CHAPTER III. A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE PROVINCES

After thus considering, however incompletely, the manner in which the people of the Roman world contrived to move about within the empire itself, we may proceed to glance at the constituent parts of the world in which they thus travelled to and fro.

And first we must draw a distinction of the highest importance between the western and eastern halves. Naturally enough, Italy itself was before all others the land of the Romans. It was the favoured land, enjoyed the fullest privileges, and was the most completely romanized in population, manners, and sentiment. Besides its larger and smaller romanized towns - of which there were about 1200 - it was dotted from end to end with the country-seats and pleasure resorts of Romans. North and west of Italy were various peoples, differing widely in character, habits, and religion, as well as in physique. East of it were various other peoples differing also from each other in such respects, but for the most part marked by a common civilisation in which the West had but an almost inconsiderable share. Before the Roman conquest the nations and tribes of the West had been in general rude, unlettered, and unorganised. Except here and there in Spain, where the Phoenicians or Carthaginians had been at work, and in the Greek colonies sprung from Marseilles, they had hardly possessed such a thing as a town. They scarcely knew what was meant by civic life, with its material luxuries and graces, its art and literature. They were commonly small peoples without unity, brave fighters, but, in all those matters commonly classed as civilisation, distinctly behind the times. The superiority of the Roman in these parts was not merely one of organised strength, military skill, and political method, it was a superiority also of intellectual life and culture. In Spain, Gaul, Britain, Switzerland, the Tyrol and southern Austria, and also in North-West Africa, the Roman proceeded to organise after his own heart, to settle his colonies, to impose his language, and to inculcate his ideals. He was dealing with inferiors; this he fully recognised, and so for the most part did they.

Meanwhile to the eastward also Rome spread her conquests. Here, however, she was dealing with peoples who had already passed under influences in many respects superior to those brought by the conqueror, influences which were in a sense only beginning to educate the conqueror himself. Let us here, for the sake of clearness, make a brief digression into previous history.

Throughout the eastern half of the Mediterranean countries, conquering Rome had been face to face with an older, a more polished, a more keenly intellectual, and more artistic culture than her own. This was the civilisation of Greece. We need not dwell upon the character of Hellenic culture. Anyone who has made acquaintance with the richness of Greek literature, the clear sureness of Greek art, the keen insight of Greek science and philosophy, and the bold experiments of Greek society - especially as represented by Athens - will understand at once what is meant. When the Romans, more than two hundred years before our date, conquered Greece, in so far as they were a people of letters or of effort in abstract thought, in so far as they possessed the arts of sculpture, architecture, painting, and music, they were almost wholly indebted to Greece. Their own strength lay in solidity and gravity of character, in a strong sense of national and personal discipline, in the gift of law-making and law-obeying. In culture they stood to the Greeks of that time very much as the Germans of two centuries ago stood to the French. After their conquest by the Romans the Greeks perforce submitted to the rule of might, but the typical Greek never looked upon the Roman as socially or intellectually his equal. He became himself the philosophic, artistic, and social teacher of his conqueror. His own language was richer in literature, and it was better adapted to every form of conversation. The Latin of the Romans therefore made no progress in Greece or the Greek world. It might be made the language of the Roman courts and of official documents; but beyond this the ordinary Greek disdained to study it. On the other hand the ordinary well-educated Roman could generally speak Greek. Magistrates and officials were almost invariably thus accomplished, and in Athens or Ephesus they talked Greek as we should naturally talk French in Paris - only better, inasmuch as they learned the language in a more rational and practical way. Nero himself could act, or thought he could act, a Greek play and sing a Greek ode among the Greeks. Most probably the Roman noble had been brought up by a Greek nurse, just as so many English families formerly employed a nurse imported from France. Nor did the Greeks merely ignore the Latin language. They refused to be romanized in any other respect. Even the Roman amusements tended to disgust them, and it is to the credit of his superior refinement that the average Greek was repelled by those brutal exhibitions of gladiatorial bloodshed and slaughter over which the coarser Roman gloated.