. 6, p. 100, 4 to edit.
The provinces of the empire (as they have been described in the preceding chapter) were destitute of any public force, or
. In Etruria, in Greece
and in Gaul
it was the first care of the senate
to dissolve those dangerous
confederacies, which taught mankind that, as the Roman arms prevailed by division, they might be resisted by union. Those princes,
whom the ostentation of gratitude or generosity permitted for a while to hold a precarious sceptre, were dismissed from their thrones,
as soon as they had per formed their appointed task of fashioning to the yoke the vanquished nations. The free states and cities which
had embraced the cause of Rome
were rewarded with a nominal alliance, and insensibly sunk into real servitude. The public authority
was every where exercised by the ministers of the senate and of the emperor
s, and that authority was absolute, and without control.
But the same salutary maxims of government, which had secured the peace and obedience
of Italy were extended to the most distant
s. A nation of Romans was gradually formed in the provinces, by the double expedient of introducing colonies, and of
admitting the most faithful and deserving of the provincials to the freedom of Rome
Note 28: See Pausanias, l. vii. The Romans condescended to restore the names of those assemblies, when they could no longer be
Note 29: They are frequently mentioned by Caesar. The Abbe Dubos attempts, with very little success, to prove that the
assemblies of Gaul were continued under the emperors. Histoire de l'Etablissement de la Monarchie Francoise, l. i. c. 4.
"Wheresoever the Roman conquers, he inhabits," is a very just observation of Seneca
confirmed by history and experience. The
natives of Italy, allured by pleasure or by interest, hastened to enjoy the advantages of victory; and we may remark, that, about forty
years after the reduction of Asia
, eighty thousand Romans were massacred in one day, by the cruel orders of Mithridates. 31
voluntary exiles were engaged, for the most part, in the occupations of commerce
, and the farm of the revenue. But after
the legions were rendered permanent by the emperor
s, the provinces were peopled by a race of soldiers; and the veterans, whether
they received the reward of their service in land or in money, usually settled with their families in the country, where they had
honorably spent their youth. Throughout the empire
, but more particularly in the western parts, the most fertile
districts, and the most
convenient situations, were reserved for the establishment of colonies; some of which were of a civil, and others of a military nature.
In their manners and internal policy, the colonies formed a perfect representation of their great parent; and they were soon endeared to
the natives by the ties of friendship and alliance
, they effectually diffused a reverence for the Roman name, and a desire, which was
seldom disappointed, of sharing, in due time, its honors and advantages. 32
The municipal cities insensibly equalled the rank and
splendor of the colonies; and in the reign of Hadrian
, it was disputed which was the preferable condition, of those societies which had
issued from, or those which had been received into, the bosom of Rome
The right of Latium, as it was called, conferred on
the cities to which it had been granted, a more partial favor. The magistrates only, at the expiration of their office, assumed the quality
of Roman citizens; but as those offices were annual, in a few years they circulated round the principal families. 34
Those of the
provincials who were permitted to bear arms in the legions; 35
those who exercised any civil
employment; all, in a word, who
performed any public service
, or displayed any personal talents, were rewarded with a present, whose value was continually
diminished by the increasing liberality of the emperor
s. Yet even, in the age of the Antonines
, when the freedom of the city had been
bestowed on the greater number of their subjects, it was still accompanied with very solid advantages. The bulk of the people
acquired, with that title, the benefit of the Roman laws, particularly in the interesting articles of marriage, testaments, and inheritances;
and the road of fortune was open to those whose pretensions were seconded by favor or merit. The grandsons of the Gaul
s, who had
besieged Julius Caesar
in Alcsia, commanded legions, governed provinces, and were admitted into the senate of Rome
ambition, instead of disturbing the tranquillity of the state, was intimately connected with its safety and greatness.
Note 30: Seneca in Consolat. ad Helviam, c. 6.
Note 31: Memnon apud Photium, (c. 33,) c. 224, p. 231, ed Bekker. Valer. Maxim. ix. 2. Plutarch and Dion Cassius swell the
massacre to 150,000 citizens; but I should esteem the smaller number to be more than sufficient.
Note 32: Twenty-five colonies were settled in Spain, (see Plin. Hist. Nat. iii. 3, 4; iv. 35;) and nine in Britain, of which London,
Colchester, Lincoln, Chester, Gloucester, and Bath still remain considerable cities. (See Richard of Cirencester, p. 36, and Whittaker's
History of Manchester, l. i. c. 3.)
Note 33: Aul. Gel. Noctes Atticae, xvi 13. The emperor Hadrian expressed his surprise, that the cities of Utica, Gades, and Italica,
which already enjoyed the rights of Municipia, should solicit the title of colonies. Their example, however, became fashionable, and the
empire was filled with honorary colonies. See Spanheim, de Usu Numismatum Dissertat. xiii.
Note 34: Spanheim, Orbis Roman. c. 8, p. 62.
Note 35: Aristid. in Romae Encomio. tom. i. p. 218, edit. Jebb.
Note 36: Tacit. Annal. xi. 23, 24. Hist. iv. 74.
So sensible were the Romans of the influence of language over national manners, that it was their most serious care to extend, with
the progress of their arms, the use of the Latin
The ancient dialects of Italy, the Sabine, the Etruscan
, and the Venetian
sunk into oblivion; but in the provinces, the east was less docile than the west to the voice of its victorious preceptors. This obvious
difference marked the two portions of the empire with a distinction of colors, which, though it was in some degree concealed during
the meridian splendor of prosperit
y, became gradually more visible, as the shades of night descended upon the Roman world. The
western countries were civilized by the same hands which subdued them. As soon as the Barbarian
s were reconciled to obedience,
their minds were open to any new impressions of knowledge and politeness. The language of Virgil
, though with some
inevitable mixture of corruption, was so universally adopted in Africa
Britain, and Pannonia, 38
that the faint traces of
the Punic or Celtic
idioms were preserved only in the mountains, or among the peasants. 39
Education and study insensibly inspired
the natives of those countries with the sentiments of Romans; and Italy gave fashions, as well as laws, to her Latin
solicited with more ardor, and obtained with more facility, the freedom and honors of the state; supported the national dignity in letters
and in arms; and at length, in the person of Trajan, produced an emperor
whom the Scipios would not have disowned for their
countryman. The situation of the Greeks was very different from that of the Barbarian
s. The former had been long since civilized and
corrupted. They had too much taste to relinquish their language, and too much vanity to adopt any foreign institutions. Still preserving
the prejudices, after they had lost the virtues, of their ancestors, they affected to despise the unpolished manners of the Roman
conquerors, whilst they were compelled to respect their superior wisdom
Nor was the influence of the Grecian
language and sentiments confined to the narrow limits of that once celebrated country. Their empire, by the progress of colonies and
, had been diffused from the Adriatic to the Euphrates
and the Nile
. Asia was covered with Greek cities, and the long reign of
the Macedonian kings had introduced a silent revolution into Syria
and Egypt. In their pompous courts, those princes united the
elegance of Athens
with the luxury of the East, and the example of the court was imitated, at an humble distance, by the higher ranks
of their subjects. Such was the general division of the Roman empire into the Latin
and Greek languages. To these we may add a third
distinction for the body of the natives in Syria
, and especially in Egypt
, the use of their ancient dialects, by secluding them from the
commerce of mankind, checked the improvements of those Barbarian
The slothful effeminacy of the former exposed them to
the contempt, the sullen ferociousness of the latter excited the aversion, of the conquerors. 43
Those nations had submitted to the
Roman power, but they seldom desired or deserved the freedom of the city: and it was remarked, that more than two hundred and
thirty years elapsed after the ruin of the Ptolemies
, before an Egyptian was admitted into the senate of Rome
Note 37: See Plin. Hist. Natur. iii. 5. Augustin. de Civitate Dei, xix 7 Lipsius de Pronunciatione Linguae Latinae, c. 3.
Note 38: Apuleius and Augustin will answer for Africa; Strabo for Spain and Gaul; Tacitus, in the life of Agricola, for Britain; and
Velleius Paterculus, for Pannonia. To them we may add the language of the Inscriptions.
Note: Mr. Hallam contests this assertion as regards Britain. "Nor did the Romans ever establish their language - I know not whether
they wished to do so - in this island, as we perceive by that stubborn British tongue which has survived two conquests." In his note,
Mr. Hallam examines the passage from Tacitus (Agric. xxi.) to which Gibbon refers. It merely asserts the progress of Latin studies
among the higher orders. (Midd. Ages, iii. 314.) Probably it was a kind of court language, and that of public affairs and prevailed in the
Roman colonies. - M.
Note 39: The Celtic was preserved in the mountains of Wales, Cornwall, and Armorica. We may observe, that Apuleius
reproaches an African youth, who lived among the populace, with the use of the Punic; whilst he had almost forgot Greek, and neither
could nor would speak Latin, (Apolog. p. 596.) The greater part of St. Austin's congregations were strangers to the Punic.
Note 40: Spain alone produced Columella, the Senecas, Lucan, Martial, and Quintilian.
Note 41: There is not, I believe, from Dionysius to Libanus, a single Greek critic who mentions Virgil or Horace. They seem
ignorant that the Romans had any good writers.
Note 42: The curious reader may see in Dupin, (Bibliotheque Ecclesiastique, tom. xix. p. 1, c. 8,) how much the use of the Syriac
and Egyptian languages was still preserved.
Note 43: See Juvenal, Sat. iii. and xv. Ammian. Marcellin. xxii. 16.
Note 44: Dion Cassius, l. lxxvii. p. 1275. The first
instance happened under the reign of Septimius Severus.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
1st ed. (London : Printed for W. Strahan ; and T. Cadell, 1776-1788.), pp. 34-39.