CHAPTER I. THE CONQUESTS OF THE ROMANS.
One of the features of Roman greatness, which preeminently arrests attention, is military genius and strength. The Romans surpassed all the nations of antiquity in the brilliancy and solidity of their conquests. They conquered the world, and held it in subjection. For many centuries they stamped their iron heel on the necks of prostrate and suppliant kings, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea. Nothing could impede, except for a time, their irresistible progress from conquering to conquer. They were warriors from the earliest period of their history, and all their energies were concentrated upon conquest. Their aggressive policy never changed so long as there was a field for its development. They commenced as a band of robbers; they ended by becoming masters of all the countries and kingdoms which tempted their cupidity or aroused their ambition. Their empire was universal, - the only universal empire which ever existed on this earth, - and it was won with the sword. It was not a rapid conquest, but it was systematic and irresistible, evincing great genius, perseverance, and fortitude.
[The Romans fight from a fixed purpose.]
The successive and fortunate conquests of the Romans were the admiration, the envy, and the fear of all nations - so marvelous and successful that they have the majesty of a providential event. They cannot be called a mystery, since we see the persistent adaptation of means to an end. But no other nation ever evinced this uniform military policy, except for a limited period, or under the stimulus of a temporary enthusiasm, such as characterized the Saracens and the Germanic barbarians. The Romans fought when there was no apparent need of fighting, when their empire already embraced most of the countries known to the ancients. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, and the Greeks made magnificent conquests, but their empire was partial and limited, and soon passed away. The Greeks evinced great military genius, and the enterprises of Alexander have been regarded as a wonder. But the Greeks did not fight, as the Romans did, from a fixed purpose to bring all nations under their sway, and they yielded, in turn, to the Romans. The Romans were never subdued, but all nations were subdued by them - even superior races. They erected a universal monarchy, which fell to pieces by its own weight, when the vices of self-interest had accomplished their work. They became the prey of barbarians in a very different sense from that which reduced the ancient empires. They did not yield to any powerful, warlike neighbor, as the Persians yielded to the Greeks, but to successive waves of unknown warriors who came in quest of settlement, and then only when all Roman vigor had fled, and the whole policy of the empire was changed - when it was the aim of emperors to conserve old conquests, not make new ones.
[War was a passion with the Romans.]
With the Romans, for a thousand years, war was a passion; and, while it lasted, it consumed all other passions. It animated statesmen, rulers, generals, and citizens alike, ever burning, never at rest, - a passion unscrupulous, resistless, all-pervading, all-absorbing, all-conquering. Success in war gave consideration, dignity, honor beyond all other successes. It always has called out popular admiration, and its glory has ever been highly prized, and it always will be so, but it has not monopolized all offices and dignities as among the Romans. The Greeks thought of art, of literature, and of philosophy as well as of war, and gave their crowns of glory for civic and artistic excellence as well as for military success. The Greeks fought to preserve or extend their civilization; the Romans, in order to rule. They had very little respect for any thing beyond military genius. The successful warrior alone was the founder of a great family. The Roman aristocracy, so proud, so rich, so powerful, was based on the glory of battle-fields. Every citizen was trained to arms, and senators and statesmen commanded armies. The whole fabric of the State was built up on war, and for many centuries it was the leading occupation of the people. How insignificant was a poet, or a painter, or a philosopher by the side of a warrior! Rome was a city of generals, and they preoccupied the public mind.
[Value placed by the Romans on military art.]
To a Roman, military art was the highest of all. It was constantly being improved, until it reached absolute perfection, with the old weapons and implements of war. To its perfection the whole genius of the people was consecrated; it was to them what the fine arts were to the Greeks, what priestly domination was to the Middle Ages, and what material inventions to abridge human labor are to us. The Romans despised literature, art, philosophy, commerce, agriculture, and even luxury, when they were making their grand conquests; they only respected their fortunate generals. Hence there was no great encouragement to genius or ambition in any other field; but in this field, the horizon perpetually expanded. Every new conquest prepared the way for successive conquests; ambition here was untrammeled, energy was unbounded, visions of glory were most dazzling, warlike schemes were most fertile, until the whole world lay bleeding and prostrate.
[Lawfulness of war.]