« EdellinenJatka »
lating medium was going forward; and it was to the combined and contemporaneous operation of these two causes that the ruin of the empire is beyond all question to be ascribed.
So early as the days of Tiberius, the abstraction of the gold and silver currency of the empire, by the incessant drain of foreign commerce, was loudly complained of by the Roman writers; and there is the most decisive proof that, in the course of time, the supply of the precious metals in the empire became so inadequate to the wants of its inhabitants, that their value was enhanced to a great and ruinous degree. It was the commerce of the East which first induced this destructive drain upon the metallic treasures of the empire. " The objects,” says Gibbon,“ of Oriental traffic were splendid and trifling ; silk-a pound of which was esteemed worth a poundof gold-precious stones, and a variety ofaromatics, were the chief articles. The labour and risks of the voyage were rewarded with almost incredible profit ; but it was made on Roman subjects, and at the expense of the public. As the nations of Arabia and India were contented with the
produce 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 pursuit of female ornaments, the wealth of the state was irrevocably given away to foreign and hostile nations. The annual loss is computed by a writer of an inquisitive but censorious temper, (Pliny,) at £800,000 sterling. Such was the style of discontent brooding over the dark prospect of approaching poverty. Eight hundred thousand pounds a-year, equivalent to about two millions of our money, must have been a severe drain upon the supply of the precious metals in the Roman empire; and we, who have seen in 1839 the Bank of England reel, and the United States bank fall, under the effect of an exportation of six or seven millions of sovereigns to buy foreign grain in a single year, can appreciate the effect of such a constant drain upon a state, the metallic resources of which were much less considerable than those of England at this time ; and which had no paper currency, either in the form of bills or notes, to supply their place.
* GIBBON, vol. i. chap. ii. p. 90.
The immense importation also of African and Egyptian grain, which continued from the time of Tiberius down to the very close of the empire, must have occasioned a great additional abstraction of the precious metals from the Roman world. It has already been shown that a very small
proportion of the grain imported from these distant provinces was remitted in the shape of tribute. By far the greater part, probably nineteen-twentieths of the whole supply, was imported by private merchants for sale, as it could be got from them cheaper than it could be raised at home. This imported corn, of course, required to be paid for in something. But the inhabitants of the countries from which it came—Spain, Sicily, Africa, and Egypt—for the most part slaves, blessed with a fine climate, requiring little covering, and nearly destitute of artificial wants, did not require, and could not consume, any considerable amount of Italian or Grecian fabrics. Thus by far the greatest part of the price of the imported grain was paid in gold and silver, for which there is a constant demand in all countries, savage or civilised. “ Nearly the whole commerce which Italy carried on," says Denina, “in the later stages of the empire, was the most ruinous in which a nation can be engaged; for it consisted of subsistence and luxuries imported, and money exported—for the Italians had no manufactures to compensate the luxuries and necessaries which were introduced.”* The thing was unavoidable. A nation which imports foreign grain largely, must in all ages export the precious metals as largely, because the corn, of course, is brought from those countries where it is raised the cheapest—and the countries where
his is the case are those where labour is cheap, money scarce, and artificial wants unknown. Money is what these countries want, and money is what their surplus produce is nearly all exchanged for.
In addition to this, the mines which supplied the Roman * “Tutto il commercio d'Italia nel tempo di Gildone era meramente passivo e rovinoro; parcio che deviansi Cerean di fuore non meno le cose piu necessarie al sostentamento della vita che quelle che servivano alla morbidezza, ed al lusso : e non apparise punto che s'estrausse d'Italia alcune genere di manifatture che potesse fare il compenso di cio che mancava. le contribuzione che gia di buon tempo si pagavano a barbari, per le quali si faccono estraordenarie esazioni in Roma stessa l'Italia aureble dovuto in breve tempo essere esausta di denaro se non che per avventura l'entrate che molti de grandi di Roma godevano in altre provincie, potevano supplire in parte al difetto delle cose d'Italia." -DENINA, Revol. d'Italia, i. 244.
Cosi che mettendo insieme anche
world failed to a considerable extent under the emperors. “ The poverty of Greece, as of the whole empire,” says Jacob, “ was further increased by the gradual rise in the value of the precious metals; an evil which began to be generally felt about the time of Nero, and affected Greece with great severity, from the altered distribution of wealth in the country with which it was attended. Greece had once been rich in mines, which had been a source of wealth and prosperity to Siphnos and Atticus, and had laid the foundation of the power of Philip of Macedon. The fiscal measures of the Romans soon rendered it a ruinous speculation for individuals to attempt working mines of the precious metals; and, in the hands of the state, they soon proved unprofitable. Many mines were exhausted ; and even though the value of the precious metals was enhanced, some mines beyond the sphere of the Roman power were abandoned from those causes, which, after the second century of the Christian era, produced a sensible diminution in the commercial transactions of the Old Hemisphere. Greece shared in the general decay : her commerce and manufactures, being confined to supplying the consumption of a diminished and impoverished population, sunk into insignificance. An accumulation of debts became general throughout the country, and formed an extensive evil, as already observed, in the time of Plutarch. +
As this great diminution in the supply, and drain upon the treasures of the precious metals in the time of the emperors, lowered the value of every species of produce, so it proportionally augmented debts, and swelled the already overgrown fortunes of the capitalists. What Finlay says of Greece was true of the whole European provinces of the empire, — “ The property of the Grecian debtors was at last transferred to a very great extent to the Roman creditors." I This again produced another effect upon the manners of the inhabitants of the great cities, which had an equally powerful effect in increasing the drain upon that portion of the precious metals which was employed in the public currency.
So vast was the addition which the contraction of the currency, and
* JACOB's Historical Inquiry into the Production and Consumption of the Precious Metals, i. 35, 42. + FINLAY, 88.
# Ibid., 90.
constant drain of the precious metals to pay for importations, made at once to the fortunes of the rich and the misery of the poor, that a contemporary annalist, Sidonius Appollinarius, calls the moneyed patricians “the sole owners of the
The rich patricians of Rome, Antioch, and Constantinople, possessed of colossal fortunes to which nothing in modern times will bear a comparison, and nursed in habits of luxury and expense beyond anything we can even conceive, daily augmented the proportion of their immense incomes which was devoted to the purposes of extravagance. historians of the second and third centuries,” says Finlay, “are filled with lamentations on this subject.”+ It is not surprising that it was so. Men possessed, in private stations, of as much as three or four hundred thousand pounds a-year of modern money, could not get through their incomes without indulging in the habitual purchase of the most costly articles. Society in this way had come to verify the saying of Bacon—“ Above all things, good policy is to be used that the treasure and money in a state be not gathered into few hands. For, otherwise, a state may have a great stock and yet starve. And money is like muck, not good unless it be spread.”
Hence the consumption and permanent fixing of gold and silver in the form of plate and costly ornaments, increased in the great families down to the very close of the empire ; and while the currency was constantly declining, and prices in consequence falling in the provinces, the colossal capitalists of Rome and Constantinople were daily absorbing more of the precious metals in these beautiful but unproductive objects. The quantity of gold and silver moulded into the form of vases, statues, tripods, and personal ornaments, which was accumulated in Rome at the time it was taken by the Goths,
*“La somma dell imposizione s'esigiva per parte del Fisco dall corpo della citta, per che la scarcita del denaro, la miseria et l'impotenza de particolari di soddisfare à gli imposti costringavano i corporati a pagare del proprio. All estorsioni de magistrati, de grandi, s'aggiunnsero novellamente quelle delle usurai, la potenza de quali fu tale e tanta in questo secolo, che Sidonio Appollonaro ebbe a chiamargli i soli padroni del Imperio Romano. Perche quando cessa i i tributi delle provincie fuencora consumato il denaro d'Italia a stipendiare i re barbari, la scarcite del denaro, et la necessite ogni volta maggiore ch'ebbero gli Imperadori d'impor tributi, ebbe al fine ridotta gli Italiani a tutti gli estremi a cui riducon si d'ordinarie gli indebitati e i mal avviati mercanti, d'accelerarsi la rovina con vie di piu svantaggiori contratti.”-DENINA, Revol. d'Italia, i. 299.
+ FINLAY, 89.
would exceed belief, were it not attested by the unanimous testimony of all the contemporary writers. Great part of it was thrown into the Tiber, where it still remains covered by the alluvial deposits of fourteen centuries ; the most precious of the spoils were buried with Alaric in the bed of a stream in Calabria, where that redoubtable conqueror was overtaken by the common fate of mortality. The place where he was interred was kept a profound secret, and the slaves who dug his grave in the bed of the river, of which the course had been turned aside for the purpose, were put to death, and buried with him and his treasures ; and the river itself was immediately led into its old channel, that its ceaseless flow might secure, as it since has done, the grave of the mighty chief from disturbance, and enable him to present himself loaded with his earthly spoils in the land of
The concurring operation of these causes produced, in the three last centuries of the Roman empire, a very great scarcity in the supply of the precious metals for the purposes of the public currency, and consequently a most distressing fall in prices, and diminution in the remuneration of industry, accompanied by a proportional increase in the weight of debt and taxes. And the progressive effect of these changes appeared in the clearest manner, in the repeated changes which were made by successive emperors in the value of the gold and silver coins which passed current in the empire. Gold became progressively so scarce in proportion to silver, that the proportion between the two, which at first had been 1 to 10 in the time of Augustus, rose in time to 1 in 124, and was fixed by Constantine the Great at 1 to 14 2-5ths. In consequence of this rise in the value of gold—the precise counterpart of what was experienced in Great Britain in the later years of the war, when a light guinea sold for 258.—the quantity of gold in the aureus, or chief gold Roman coin, was progressively diminished, till it came to contain little more than half its former weight of that precious metal. The learned Greaves has shown, after diligent inquiry, that while in the time of the Antonines the aureus weighed 118 grains, in the time of Majorian, in the fifth
th TIN alloc
* GIBBON, v. 329.