CHAPTER I. EXTENT AND SECURITY OF THE EMPIRE

The best means of realising the extent of the Roman Empire in or about the year 64 is to glance at the map. It will be found to reach from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates, from the middle of England - approximately the river Trent - to the south of Egypt, from the Rhine and the Danube to the Desert of Sahara. The Mediterranean Sea is a Roman lake, and there is not a spot upon its shores which is not under Roman rule. In round numbers the empire is three thousand miles in length and two thousand in breadth. Its population, which, at least in the western parts, was much thinner then than it is over the same area at present, cannot be calculated with any accuracy, but an estimate of one hundred millions would perhaps be not very far from the mark.

Beyond its borders - sometimes too dangerously near to them and apt to overstep them - lay various peoples concerning whom Roman knowledge was for the most part incomplete and indefinite. Within its own boundaries the Roman government carefully collected every kind of information. Such precision was indispensable for the carrying out of those Roman principles of administration which will be described later. But of the nations or tribes beyond the frontiers only so much was known as had been gathered from a number of more or less futile campaigns, from occasional embassies sent to Rome by such peoples, from the writings of a few venturous travellers bent on exploration, from slaves who had been acquired by war or purchase, or from traders such as those who made their way to the Baltic in quest of amber, or to Arabia, Ethiopia, and India in quest of precious metals, jewels, ivory, perfumes, and fabrics.

There had indeed been sundry attempts to annex still more of the world. Roman armies had crossed the Rhine and had twice fought their way to the Elbe; but it became apparent to the shrewd Augustus and Tiberius that the country could not be held, and the Rhine was for the present accepted as the most natural and practical frontier. In the East the attempts permanently to annex Armenia, or a portion of Parthia, had so far proved but nominal or almost entirely vain.

On the Upper Euphrates at this date there was a sort of acknowledgment of vague dependence on Rome, but the empire had acquired nothing more solid. Forty years before our date a Roman expedition had penetrated into South-west Arabia, of which the wealth was extravagantly over-estimated, but it had met with complete failure. Into Ethiopia a punitive campaign had been made against Queen Candace, and a loose suzerainty was claimed over her kingdom, but the Roman frontier still stopped short at Elephantine. Over the territories of the semi-Greek semi-Scythian settlements to the north of the Black Sea Rome exercised a protectorate, which was for obvious reasons not unwelcome to those concerned. Along or near the eastern frontier she well understood the policy of the "buffer state," and, within her own borders in those parts, was ready to make tools of petty kings, whose own ambitions would both assist her against external foes and relieve her of administrative trouble.

At no time did the Roman Empire possess so natural or scientific a frontier as at this, when it was bounded by the Rhine, the Danube, the Black Sea, the Euphrates, the Desert, and the Atlantic. The only exception, it will be perceived, was in Britain, but the Roman idea there also was to annex the whole island, a feat which was never accomplished. Two generations after our chosen date Rome had conquered as far as the Firths of Clyde and Forth; it had crossed the Southern Rhine, and annexed the south-west corner of Germany, approximately from Cologne to Ratisbon; it had passed the Danube, and secured and settled Dacia, which is roughly the modern Roumania; and it had pushed its power somewhat further into the East. But it had not thereby increased either its strength or its stability.

At the period then with which we are to deal, the Roman Empire included the countries now known as Holland, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, the southern half of the Austrian Empire, Greece, Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine, Egypt, Tripoli and Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, and also the southern two-thirds of England. Within these borders there prevailed that greatest blessing of the Roman rule, the pax Romana, or "Roman peace." Whatever defects may be found in the Roman administration, on whatever abstract grounds the existence of such an empire may be impugned, it cannot be questioned that for at least two centuries the whole of this vast region enjoyed a general reign of peace and security such as it never knew before and has never known since. That peace meant also social and industrial prosperity and development. It meant an immense increase in settled population and in manufactures, and an immense advance - particularly in the West - in civilised manners and intellectual interests.

Peoples and tribes which had been at perpetual war among themselves or with some neighbour were reduced to quietude. Communities which had been liable to sudden invasion and to all manner of arbitrary changes in their conditions of life, in their burdens of taxation, and even in their personal freedom, now knew exactly where they stood, and, for the most part, perceived that they stood in a much more tolerable and a distinctly more assured position than before. If there must sometimes be it would be the Roman tyrant, and he, as we shall find, affected them but little. All irresponsible local tyrannies, whether of kings or parties, were abolished.