Back to Chapter Listing
All these cities were connected with each other, and with the capital, by the public highways, which, issuing from the Forum of
, traversed Italy
, pervaded the provinces, and were terminated only by the frontiers of the empire. If we carefully trace the
distance from the wall of Antoninus to Rome
, and from thence to Jerusalem, it will be found that the great chain of communication,
from the north-west to the south-east point of the empire, was drawn out to the length if four thousand and eighty Roman miles. 85
The public roads were accurately divided by mile-stones, and ran in a direct line from one city to another, with very little respect for
the obstacles either of nature or private property
. Mountains were perforated, and bold arches thrown over the broadest and most
rapid streams. 86
The middle part of the road was raised into a terrace which commanded the adjacent country, consisted of several
strata of sand, gravel, and cement, and was paved with large stones, or, in some places near the capital, with granite. 87
the solid construction of the Roman highways, whose firmness has not entirely yielded to the effort of fifteen centuries. They united
the subjects of the most distant provinces by an easy and familiar intercourse; out their primary object had been to facilitate the
marches of the legions; nor was any country considered as completely subdued, till it had been rendered, in all its parts, pervious to
the arms and authority of the conqueror. The advantage of receiving the earliest intelligence, and of conveying their orders with
celerity, induced the emperor
s to establish, throughout their extensive dominion
s, the regular institution of posts. 88
every where erected at the distance only of five or six miles; each of them was constantly provided with forty horses, and by the help
of these relays, it was easy to travel a hundred miles in a day along the Roman roads. 89
The use of posts was allowed to those
who claimed it by an Imperial
mandate; but though originally intended for the public service, it was sometimes indulged to the business
or conveniency of private citizens. 90
Nor was the communication of the Roman empire less free and open by sea than it was by
land. The provinces surrounded and enclosed the Mediterranean: and Italy
, in the shape of an immense promontory, advanced into the
midst of that great lake. The coasts of Italy
are, in general, destitute of safe harbors; but human Indus
try had corrected the deficiencies
of nature; and the artificial port of Ostia, in particular, situate at the mouth of the Tyber, and formed by the emperor Claudius
, was a
useful monument of Roman greatness. 91
From this port, which was only sixteen miles from the capital, a favorable breeze
frequently carried vessels in seven days to the columns of Hercules, and in nine or ten, to Alexandria
in Egypt. 92
Note 85: The following Itinerary may serve to convey some idea of the direction of the road, and of the distance between the
principal towns. I. From the wall of Antoninus to York, 222 Roman miles. II. London, 227. III. Rhutupiae or Sandwich, 67. IV. The
navigation to Boulogne, 45. V. Rheims, 174. VI. Lyons, 330. VII. Milan, 324. VIII. Rome, 426. IX. Brundusium, 360. X. The
navigation to Dyrrachium, 40. XI. Byzantium, 711. XII. Ancyra, 283. XIII. Tarsus, 301. XIV. Antioch, 141. XV. Tyre, 252. XVI.
Jerusalem, 168. In all 4080 Roman, or 3740 English miles. See the Itineraries published by Wesseling, his annotations; Gale and
Stukeley for Britain, and M. d'Anville for Gaul and Italy.
Note 86: Montfaucon, l'Antiquite Expliquee, (tom. 4, p. 2, l. i. c. 5,) has described the bridges of Narni, Alcantara, Nismes, &c.
Note 87: Bergier, Histoire des grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain, l. ii. c. l. l - 28.
Note 88: Procopius in Hist. Arcana, c. 30. Bergier, Hist. des grands Chemins, l. iv. Codex Theodosian. l. viii. tit. v. vol. ii. p. 506
- 563 with Godefroy's learned commentary.
Note 89: In the time of Theodosius, Caesarius, a magistrate of high rank, went post from Antioch to Constantinople. He began his
journey at night, was in Cappadocia (165 miles from Antioch) the ensuing evening, and arrived at Constantinople the sixth day about
noon. The whole distance was 725 Roman, or 665 English miles. See Libanius, Orat. xxii., and the Itineria, p. 572 - 581. Note: A
courier is mentioned in Walpole's Travels, ii. 335, who was to travel from Aleppo to Constantinople, more than 700 miles, in eight
days, an unusually short journey. Posts for the conveyance of intelligence were established by Augustus. Suet. Aug. 49. The couriers travelled with
amazing speed. Hadrian, perceiving the
advantage of this improvement, extended it to all the provinces of the empire. Cardwell on Coins, p. 220. - M.
Note 90: Pliny, though a favorite and a minister, made an apology for granting post-horses to his wife on the most urgent
business. Epist. x. 121, 122.
Note 91: Bergier, Hist. des grands Chemins, l. iv. c. 49.
Note 92: Plin. Hist. Natur. xix. i. In Prooem.
Note: Pliny says Puteoli, which seems to have been the usual landing place from the East. See the voyages of St. Paul, Acts xxviii. 13,
and of Josephus, Vita, c. 3 - M.
Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire, the power of Rome
was attended with some beneficial
consequences to mankind; and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise the improvements, of
social life. In the more remote ages of antiquity
, the world was unequally divided. The East was in the immemorial possession of arts
; whilst the West was inhabited by rude and warlike Barbarian
s, who either disdained Agriculture
, or to whom it was totally
unknown. Under the protection of an established government, the productions of happier climates, and the Industry
of more civilized
nations, were gradually introduced into the western countries of Europe; and the natives were encouraged, by an open and profitable
, to multiply the former, as well as to improve the latter. It would be almost impossible to enumerate all the articles, either of
the animal or the vegetable reign, which were successively imported into Europe from Asia and Egypt: 93
but it will not be unworthy
of the dignity, and much less of the utility, of an historical work, slightly to touch on a few of the principal heads.
1. Almost all the
flowers, the herbs, and the fruits, that grow in our European gardens, are of foreign extraction, which, in many cases, is betrayed
even by their names: the apple was a native of Italy
, and when the Romans had tasted the richer flavor of the apricot, the peach, the
pomegranate, the citron, and the orange, they contented themselves with applying to all these new fruits the common denomination of
apple, discriminating them from each other by the additional epithet of their country.
2. In the time of Homer, the vine grew wild in the
island of Sicily
, and most probably in the adjacent continent; but it was not improved by the skill, nor did it afford a liquor grateful to
the taste, of the savage inhabitants. 94
A thousand years afterwards, Italy
could boast, that of the fourscore most generous and
celebrated wines, more than two thirds were produced from her soil. 95
The blessing was soon communicated to the Narbonnese
province of Gaul
; but so intense was the cold to the north of the Cevennes, that, in the time of Strabo, it was thought impossible to
ripen the grapes in those parts of Gaul
This difficulty, however, was gradually vanquished; and there is some reason to believe,
that the vineyards of Burgundy are as old as the age of the Antonines
3. The olive, in the western world, followed the progress of
peace, of which it was considered as the symbol. Two centuries after the foundation of Rome
, both Italy
and Africa were strangers to
that useful plant: it was naturalized in those countries; and at length carried into the heart of Spain and Gaul
. The timid errors of the
ancients, that it required a certain degree of heat, and could only flourish in the neighborhood of the sea, were insensibly exploded by
and experience. 98
4. The cultivation of flax
was transported from Egypt to Gaul
, and enriched the whole country, however
it might impoverish the particular lands on which it was sown. 99
5. The use of artificial grasses became familiar to the farmers both
and the provinces, particularly the Lucerne, which derived its name and origin from Media. 100
The assured supply of
wholesome and plentiful food for the cattle during winter, multiplied the number of the docks and herds, which in their turn
contributed to the fertility of the soil. To all these improvements may be added an assiduous attention to mines and fisheries, which, by
employing a multitude of laborious hands, serve to increase the pleasures of the rich and the subsistence of the poor. The elegant
treatise of Columella describes the advanced state of the Spanish husbandry under the reign of Tiberius
; and it may be observed, that
those famines, which so frequently afflicted the infant republic
, were seldom or never experienced by the extensive empire of Rome
The accidental scarcity, in any single province, was immediately relieved by the plenty of its more fortunate neighbors.
Note 93: It is not improbable that the Greeks and Phoenicians introduced some new arts and productions into the neighborhood of
Marseilles and Gades.
Note 94: See Homer, Odyss. l. ix. v. 358.
Note 95: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xiv.
Note 96: Strab. Geograph. l. iv. p. 269. The intense cold of a Gallic winter was almost proverbial among the ancients. Strabo only says that the grape does not ripen. Attempts had been made in the time of Augustus to naturalize the vine in the
north of Gaul; but the cold was too great. Diod. Sic. edit. Rhodom. p. 304. - W. Diodorus (lib. v. 26) gives a curious picture of the
Italian traders bartering, with the savages of Gaul, a cask of wine for a slave. - M.
Note 97: In the beginning of the fourth century, the orator Eumenius (Panegyr. Veter. viii. 6, edit. Delphin.) speaks of the vines in
the territory of Autun, which were decayed through age, and the first plantation of which was totally unknown. The Pagus Arebrignus
is supposed by M. d'Anville to be the district of Beaune, celebrated, even at present for one of the first growths of Burgundy.
Note 99: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. xix.
Note 100: See the agreeable Essays on Agriculture by Mr. Harte, in which he has collected all that the ancients and moderns have
said of Lucerne.
is the foundation of manufactures; since the productions of nature are the materials of art. Under the
Roman empire, the labor of an Industrious
and ingenious people was variously, but incessantly, employed in the service of the rich. In
their dress, their table, their houses, and their furniture, the favorites of fortune united every refinement of conveniency, of elegance,
and of splendor, whatever could soothe their pride or gratify their sensuality. Such refinements, under the odious name of luxury
been severely arraigned by the moralists of every age; and it might perhaps be more conducive to the virtue, as well as happiness, of
mankind, if all possessed the necessaries, and none the superfluities, of life. But in the present imperfect condition of society, luxury
though it may proceed from vice or folly, seems to be the only means that can correct the unequal distribution of property
diligent mechanic, and the skilful artist, who have obtained no share in the division of the earth, receive a voluntary tax from the
possessors of land; and the latter are prompted, by a sense of interest, to improve those estates, with whose produce they may
purchase additional pleasures. This operation, the particular effects of which are felt in every society, acted with much more diffusive
energy in the Roman world. The provinces would soon have been exhausted of their wealth, if the manufactures and commerce
had not insensibly restored to the Industrious
subjects the sums which were exacted from them by the arms and authority of
. As long as the circulation was confined within the bounds of the empire, it impressed the political machine with a new degree
of activity, and its consequences, sometimes beneficial, could never become pernicious.
But it is no easy task to confine luxury
within the limits of an empire. The most remote countries of the ancient world were ransacked
to supply the pomp and delicacy of Rome
. The forests of Scythia afforded some valuable furs. Amber was brought over land from the
shores of the Baltic
to the Danube; and the Barbarian
s were astonished at the price which they received in exchange for so useless a
There was a considerable demand for Babylonian carpets, and other manufactures of the East; but the most
important and unpopular branch of foreign trade was carried on with Arabia and India. Every year, about the time of the summer
solstice, a fleet of a hundred and twenty vessels sailed from Myos-hormos, a port of Egypt, on the Red Sea. By the periodical
assistance of the monsoons, they traversed the ocean in about forty days. The coast of Malabar, or the island of Ceylon, 102
usual term of their navigation, and it was in those markets that the merchants from the more remote countries of Asia expected their
arrival. The return of the fleet of Egypt was fixed to the months of December or January; and as soon as their rich cargo had been
transported on the backs of camels, from the Red Sea to the Nile
, and had descended that river as far as Alexandria
, it was poured,
without delay, into the capital of the empire. 103
The objects of oriental traffic were splendid and trifling; silk, a pound of which was
esteemed not inferior in value to a pound of gold; 104
precious stones, among which the pearl claimed the first rank after the
and a variety of aromatics, that were consumed in religious worship and the pomp of funerals. The labor and risk of
the voyage was rewarded with almost incredible profit; but the profit was made upon Roman subjects, and a few individuals were
enriched at the expense of the public. As the natives of Arabia and India were contented with the productions and manufactures of
their own country, silver, on the side of the Romans, was the principal, if not the only *
instrument of commerce
. It was a complaint
worthy of the gravity of the senate, that, in the purchase of female ornaments, the wealth of the state was irrecoverably given away to
foreign and hostile nations. 106
The annual loss is computed, by a writer of an inquisitive but censorious temper, at upwards of eight
hundred thousand pounds sterling. 107
Such was the style of discontent, brooding over the dark prospect of approaching poverty.
And yet, if we compare the proportion between gold and silver, as it stood in the time of Pliny
, and as it was fixed in the reign of
, we shall discover within that period a very considerable increase. 108
There is not the least reason to suppose that gold
was become more scarce; it is therefore evident that silver was grown more common; that whatever might be the amount of the
Indian and Arabian exports, they were far from exhausting the wealth of the Roman world; and that the produce of the mines
abundantly supplied the demands of commerce
Note 101: Tacit. Germania, c. 45. Plin. Hist. Nat. xxxvii. 13. The latter observed, with some humor, that even fashion had not yet
found out the use of amber. Nero sent a Roman knight to purchase great quantities on the spot where it was produced, the coast of
Note 102: Called Taprobana by the Romans, and Serindib by the Arabs. It was discovered under the reign of Claudius, and
gradually became the principal mart of the East.
Note 103: Plin. Hist. Natur. l. vi. Strabo, l. xvii.
Note 104: Hist. August. p. 224. A silk garment was considered as an
ornament to a woman, but as a disgrace to a man.
Note 105: The two great pearl fisheries were the same as at present, Ormuz and Cape Comorin. As well as we can compare
ancient with modern geography, Rome was supplied with diamonds from the mine of Jumelpur, in Bengal, which is described in the
Voyages de Tavernier, tom. ii. p. 281.
Note *: Certainly not the only one. The Indians were not so contented with regard to foreign productions. Arrian has a long list of European wares, which they received in exchange for their own; Italian and other wines, brass, tin, lead, coral, chrysolith, storax, glass, dresses of one or many colors, zones, &c. In 1787, a peasant (near Nellore in the Carnatic) struck, in digging, on the remains of a Hindu temple; he found, also, a pot which contained Roman coins and medals of the second century, mostly Trajans, Adrians, and Faustinas, all of gold, many of them fresh and
beautiful, others defaced or perforated, as if they had been worn as ornaments. (Asiatic Researches, ii. 19.) - M.
Note 106: Tacit. Annal. iii. 53. In a speech of Tiberius.
Note 107: Plin. Hist. Natur. xii. 18. In another place he computes
half that sum; Quingenties H. S. for India exclusive of Arabia.
Note 108: The proportion, which was 1 to 10, and 12 1/2, rose to
14 2/5, the legal regulation of Constantine. See Arbuthnot's Tables of ancient Coins, c. 5.
Notwithstanding the propensity
of mankind to exalt
the past, and to depreciate
the present, the tranquil and prosperous state of the
empire was warmly felt, and honestly confessed, by the provincials as well as Romans. "They acknowledged that the true principles of
social life, laws, Agriculture
, and science, which had been first invented by the wisdom of Athens, were now firmly established by the
power of Rome
, under whose auspicious influence the fiercest Barbarian
s were united by an equal government and common language.
They affirm, that with the improvement of arts, the human species were visibly multiplied. They celebrate the increasing splendor of
the cities, the beautiful face of the country, cultivated and adorned like an immense garden; and the long festival of peace which was
enjoyed by so many nations, forgetful of the ancient animosities, and delivered from the apprehension of future danger." 109
Whatever suspicions may be suggested by the air of rhetoric and declamation, which seems to prevail in these passages, the substance
of them is perfectly agreeable to historic
Note 109: Among many other passages, see Pliny, (Hist. Natur. iii. 5.) Aristides, (de Urbe Roma,) and Tertullian, (de Anima, c.
It was scarcely possible that the eyes of contemporaries should discover in the public felicity
the latent causes of decay
. This long peace, and the uniform government of the Romans, introduced a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the
empire. The minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished, and even the military
evaporated. The natives of Europe were brave and robust. Spain, Gaul
, Britain, and Illyricum supplied the legions with excellent
soldiers, and constituted the real strength of the monarchy
. Their personal valor remained, but they no longer possessed that public
courage which is nourished by the love of independence
, the sense of national honor
, the presence of danger, and the habit of
command. They received laws and governors from the will of their sovereign, and trusted for their defence to a mercenary
posterity of their boldest leaders was contented with the rank of citizens and subjects. The most aspiring spirits resorted to the court
or standard of the emperor
s; and the deserted provinces, deprived of political strength or union, insensibly sunk into the languid
indifference of private life.
The love of letters, almost inseparable from peace and refinement, was fashionable among the subjects of Hadrian
and the Antonines
who were themselves men of learning and curiosity. It was diffused over the whole extent of their empire; the most northern tribes of
Britons had acquired a taste for rhetoric; Homer as well as Virgil were transcribed and studied on the banks of the Rhine and Danube;
and the most liberal rewards sought out the faintest glimmerings of literary merit. 110
The sciences of physics
successfully cultivated by the Greek
s; the observations of Ptolemy
and the writings of Galen
are studied by those who have improved
their discoveries and corrected their errors; but if we except the inimitable Lucian, this age of indolence passed away without having
produced a single writer of original genius, or who excelled in the arts
of elegant composition. The authority of Plato
, still reigned in the schools; and their systems, transmitted with blind deference from one generation of disciples
to another, precluded every generous attempt to exercise the powers, or enlarge the limits, of the human mind. The beauties of the
poets and orators, instead of kindling a fire like their own, inspired only cold and servile mitations: or if any ventured to deviate from
those models, they deviated at the same time from good sense and propriety. On the revival of letters, the youthful vigor of the
imagination, after a long repose, national emulation, a new religion, new languages, and a new world, called forth the genius of Europe.
But the provincials of Rome
, trained by a uniform artificial foreign education, were engaged in a very unequal competition with those
bold ancients, who, by expressing their genuine feelings in their native tongue, had already occupied every place of honor. The name
of Poet was almost forgotten; that of Orator was usurped by the sophists. A cloud of critics, of compilers, of commentators,
darkened the face of learning, and the decline of genius was soon followed by the corruption of taste.
Note 110: Herodes Atticus gave the sophist Polemo above eight thousand pounds for three declamations. See Philostrat. l. i. p.
538. The Antonines founded a school at Athens, in which professors of grammar, rhetoric, politics, and the four great sects of
philosophy were maintained at the public expense for the instruction of youth. The salary of a philosopher was ten thousand
drachmae, between three and four hundred pounds a year. Similar establishments were formed in the other great cities of the empire.
The sublime Longinus
, who, in somewhat a later period, and in the court of a Syrian queen, preserved the spirit of ancient Athens
observes and laments this degeneracy of his contemporaries, which debased their sentiments, enervated their courage, and depressed
their talents. "In the same manner," says he, "as some children always remain pygmies, whose infant limbs have been too closely
confined, thus our tender minds, fettered by the prejudices and habits of a just servitude, are unable to expand themselves, or to attain
that well-proportioned greatness which we admire in the ancients; who, living under a popular government, wrote with the same
freedom as they acted."111
This diminutive stature of mankind, if we pursue the metaphor, was daily sinking below the old standard,
and the Roman world was indeed peopled by a race of pygmies; when the fierce giants of the north broke in, and mended the puny
breed. They restored a manly spirit of freedom
; and after the revolution of ten centuries, freedom became the happy parent of taste
Note 111: Longin. de Sublim. c. 44, p. 229, edit. Toll. Here, too, we may say of Longinus, "his own example strengthens all his
laws." Instead of proposing his sentiments with a manly boldness, he insinuates them with the most guarded caution; puts them into
the mouth of a friend, and as far as we can collect from a corrupted text, makes a show of refuting them himself.
End of Chapter.
Back to Chapter Listing
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. 51-59.