CHAPTER VI. ADMINISTRATION AND TAXATION OF THE EMPIRE

We are now brought to the consideration of the methods by which this huge empire was organised and governed.

And first let us observe that the Romans - strict disciplinarians and great lawyers as they were - never sought to impose upon the subject provinces any uniformity. They never sought, any more than Great Britain has sought, to erect one code of law, one form of administration, one standard of rights, one rate of taxation, one religion, and to make it equally applicable to Spain and Britain, Greece and Africa, Gaul and Asia Minor. There were, of course, common to all the empire certain rules essential to civilisation, certain natural laws and laws of all nations. Murder, violence, robbery, deliberate sacrilege, and so forth were punishable everywhere, though not necessarily by the same authority nor in the same manner. Necessarily it was held everywhere that contracts must be fulfilled and debts paid. Beyond the fact that Rome demanded peace and order and the essentials of civilised life, and provided machinery to secure those ends, she troubled little about differences of local procedure and varieties of local law, so long as the Roman rule was duly recognised and the Roman taxes duly paid. As with Great Britain, her care was for results, not for machinery, or, as the great Roman historian puts it, she "valued the reality of the empire, not the show."

Outside Italy there spread the provinces. These had been conquered or peacefully annexed at various times. A number of small states had come in by perpetual alliance. Some provinces, such as Gaul, had formerly been divided among tribes and tribal chiefs. Some, such as Greece, had consisted of highly civilised city-communities with small territories and managing their own affairs, although they might all alike be acknowledging the suzerainty of some powerful prince. Some, such as Cappadocia, Syria, and Egypt, had been under their native kings. Judaea was a peculiar example of a small theocratic state, in which the chief power lay with the priests.

Rome was too wise to meddle more than she need with existing conditions. She preferred as far as possible to accept the existing machinery and to use it, with only necessary modifications, as her instrument of administration. To the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, for example, she conceded a large criminal jurisdiction over ecclesiastical offenders, so long as that jurisdiction did not limit the universal rights of a "Roman citizen."

When a province was conquered, all its territory became technically the property of the Roman state. Some of it was kept as such, and mines of gold, silver, lead, iron, and salt, or quarries of marble, granite, and gravel, were commonly annexed as state property. If it was expedient to allot some portion of the conquered land to a Roman settlement - commonly a settlement of veteran soldiers called a "colony" - that was done. Such a settlement meant the founding of a town, to which was granted a certain environment of land. Those who took part in its formation were "Roman citizens" and forfeited no rights as such. As the native people came in from the surrounding districts to reside in it, they also, it appears, somewhat easily acquired similar privileges. Here the Roman law existed in its entirety. A colony was almost exactly a little Rome in respect of its system of officers and its legal procedure. Sometimes a town which had not originally been so founded might be made a "colony" by receiving a draft of Romans, and sometimes it was made such in sheer compliment. In the Eastern half of the empire such settlements were comparatively rare; they were but dots upon the map, as at Corinth, Philippi, Antioch in Pisidia, or Caesarea. In the West they were much more numerous. The south of France contained many; a number also existed in southern Spain. So many indeed were planted in these parts that they became, as has been already remarked, completely romanized. Farther north Cologne still perpetuates its Roman name of Colonia. Nevertheless in the West the bulk of the land of the provinces is far from being taken up, in the year 64, by colonies.

Apart from the lands thus appropriated, what happens to the rest of the conquered territory which is theoretically Roman property? Generally it is handed back to its original inhabitants, on condition that they pay rent for it, whether in money or in kind, or partly in each. Egypt pays in kind when it sends to Rome the corn in the great merchantmen; Africa pays in kind when it does the same; the Frisians of Holland pay in kind when they supply a certain quantity of hides. Before the days of the Emperor Augustus there had existed for the empire in general the abominable system of tithes, which were farmed by companies. But after him, and at our date, for the most part the payment is by a fixed sum of money, which has been calculated upon the basis of those tithes. In the imperial Record Office there is a register of the area of land in a given province, and an assessment of its producing value. The amount of the land-tax to be paid into the Roman treasury is therefore fixed. Those who read in the New Testament that Augustus Caesar sent forth an order that "all the world - that is, the Roman world - should be taxed" need find no difficulty in understanding what it means. "Taxed" is Old English for assessed, as when we speak of "taxing a bill of costs." The Greek word means simply that a register should be made. The order of Augustus was that a census should be taken throughout the provinces; that a return should be made of population, property, trades, and all that a reasonable government requires to know; and that payments should be determined thereby. All the world had been "taxed" in the modern sense long before Augustus, and it has been taxed, unfortunately without much promise of respite, ever since.