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it may seem, was equalled by a monarch of the last century, (Louis XIV.,) whose kingdom was confined within a single province of the Roman empire."* Compared with the military and naval forces of the European powers in time of peace, this must seem a most moderate public establishment. France, in the time of Napoleon, with 42,000,000 inhabitants, had 850,000 regular soldiers in arms, besides 100,000 sailors; and Great Britain, in its European dominions alone, with a population of 18,000,000 souls, had above 500,000 regular soldiers and sailors in the public service. France has now, in peace, with a population of 32,000,000 souls, about 360,000 men, between the army and navy, in the public service ; and England, with a population of 28,000,000, upwards of 150,000, besides double that number in India.
Russia, with 62,000,000 inhabitants, has 460,000 soldiers in the public service. Austria, with 33,000,000, has 260,000. All these peace establishments are twice as heavy, in proportion to the numbers of the people, as that of Rome was in the time of Augustus ; and, in subsequent reigns, the number of armed men maintained by the state was so far from increasing, that it was constantly diminishing, and in the time of Justinian had sunk down to 140,000 soldiers, maintained by an empire much more extensive than that of Russia at this moment.
IV. The same conclusion results from the consideration of the absolute amount of the public revenue levied in the Roman empire, compared with what is extracted from modern states. Gibbon estimates the public revenue of the whole empire, in the time of Augustus, at " fifteen or sixteen millions sterling ;"+ and in the time of Constantine, the revenue derived from Gaul was £4,500,000 a-year.[ The first of these sums is less than a third of what is now levied in time of peace on Great Britain, with less than thirty millions of souls, instead of the hundred and twenty millions who swelled the population rolls of the Roman empire : the last is little more than an eighth of what is now extracted from France, having nearly the same limits as ancient Gaul. Supposing that the value of money has declined, from the discovery of the South American mines, to a third of its
* Gibbon, vol. i. chap. 1, p. 30. + Ibid., vol. i. chap. 1, p. 37.
# Ibid., vol. iii. chap. 17, p. 93.
former amount, (and at this time, owing to the decline of those mines, it has not sunk more,) still it is apparent that the public burdens of modern times are at least three times as heavy in proportion to the population, as they were in the Roman empire in the highest period of its greatness. As its strength and military establishment constantly declined after that period, there is no reason to suppose that the absolute amount of the public taxes was at any subsequent time greater, although unquestionably, from the decline in the resources of those who were to bear them, they were felt as infinitely more oppressive. And that these taxes were not disproportioned to the strength of the empire, when its resources were unimpaired, and its industry flourishing, is decisively proved by the extremely prosperous condition in which it was during the eighty years when Nerva, Trajan, Adrian, and the two Antonines filled the imperial throne. “At that period,” says Gibbon, “notwithstanding the propensity of mankind to exalt the past and depreciate the present, the tranquil and prosperous condition of the empire was warmly felt and honestly confessed by the provincials as well as the Romans.”* _" They affirm,” says a contemporary writer, “ that, with the increase of the arts, the human species has visibly multiplied. They celebrate the increasing beauty 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 their ancient animosities, and delivered from the apprehension of future danger.”+
Ancient as well as modern historians are full of complaints, in the later periods of the Roman empire, of the prodigious increase of wealth in the hands of the rich, and decline in the remuneration of industry to the poor. Their complaints on this subject are so numerous, and supported by such an array of facts, as to leave no room for doubt that they are well founded. Even so early as the time of Cæsar, this state of things had commenced. It was then computed that there were in the state only two thousand citizens of substance : the engrossing of estates, and buying
GIBBON, vol. i. chap. 2, p. 91.
+ Plin. Hist. Nat, vol. iii. 5.
up of the small proprietors, was already complained of as a very serious evil. * Indeed, it seems to have been generally true of the whole empire north of the Mediterranean, as Mr Finlay shows was the case down to the very latest periods in Greece, that while industry and population in the country were ruined, the towns were in a state of affluence and prosperity. Even so early as the time of Plutarch, the accumulation of debts had come to be complained of as an extensive evil. + “ These debts,” says Finlay, “ were generally contracted to Roman money-lenders. So injurions did their effects become to the provinces, that they afforded to one class the means of accumulating enormous fortunes by forcing others into abject poverty. The property of the provincial debtors was at length transferred to a very great extent to Roman creditors. Instead of invigorating the upper classes, by substituting an industrious democracy for an idle aristocracy, it had a very different effect. It introduced new feelings of rivalry and distrust, by filling the country with foreign landlords. The weight of debts seems to have been the chief cause of revolutions in the ancient world. The Greeks could not long maintain the struggle, and they sank gradually lower in wealth, until their poverty introduced an altered state of society, in which they learned the prudential habits of small proprietors
, and escape not only from the eye of history, but even of antiquarian research.”+
This constant tendency of wealth, in the later periods of the Roman empire, to accumulate in the hands of the great capitalists, accompanied by the progressive deterioration of the condition of the middle and working classes, is amply proved and forcibly illustrated by Sismondi, in his admirable work on the Decline of the Roman Empire. long peace,” says he, “which followed the victories of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, those colossal fortunes were accumulated which, according to Pliny, ruined Italy and the empire. A single proprietor, by degrees, came to buy up
* “Non esse in republicà duo millia hominum qui rem haberunt."--Cic. de Officiis, ii. 21. See also GIBBON, vol. iii. chap. 31, p. 113. Milman's edition. + Περι του μηδειν Δανειξεισθαι. “ De Ære Alieno vitando."-PLUTARCH. I FINLAY, 90. $ Verumque confitentibus latifundia perdidêre Italiam, immo ac provincias.” Plin. Hist. Nat.
vinces, the conquest of which had in former days furnished the occasion of many triumphs to the generals of the Republic. While this huge capitalist was amassing riches wholly disproportioned to the capacity of man, the once numerous and respectable, but now beggared, middle class disappeared from the face of the earth. In districts where so many brave and industrious citizens were to be seen in former times, alike ready to defend or cultivate their fields, were to be found nothing but slaves, who rapidly declined in number as the fields came to be exclusively devoted to pasturage. The fertile plains of Italy ceased to nourish its inhabitants ; Rome depended entirely for its subsistence on the harvests which its fleets brought from Sicily, Africa, and Egypt. From the capital to the farthest extremity of the provinces, depopulation and misery in the country coexisted with enormous wealth in the towns. From this cause the impossibility of recruiting the legions with native Romans was experienced even in the time of Marcus Aurelius. In his war against the Quadi and the Marcomanni, which had been preceded by a long peace, he was obliged to recruit the legions with the slaves and robbers of Rome."* It is impossible to give a stronger proof of the extent to which this enormous evil of the vast fortunes accumulated in the towns, and the entire ruin of industry in the country, had gone in the last days of the empire, than is to be found in the fact, that when Rome was taken by Alaric, in the year 404 after Christ, the reduction of the capital was owing to the capture of Ostia by the Gothic general, where the harvests of Africa were deposited. For long after that event, the dependence of Rome on foreign supplies still continued. In the year 584, it was still fed by corn from Egypt; and even so late as the year 643, “the number of citizens still exceeded the measure of subsistence : their precarious food was supplied from the harvests of Sicily or Egypt ; and the frequent repetition of famine
SISMONDI, Chute de l’Empire Romaine, i. 51. +“ The corn of Africa was deposited in Ostia in spacious granaries, for the use of the capital. As soon as Alaric was in possession of that important place, he summoned the city to surrender at discretion, accompanied by the threat that bis proposal, if refused, should immediately be followed by the destruction of the magazines, on which the subsistence of the Roman people depended. The clamours of the people, and the terror of fainine, subdued the pride of the senate : they listened and obeyed.”—GIBBON, vol. iii. chap. 31, p. 129. Milman's edition.
betrayed the inattention of the emperors to a distant pro
It may readily be conceived, that when this prodigious concentration of wealth in the hands of the great proprietors of towns, and ruin of industry in the country, came to coexist with the solid obligations of the rural municipalities for the sum assessed on their districts, the burden of the public taxes, though light at first, compared with what is little complained of in modern times, came to be altogether overwhelming. This accordingly was the case in all the northern provinces of the empire in its later stages. What everywhere preceded their ruin was the desertion of the inhabitants, in consequence of the crushing weight of the public burdens. From the entire failure of the indirect taxes amidst the ruin of agricultural, and the imposition of taxation on urban industry, it had become necessary to make progressive additions to the direct taxes till they became exterminating. “Three great direct taxes,' says Sismondi, “ alike ruinous, impended over the citizens. The first was the Indictions or Land-Tax, estimated in general at a tenth of the produce, or a third of the clear revenue, and often doubled or tripled by the SuperIndictions which the necessities of the provinces compelled them to impose. Secondly, the Capitation Tax, which sometimes rose as high as 300 francs (£12) ahead on the free and taxable citizens ; and, third, the Corvées, or forced contributions in labour, which were for the service of the imperial estates, or the maintenance of the public roads. These direct imposts, in the declining days of the empire, so entirely ruined the proprietors of rural estates that they abandoned them in all quarters. Vast provinces in the interior were deserted; the enrolment for the army became daily more difficult, from the disappearance of the rural population ; the magistrates of municipalities in town or country, rendered responsible for the assessment of their districts and the levy of their quota of soldiers, fled the country, or sought under a thousand pretexts to escape the perilous honour of public office. So far did the desertion of the magistracy go in the time of Valentinian, (A. D. 364-375,) that when that cruel tyrant ordered the heads
* Gibbon, vol. ii. chap. 45, p. 258, 268. Milman's edition.