In the spring of 1906, the College de France invited me to deliver, during November of that year, a course of lectures on Roman history. I accepted, giving a resume, in eight lectures, of the history of the government of Augustus from the end of the civil wars to his death; that is, a resume of the matter contained in the fourth and fifth volumes of the English edition of my work, The Greatness and Decline of Rome.
Following these lectures came a request from M. Emilio Mitre, Editor of the chief newspaper of the Argentine Republic, the Nacion, and one from the Academia Brazileira de Lettras of Rio de Janeiro, to deliver a course of lectures in the Argentine and Brazilian capitals. I gave to the South American course a more general character than that delivered in Paris, introducing arguments which would interest a public having a less specialized knowledge of history than the public I had addressed in Paris.
When President Roosevelt did me the honour to invite me to visit the United States and Prof. Abbott Lawrence Lowell asked me to deliver a course at the Lowell Institute in Boston, I selected material from the two previous courses of lectures, moulding it into the group that was given in Boston in November-December, 1908. These lectures were later read at Columbia University in New York, and at the University of Chicago in Chicago. Certain of them were delivered elsewhere - before the American Philosophical Society and at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, at Harvard University in Cambridge, and at Cornell University in Ithaca.
Such is the record of the book now presented to the public at large. It is a work necessarily made up of detached studies, which, however, are bound together by a central, unifying thought; so that the reading of them may prove useful and pleasant even to those who have already read my Greatness and Decline of Rome.
The first lecture, "The Theory of Corruption in Roman History," sums up the fundamental idea of my conception of the history of Rome. The essential phenomenon upon which all the political, social, and moral crises of Rome depend is the transformation of customs produced by the augmentation of wealth, of expenditure, and of needs, - a phenomenon, therefore, of psychological order, and one common in contemporary life. This lecture should show that my work does not belong among those written after the method of economic materialism, for I hold that the fundamental force in history is psychologic and not economic.
The three following lectures, "The History and Legend of Antony and Cleopatra," "The Development of Gaul," and "Nero," seem to concern themselves with very different subjects. On the contrary, they present three different aspects of the one, identical problem - the struggle between the Occident and the Orient - a problem that Rome succeeded in solving as no European civilisation has since been able to do, making the countries of the Mediterranean Basin share a common life, in peace. How Rome succeeded in accomplishing this union of Orient and Occident is one of the points of greatest interest in its history. The first of these three lectures, "Antony and Cleopatra," shows how Rome repulsed the last offensive movement of the Orient against the Occident; the second, "The Development of Gaul," shows the establishing of equilibrium between the two parts of the Empire; the third, "Nero," shows how the Orient, beaten upon fields of battle and in diplomatic action, took its revenge in the domain of Roman ideas, morals, and social life.
The fifth lecture, "Julia and Tiberius," illustrates, by one of the most tragic episodes of Roman history, the terrible struggle between Roman ideals and habits and those of the Graeco-Asiatic civilisation. The sixth lecture, "The Development of the Empire," summarises in a few pages views to be developed in detail in that part of my work yet to be written.
I have said that not all history can be explained by economic forces and factors, but this does not prevent me from regarding economic phenomena as also of high importance. The seventh lecture, "Wine in Roman History," is an essay after the plan in accordance with which, it seems to me, economic phenomena should be treated.
The last lecture deals with a subject that perhaps does not, properly speaking, belong to Roman history, but upon which an historian of Rome ought to touch sooner or later; I mean the role which Rome can still play in the education of the upper classes. It is a subject important not only to the historian of Rome, but to all those who are interested in the future of culture and civilisation. The more specialisation in technical labour increases, the greater becomes the necessity of giving the superior classes a general education, which can prepare specialists to understand each other and to act together in all matters of common interest. To imagine a society composed exclusively of doctors, engineers, chemists, merchants, manufacturers, is impossible. Every one must also be a citizen and a man in sympathy with the common conscience. I have, therefore, endeavoured to show in this eighth lecture what services Rome and its great intellectual tradition can render to modern civilisation in the field of education.