« EdellinenJatka »
of three magistrates of towns in a particular province to be brought to him for some alleged offences, 'Will your Imperial Majesty be pleased to direct, said the perfect Florentius, 'what we are to do in those towns where three magistrates cannot be found?' The order was upon this revoked."*
The disastrous state of the rural districts amidst this accumulation of evils is thus forcibly described by Mr Finlay :-“In many provinces, the higher classes had been completely exterminated. The loss of their slaves and serfs, who had often been carried away by the invaders, had reduced many to the humble condition of labourers. Others had emigrated, and abandoned their land to the cultivators, from being unable to obtain any revenue from it in the miserable state to which the capture of the stock, the loss of a market, and the destruction of the agricultural buildings had reduced the country.
In many of the towns, the diminished population was reduced to misery by the ruin of the rural districts in their neighbourhood.
The higher classes in the country disappeared under the weight of the municipal duties they were called upon to perform. Houses remained unlet; and even when let, the portion of rent which was not absorbed by the imperial taxes was insufficient to supply the demands of the local expenditure. The labourer and the artisan alone could find bread; the walls of cities were allowed to fall into ruins; the streets were neglected, public buildings had become useless ; aqueducts remained unrepaired ; internal communication ceased ; and with the extinction of the wealthy and educated classes in the provincial towns, the local prejudices of the lower orders became the law of society." +
It is a very remarkable fact, which decisively proves that the ruin of Italian agriculture in the late stages of the empire was entirely owing to foreign importation, that when, by the conquests of the Goths, these importations had come to cease, from the extinction of the wealth which was to pay for them, we learn from Cassiodorus that Italy not only became self-supporting, but in the reign of Theodoric the Ostrogoth, and successor of Alaric, actually, as in the days of the Republic, EXPORTED the necessary
* SISMONDI, Chute de l'Empire Romaine, i. 44. + FINLAY, 219, 220.
supplies to the legions in distant provinces. As a necessary consequence, Italy, albeit under barbaric rule and bleeding with Gothic conquest, regained its independence and consideration, and in some degree its felicity during the Republic. A more important fact, or one more clearly proving to what cause the ruin of the empire was really owing, has not been bequeathed by antiquity to modern times *
Apulia and Calabria,” says Gibbon, “under Theodoric, poured their tribute of corn into the granaries of Rome; even the Pontine Marshes were drained by private adventurers : such was the extraordinary plenty which an industrious people produced from a grateful soil, that a quarter of wheat was sold for five shillings and sixpence.”+
Such, on a nearer survey, was the condition of the Roman empire which preceded its fall. From it may
seen how widely the real causes of its decline differed from the vague generalities of Montesquieu, that the ruin of the empire was the necessary consequence of its extension; or the still vaguer declamations of the scholars, that it was the corruption incident to great and long-continued wealth which enervated the people, and rendered them incapable of defending themselves against the Northern nations. In truth, both these causes did operate, and that too in a most powerful manner, in bringing about the ruin of the empire ; but they did so, not in the way supposed by these authors, but in an indirect way, by inducing a new set of evils, which destroyed industry in the most important of its provinces, by depriving the industrious of a market for their industry, and rendering the public burdens overwhelming, by changing the value of money. The operation of these causes can now be distinctly traced by us, because we feel them working
* Cassiodorus, Lib. iii. Epist. 44. See also DENINA, Revol. d'Italia, i. 339, 340. “Regnando Teodorico non solamente non fu bisogno di cercar biade straniare ma i granai dell'Italia bastorono ancoro a pascer gli eserciti del re che guerreggivano nelle provincie loptane. Ilche avenne spezialmente nel 508 in tempo che ardeva nelle Gallie la guerra tra i Franchi Egli Ostrogoti padroni della Provenza. Cassiodoro ebbetante cura perche Roma avesse eziando abbondevole il vivere non che il necessario (per la quel citta, none trovo mai, quanto ful ungo il regno de Teodorico, che si cercassero grani dell'Africa, come s'era costumato per tanti secoli,) ma potesse parimente fornir Milano e le provincie della Vinezia de granai che opportunmente s'erano stabilite in Tortona en Pavia. Ne solamente si migliora allora, lo stato d'Italia, per le forze interne che la saviezza de governanti l' accrebbe."
+ GIBBON, vol. iii. chap. 39, pp. 466, 469. Milman's edition.
among ourselves : their existence has not hitherto been suspected, or their effects traced by philosophers, because no state in modern Europe but our own had come within the sphere of their influence. And to see what these causes really were, it is only necessary to recall, in a few propositions, to the reader's mind, the general result of the foregoing deduction :
I. During the Republic, and till the commencement of the empire, agriculture was in the most flourishing state in Italy ; the exportation of grain was general to the distant provinces, the legions even in distant stations were fed by the produce of Italian agriculture, and it was in its sturdy, free cultivators that the legions were recruited which conquered the world.
II. From the time of Tiberius, cultivation declined in the Italian and Grecian plains, and continued to do so to the fall of the empire. Pasturage came to supersede agriculture ; population disappeared in the fields; the free cultivators, the strength of the legions, were ruined ; the flocks and herds were tended only by slaves; the small proprietors became bankrupt, or fled the country; and the whole land in the European provinces of the empire fell into the hands of a limited number of territorial magnates, who resided at Rome or Constantinople, and mainly upheld, by their profuse expenditure, the prosperity of those capitals of the empire.
III. In the midst of the general decline of rural industry in all the provinces to the north of the Mediterranean, the wealth and prosperity of the great cities remained undecayed. The small provincial towns were in great part ruined ; but the towns, especially such as were on the sea-coast, continued flourishing, and received in their ample bounds all the refluent population from the country.
Rural industry languished and expired, but commerce was undecayed; the fortunes of the great capitalists were daily accumulating ; and in no period in the history of mankind were urban incomes so great as in the city of Rome, on the eve of its capture by the Goths.
IV. While this was the state of matters to the north of the Mediterranean—that is, in the heart of the empire-the remoter agricultural provinces of Spain, Sicily, Libya, and
Egypt, were in the very highest state of prosperity ; they fed all the great cities of the Roman world by their immense exportations of grain, and yet enough remained, down to their conquest by the Vandals under Genseric, to maintain a vast population at home, greater than has ever since existed in those countries, in a state of affluence and comfort.
V. Taxation, from the time of its first introduction under Augustus, was at first chiefly indirect, and by no means oppressive. Gradually, however, the produce of the indirect taxes failed, or became inadequate to the wants of the empire, and recourse was had to direct taxes, levied chiefly on landed property and successions. But these direct taxes were at first light, and not a third part of those levied on Britain or France during the war ; and the public establishments of the Roman government were not a fourth, in proportion to the population, of those now maintained by the great European monarchies during peace.
VI. In process of time, however, the resources of the people, in the principal provinces of the empire, and especially those to the north of the Mediterranean, declined to such a degree, that though the military and naval establishments of the empire were reduced to a third of their former amount, and became inadequate to defend its frontiers against its enemies, the direct taxes required to be continually increased, till they became so oppressive as to destroy industry, and prove the immediate cause of the depopulation and ruin of the empire.
VII. When the importation of foreign grain into Italy was stopped by the conquest of that peninsula by the Goths, and the dispersion of the riches which had so long purchased it from Africa, agriculture revived in Italy; and it not only became, under Theodoric, self-supporting and independent, but even exported subsistence to distant provinces of the Ostrogoth kingdom.
Such are the facts, as established by the unanimous and concurring testimony of all the best informed historians ; and now for the causes which produced these facts. They are set forth and supported by an equally clear and undisputable array of authorities.
Even so early as the latter days of the Republic, the
system was introduced of feeding the Roman people with grain derived by tribute from the provinces. In the time of Augustus, the annual quantity distributed to the poorer citizens of Rome was 1,200,000 modii, or 35,156 quarters. But Tiberius went a step further, and actually gave bounties on the importation of foreign grain.
“ An enormous quantity of grain,” says Finlay, "was distributed in this way, which was received as tribute from the provinces. Cæsar found 320,000 persons receiving this gratuity. It is true he reduced the number to one half. The greater part of this grain was drawn from Sicily, Africa, and Egypt. In the time of Alexander, generally 75,000 modii was distributed daily. This distribution enabled the poor to live in idleness, and was itself extremely injurious to industry ; but another arrangement was adopted by the Roman Government, which rendered the cultivation of land around Rome unprofitable to the proprietors. A large sum was annually employed by the state in purchasing grain in the provinces, and in transporting this supply to Rome, where it was sold at a fixed price to the bakers. Augustus appointed an officer styled Prefectus Annona, whose duty was to provide by Government purchases for the subsistence of the people. An allowance was also made to the private importers of grain, in order to insure a constant supply. * a very large sum was expended to keep grain cheap in a city where a variety of circumstances tended to make it dear. This singular system of annihilating capital, and ruining agriculture and industry, was so deeply rooted in the Roman administration, that similar gratuitous distributions of grain were established at Antioch and Alexandria, and introduced into Constantinople when that city became the capital of the empire." +
The necessary effect of this system was the cessation of agriculture in Italy, the ruin of the small proprietors, and the engrossing of the land in the provinces by a few great landholders, who cultivated their extensive estates by means of slaves. “Riches, far exceeding the wealth of modern
In this way,
* It is curious to find Tacitus praising the establishment of bounties on the importation of foreign grain by Tiberius, without a word on the evil effects of the system.-Annal. vi. 13. Quibus e provinciis et quanto majorem quam Augustus rei frumentariæ copiam advectaret."
+ FINLAY, 53.