Social Development of the Roman Empire.
So the Roman Government gave itself little concern at this time for the provinces, nor did it build in them any considerable public work. It did not construct roads, nor canals, nor harbours, except when they were necessary to the metropolis; for example, Agrippa made the network of Gallic roads; Augustus opened the first three great highways that crossed the Alps. It would be a mistake to suppose that these important constructions were designed to favour the progress of Gallic commerce; they were strategic highways made to defend the Rhine. As gradually Gaul grew rich, Rome had to recognise that the weak garrisons, set apart in the year 27 for the defence of the Rhine and the Danube, were insufficient. It would have been necessary to increase the army, but the finances were in bad condition. Augustus then thought to base defence on the principle that the immense frontiers could not all be assailed at the same time, and therefore he constructed some great military roads across the Alps and Gaul, to be able to collect the soldiery rapidly from all parts of the Empire at any point menaced, on the Rhine or on the Danube.
The imperial policy of Augustus and that of Tiberius, who applied the same principles with still greater vigour, was above all a negative policy. Accordingly, it could please only those denying as useful to progress another kind of men, the great agitators of the masses. Shall we therefore conclude that Augustus and Tiberius were useless? So doing, we should run the risk of misunderstanding all the history of the Roman conquest. By merely comprehending the value of the apparent inactivity of Augustus and Tiberius, one can understand the essence of the policy of world expansion initiated by the Roman aristocracy after the Second Punic War. At the beginning, this policy was pre-eminently destructive. Everywhere Rome either destroyed or weakened, not nations or peoples, but republics, monarchies, theocracies, principalities - that is, the political superstructures that framed the different states, great or small; everywhere it put in place of these superstructures the weak authority of its governors, of the Senate, of its own prestige; everywhere it left intact or gave greater freedom to the elementary forms of human association, the family, the tribe, the city.
So for two centuries Rome continued in Orient and Occident to suppress bureaucracies, to dismiss or reduce armies, to close royal palaces, to limit the power of priestly castes or republican oligarchies, substituting for all these complicated organisations a proconsul with some dozens of vicegerent secretaries and attendants. The last enterprise of this policy, which I should be tempted to call "state-devouring," was the destruction of the dynasty of the Ptolemies, in Egypt. Without doubt, the suppression of so many states, continued for two centuries, could not be accomplished without terrible upheavals. It would be useless to repaint here the grim picture of the last century of the Republic; sufficient to say, the grandiosity of this convulsion has hindered most people from seeing that the state-devouring policy of Rome included in itself, by the side of the forces of dissolution, beneficent, creative forces, able to bring about a new birth. If this policy had not degenerated into an unbridled sacking, it could have effectuated everywhere notable economies in the expenses of government that were borne by the poorer classes, suppressing as it did so many armies, courts, bureaucracies, wars. It is clear that Rome would have been able to gather in on all sides, especially in the Orient, considerable tribute, merely by taking from the various peoples much less than the cost of their preceding monarchies and continuous wars. Moreover, Rome established with the conquests throughout the immense Empire what we would call a regime of free exchange; made neighbours of territories formerly separated by constant wars, unsafe communication, and international anarchy; and rendered possible the opening up of mines and forests hitherto inaccessible.
The apparent inactivity of Augustus and Tiberius was simply the ultimate and most beneficent phase of the state-devouring policy of Rome, that in which, the destructive forces exhausted, the creative forces began to act. Augustus and Tiberius only prolonged indefinitely by means of expedients that mediocre order and that partial tranquillity re-established after Actium by the general weariness; but exactly for this reason were they so useful to the world. In this peace, in this mediocre order, the policy of expansion of Rome, finally rid of all the destructive forces, matured all the benefits inherent within it. Finally, after a frightful crisis, the world was able to enjoy a liberty and an autonomy such as it had never previously enjoyed and which perhaps it will never again in an equal degree of civilisation and in so great an extension.