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sovereigns, flowed into the hands of the great proprietors; villas and parks were formed over all Italy on a scale of the most stupendous grandeur ; and land became more valuable as hunting-ground than as productive farms. The same habits were introduced into the provinces. In the neighbourhood of Rome, agriculture was ruined by the public distribution of grain received as tribute from the provinces, and by the bounty granted to merchants importing to secure a maximum price of bread. The same system proceeded in the provinces ; and similar distributions at Alexandria and Antioch must have been equally injurious.”
When Constantine established his new capital on the shores of the Bosphorus, he was under the necessity of adopting, and even extending, the same ruinous system. “Wealthy individuals from the provinces were compelled to keep up houses at Constantinople, pensions were conferred upon them, and a right to distributions of provisions to a considerable amount was annexed to those dwellings. These rations consisted of bread, oil, wine, meat, and formed an important branch of revenue even to the better class of citizens. These distributions were entirely different from the public ones at Rome, which were established as a gratification by the state to the poor citizens who had no other means of livelihood. The tribute of grain from Egypt was appropriated to supply Constantinople, and that of Africa was left for the consumption of Rome. This was the tie which bound the capital to the emperors, and the cause of the toleration shown to its factions. They both felt they had a common interest in supporting the despotic power by which the provinces were drained of money to support the expenditure of the court, and supply provisions for the people.”+
Although, however, these public distributions of grain in the chief towns of the empire had some effect in checking the cultivation of corn in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor, by depriving its cultivators of their best market, yet the private importalion of grain from these great corn countries must have been a far more serious and general evil.
Gibbon states the number who received rations at Constantinople daily in the time of Constantine at 80,000, and in Rome in the time of Tiberius it was 180,000. Supposing the other FINLAY, 105.
+ lbid., 137.
great towns were fed in the same proportion, perhaps a million of persons in the Roman world were nourished at the expense of the state on Egyptian or African grain. But a million of persons consume annually a million of quarters of grain ; not a sixtieth part of the annual consumption of the British empire at this time, and probably not a two-hundredth part required by the 120,000,000 souls who composed the Roman empire in the days of the Antonines. But though the state paupers were thus but a small fraction of the whole consumers of foreign grain, yet the general importation was immense, and became, ere long, so great as to constitute the entire source from which the population of Italy, as well as Constantinople and the adjacent provinces of Roumelia, Macedonia, and Greece, were fed. It was this general importation, not the gratuitous distributions, which ruined Italian agriculture ; for it alone was on a scale commensurate with the population of the Italian peninsula, and could alone account for its general ruin. Tacitus expressly says, it was the preference given to African agriculture, not the gratuitous distributions, which destroyed Italian cultivation. At, Hercule, olim ex Italià legionibus longinquas in provincias commeatus portabantur: nec nunc infecunditate laboratur ; sed Africam potius et Egyptum exercemus, navibusque et casibus vita populi Romani permissa est.” * The supply of grain for the Roman world was entirely obtained from Spain, Sicily, Africa, and Egypt, while Greece was maintained by corn imported from Poland.t It was not that the Italian and Grecian fields had become sterile : Tacitus expressly says the reverse, --"nec nunc infecunditate laboratur.” But the country in which grain produced fifteen fold, as Italy did, could not compete with that which produced sixty or eighty fold on the banks of the Nile. In vain were colonies formed of old soldiers established in various parts of Italy, and with great advantage, by successive emperors. They could never compete in the raising of grain with Sardinia, Libya, Sicily, and Egypt; they were speedily ruined, or bought up by a rich patrician in the neighbourhood, who invariably adopted the only profitable cultivation—that of cattle tended by
* Tacitus, Annal. xii. 43.
+ MICHELET, Histoire de France, i. 277.
slaves.* Nor could the industry of the centre of the empire, where money was plentiful, comparatively speaking, and labour was therefore dear, stand against the competition of the remoter provinces, where it was scarce, and labour was therefore cheap.
The ruin of Italian and Grecian agriculture from this cause is so evident, that it is admitted by the ablest advocates of an unlimited freedom in the corn trade. 6. The first effect of this system,” says a late able and learned writer on the Liberal side, “ was the ruin of Italian agriculture. The natural market for the corn of the Italian farmer was, to a great extent, destroyed by the artificial supplies obtained from the provinces. Hence, as Dureau de la Malle has remarked, (ii. 218,) the history of the seventh and eighth centuries of Rome presents this singular contrast—that the agriculture, the population, and products of Italy diminish progressively as she extends her conquests and power. The fatal influence which the gratuitous supplies from the provinces would exercise upon the native agriculture, was perceived by Augustus ; but he abandoned his intention of altering the system, from a conviction it would be restored by his successor. The result was, that southern and central Italy, instead of being tilled by a race of hardy active farmers, themselves freemen, and working on their own land, was divided into plantations cultivated by slaves.”+ This explains how it came to pass that Spanish agriculture took such a start from the time of Tiberius; and how, in the
*“I soldati licenziati non si contentavano di starsi in Taranto ed in Anzio, ch'erano in quel tempo delle piu fiorite e deliziose citte d'Italia, com'era mai possible che le colonie pigliassero radice ne borghi de solati e de serti e nelle Campagna piu besognivol d'essere ripopolate. Per la qual cosa, le terre che non rimasero del tutto deserte, si riunero in vastissime tenute de poderi, che i ricchi acquistavano de mano in mano. E che facivano secondo il solito costumi coltivare de gli schiavi ; disordine oltre ogni credere distruttivo per diu effetti inevitable : una la deminuzione notabile del frutto della terra, la quale spartita in piccole, porzione, et coltivata da proprietari e da borghesi, rende senza controversia maggior copia di frutti ; l'altro la dispersione della piu utile spezio del genere umano, quali sono i rustici labori, e i borghesi d'umil fortuna. Quindo osservo' Plinio, correndo ancora il primo secolo del imperio Romano. Che i vasti poderi avevano rovinata Italia. La feconditata dell'Egitto, e di tante Provincie dell' Africa vicine al mare, delle Isole di Sicilia e Sardiga potiva supplire al difitto delle campagne d'Italia o abbandonate, o mal cultivate, o cambiate a bello studio in parchi o giardini. Le scelte di soldati che si facevano per tutte le provincie adempiavano, la mancanza de soldati Italiani, de cui fuori delle Coorte Pretorii comincio d'essere scarcissimo il numero anchi sotto i primi Imperadori."--Dexina, Rev. d'Italia, i. 151, 152.
+ Edinburgh Review. April 1846. No. 168. Page 370-371.
general ruin of the empire, Spain, Africa, and Egypt were the only provinces which retained their prosperity. It will be recollected that it was in the reign of Tiberius that bounties were first given by the Roman Government to the private importers of foreign grain.
Of the main dependence of the Western empire in its declining days on Africa, not merely for the necessary supply of food, but even for the chief resources and strength of the state in the midst of the desolation of its European fields, Sismondi gives a striking account :-“ The loss of Africa at this period, (A. D. 439,) was perhaps the greatest calamity which the empire of the West could have undergone. It was its only province the defence of which cost no trouble ; the only one from which they drew money, arms, and soldiers, without its ever requiring any back. It was at the same time the granary of Rome and of Italy. The gratuitous distributions of grain at Rome, Milan, and Ravenna had, over the whole Italian peninsula, destroyed the cultivation of grain. Experience had proved that the return could not pay its expense; and the reason was, that the more fertile fields of Africa furnished a part of the harvest destined for the nourishment of the people of Italy. The sudden stoppage of that supply by the conquest of Africa by the Vandals, caused a cruel famine in Italy ; which still further reduced its wretched inhabitants."* And so entirely did Constantinople become dependent on foreign importation of sea-borne grain from Egypt and the Ukraine for its support, that “when the Persians, in the year 618, overran Egypt, and stopped the usual supplies of grain from that province, the famine became so alarming, that the Government determined upon transferring the seat of empire to Carthage in Africa, as the most likely point from whence the dominion of Syria and Egypt might be regained.”+ The latter of these had long been regarded as the most valuable province of the empire. I
When this entire dependence of the great cities in the northern parts of the empire, for centuries together, on Spain, Sicily, Africa, and Egypt, is considered, it must with every rational mind cease to be a matter of surprise that its western
* SISMONDI, Chute de l'Empire Romaine, i. 233. + FINLAY, 389.
I FINLAY, 392. VOL. III.
and northern provinces declined in industry and population ; that these grain provinces to the south of the Mediterranean alone retained their numbers and prosperity; and that under the constant decline, in the European provinces, in the market for agricultural produce, the rural population disappeared, and the recruiting of the army in the country became impossible. It is not surprising that while they were enrolling slaves in Italy, and enlisting barbarians on the Danube and the Rhine, to defend the frontiers, from Africa and Spain alone they drew supplies both of money and soldiers, without requiring to send back any. The latter provinces were the granary and garden of the empire ; the only part of it where rural industry met with remunerating prices or adequate encouragement. And the same circumstances explain in a great degree how it happened that, while the rural districts of Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and Roumelia were continually declining in population, rental, and revenue, their towns, especially on the sea-coast, were, down to the last days of their existence, in a flourishing condition. These towns were the seat of manufactures and commerce. It was by their capital that the vast corn trade by which all the cities of the empire were fed was carried
It was their fabrics which mainly furnished the means of purchasing the immense proportion of this grain, which, being imported by private importers, required to be paid for in some species of manufactured produce. And the reason why grain was raised so much cheaper, and therefore profitably, in Egypt, Libya, and Spain, than in Italy and Greece, was, partly, that the former of these countries were by nature blessed with a more prolific soil and a warmer sun than the latter ; and, partly, that as Rome and Constantinople were the two capitals of the empire, the greater part of its wealth was attracted, either by taxes, tribute, or the concourse of the rich, to them, and, consequently, the abundance of riches there rendered money cheap, labour dear, and cultivation, when exposed to foreign competition, unprofitable.
But there was more in the case than this. Simultaneously with the vast and increasing importation of foreign grain, which at length destroyed cultivation in all the northern provinces of the empire, a continual diminution of its circu