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time, in the days of Julius Cæsar, Sicily and Sardinia had become the granary of Rome; and the first care of the dictator, in the outset of the civil wars, was to secure their possession. *
"Since the age of Tiberius, the decay of agriculture had been felt in Italy; and it was a just subject of complaint that the life of the Roman people depended on the accidents of the winds and the waves. In the division and decline of the empire, the tribulary harvests of Egypt and Africa were withdrawn ; the numbers of the inhabitants continually diminished with the means of subsistence; and the country was exhausted by the irretrievable losses of war, pestilence, and famine. Pope Gelasius was a subject of Odoacer, and he affirms, with strong exaggeration, that in Emilia, Tuscany, and the adjacent provinces, the human species was almost extirpated." +
Of the progress and extent of this decay, Gibbon gives the following account in another part of his great work :
“The agriculture of the Roman provinces was insensibly ruined; and in the progress of despotism, which tends to disappoint its own purpose, the emperors were obliged to derive some merit from the forgiveness of debts, or the remission of tributes, which their subjects were utterly incapable of paying. According to the new division of Italy, the fertile and happy province of Campania, the scene of the early victories and of the delicious retirements of the citizens of Rome, extended between the sea and the Apennines, from the Tiber to the Silarius. Within sixty years after the death of Constantine, and on the evidence of an actual survey, an exemption was granted in favour of 330,000 English acres of desert and uncultivated land, which amounted to one-eighth of the whole surface of the province. As the footsteps of the barbarians had not yet been seen in Italy, the cause of this amazing desolation, which is recorded in the laws, (Cod. Theod. Ixi. t. 38, l. 2,) can be ascribed only to the administration of the Roman emperors." |
Michelet observes, in his late profound and able History of France:
“The Christian emperors could not remedy the growing depopulation of the country, any more than their heathen predecessors. All their efforts only showed the impotence of government to arrest that dreadful evil. Sometimes, alarmed at the depopulation, they tried to mitigate the lot of the farmer, to shield him against the landlord ; upon this the proprietor * “Gnarus et irarum causas, et summa favoris
Annonâ momenta trahi : namque asserit urbes
-Lucan, iii., 60, 69. + GIBBON, vol. vi. c. xxxvi. p. 235.
Ibid. vol. iii. c. xviii. p. 87. Edition in twelve volumes.
exclaimed he could no longer pay the taxes. At other times they abandoned the farmer, surrendered him to the landlord, and strove to chain him to the soil ; but the unhappy cultivators perished or fled, and the land became deserted. Even in the time of Augustus efforts were made to arrest the depopulation at the expense of morals, by encouraging concubinage. Pertinax granted an immunity from taxes to those who would occupy the desert lands of Italy, to the cultivators of the distant provinces, and the allied kings, Aurelian did the same. Probus was obliged to transport from Germany men and oxen to cultivate Gaul.* Maximian and Constantius transported the Franks and Germans from Picardy and Hainault into Italy; but the depopulation in the towns and the country alike continued. The people surrendered themselves in the fields to despair, as a beast of burden lies down beneath his load and refuses to rise. In vain the emperor strove, by offers of immunities and exemptions, to recall the cultivator to his deserted fields. Nothing could do so. The desert extended daily. At the commencement of the fifth century there was, in the Happy Campania, the most fertile province of the empire, 520,000 jugera (320,000 acres) in a state of nature."'
From the ceaseless struggle of the poor against the oppression of the moneyed classes, the former being supported in the cities by the importations of food from Egypt and Libya, the fatal enmity of classes, the war of the industrious against the rich, was early experienced in the empire. The Emperor Junius Posthumus speaks of it as the unavoidable state of society. He paints in energetic terms the unceasing swallowing up of the patrimony of the poor by the engrossing of the rich. “It is fruitless," says he, "for the little proprietors to establish landmarks and divisions for their freeholds, as sovereigns separate their territories by chains of mountains and rivers. They are expelled from their estates by the ceaseless engrossing of wealth ; nor is there an end to the progress of the destroyer till he meets with another as rich as himself. S. Everywhere the people are chased from their heritages; they have no longer what they can call their own : that which once sufficed for the maintenance of a city will now scarcely suffice for the pasturage of a single lord.
The rich are like kings or nations : rivers and mountains are alone adequate to form the boundary of their estates. Well
*“Arantur Gallicana rura barbaris bobus, et juga Germanica captiva præbent colla nostris cultoribus.”—Probi Epist. ad Senatum, in VOPESIO.
+ MICHELET, Histoire de France, vol. i. p. 104-108. # “ Dives et pauper inimici.”—C. JUNIUS Posthumus, Declamatio xiii., ap. Paup. 2d.
$ “Parum est proximos æquare terminos et possessiones suas, velut quasdam gentes fluminibus montibusque distinguere. E finibus suis populus excluditur, nec ullus procedentis finis est, nisi quum in alterum divitem inciderit."— Ibid.
O rich man! you are stronger than me, for one of your strokes will destroy me: but you offer more vulnerable points than me, and I can make you die a thousand deaths. How great soever may be your confidence in
your posses. sions, where I am resolved to throw away my own life we are equal.""*
So general, indeed, was the depopulation of the empire in the time of Justinian, that it suggested to many of the emperors the project of repeopling those desolated districts by a fresh influx of inhabitants. “ Justinian II. had a great taste for these emigrations. He transported half the population of Cyprus to a new city near Cyzicus, called Justinianopolis after its founder. But it was all in vain. The desolation and ruin of the provinces continued, and reached up to the very gates of Constantinople, which was maintained entirely by grain imported at a low price from Egypt, and cattle from the Tauric Chersonesus." + Constantine expressly ordered that the fleet of Alexandria, which had previously fed Rome, should transport the grain of Egypt to Constantinople. I
As a natural consequence of this entire or principal dependence of Rome on foreign or provincial raising of grain
, there was, on any interruption of these foreign supplies, the greatest scarcity and even famine in the metropolis. All the vigilance of the emperors, which was constantly directed to this object, could not prevent this from taking place. Tacitus says, that in the scarcity under Claudius, there only remained a supply of fifteen days for the city.S Famines in Rome were frequent under Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero. The first of these emperors promulgated an edict which prohibited Roman senators or knights from purchasing lands in Egypt, lest, by checking the importation of grain, they should be able to starve Rome into submission. | Claudian laments that, after Egypt had been assigned to Constantinople,
* “Est tamen et pauperibus interim dolor : et ut facilius nobis noceri potest, ita vobis latius; postremo placens licet tibi, opum tuarum fiducia, dives, si mihi vivere non expedit pares sumus.”—C. JUNIUS POSTHUMUS.
† FINLAY'S Greece under the Romans.
1 Augustus, inter alia dominatione, ariara vetitis nisi permissa, ingredi senatoribus aut equitibus Romanis illustribus, seposuit Ægyptum, ne fame urgeret Italiam, quisquis eam provinciam claustraque terræ ac maris quamvis levi præsidio adversum ingentis exercitus insidisset.”—Tacitus, Annal., ii, 69.
Rome had come to derive its subsistance solely from Libya, and depended on the double chances of the seasons and the winds.
“ Nunquam secura futuri, Semper inops, ventique fidem poscebat et anni."* “ When Africa revolted under Gildo, in the reign of Honorius, Rome," says Gibbon, “was on the brink of starvation, from which she was only saved by large importations from Gaul.”+ The emperor Gallus offered a desert canton of Campania to the philosopher Plotinus, to establish a republic on the model of that of Plato. Rome depended entirely on her provinces ; domestic agriculture was ruined. Domitian, with the view of checking that ceaseless decline of agriculture, had prohibited in Italy, Gaul, and Pannonia, the planting of vines without the special authority of government; and ordered the half of those growing to be destroyed. This prohibition continued in force for two centuries. But it was all in vain : nothing could succeed in re-establishing the cultivation of grain in the central provinces of the empire ; and the Emperor Probus long after, by a new edict, enjoined the replanting of the vines, as the only species of cultivation which could be turned to a profitable account. || Claudian represents the Genius of ancient Rome bewailing, in pathetic and eloquent terms, her dependence for food on the nations she had conquered, in words which all governments rendering their people dependent on foreign supplies would do well to bear in mind. “ Formerly," the poet makes her say, “my prayers used to be that my legions might triumph on the banks of the Araxes, or that the consul might display bis eagles at Susa ; now all I ask is a supply of food to avert the extremities of hunger. The province of Africa, which furnishes corn to my people, is under the power of Gildo. He inter
* De Bello Gild., v. 64, 65.
+ GIBBON, C. xxix. # PORPHYRUS, Vita Plotini, sec. 8 ; Devina, Rev. d'Italia, i. 244. $.“ Ad summam quondam ubertatem vini, frumenti vero inopiam, existemans nimio vinearum studio neglegi arva, edixit ne quis in Italia novellarit, utque in provincias vineta sua direntur, relicta ubi plurimum dimidia parte."--SUET., Domit.,
|| “Ut ille (Hannibal) oleis Africæ pleraque per legiones, quarum otium reipublicæ atque ductoribus suspectum restoravit ; eodem modo hic (Probus) Galliam, Pannoniasque, et Mæsorum collis vinetis replevit.”—AURELIUS, Victor. Cæsares, 37 ; EUTROP., ix. " Gallis omnibus et Hispanis ac Britannis permisit, ut vites haberent, vinumque conficerent.- Vopisc. PROB., 240.”
cepts our supplies, and our food is at his mercy. He sells the harvests which belong to the descendants of Romulus; he possesses the fields purchased by my blood. The warrior people which conquered the world, now dishonoured and in want, endures the miserable punishment of peace; blockaded by no enemy, they are like the inhabitants of a besieged town. Death impends at every moment: there remain only doubtful supplies for a few days. My greatness has been my ruin ; I was safer when my territory was more limited ; would that its boundaries were once more at my gates! But, if I am doomed to perish, at least let me have a different fate : let me be conquered by another Porsenna ; let my city be burned by a second Brennus. All things are more tolerable than hunger.”* Even so late as the time of Justinian, Rome was still in great part fed from Sicily; the land was fruitful and the people prosperous. And in the year 552, Constantinople was mainly maintained by 260,000 quarters, annually furnished by the undecaying fertility of Egypt, which the crops of two thousand years had been unable to exhaust. I
Nor was the state of Greece in the latter years of the empire more favourable.
“ No description could exaggerate the miseries of Greece in the later stages of the empire. The slave population, which had formerly laboured for the wealthy, had then disappeared, and the free labourer had sunk into a serf. The uncultivated plains were traversed by bands of armed Sclavonians, who settled in great numbers in Thessaly and Macedonia. The cities of Greece ceased to receive the
* “ Advenio
plex, non ut proculcet Araxen
Tot mihi pro meritis Lybiam Nilumque dedêre
Nunc inhonorus, egens, perfert miserabile pacis
Præscribunt alimenta dies."-CLAUD. De Bello Gild.