CHAPTER X. INTERNAL CONDITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
Such was imperial Rome, in all the internal relations of life, and amid all the trophies and praises which resulted from universal conquest. I cannot understand the enthusiasm of Gibbon for such a people, or for such an empire, - a grinding and resistless imperial despotism, a sensual and proud aristocracy, a debased and ignorant populace, disproportionate fortunes, slavery flourishing to a state unprecedented in the world's history, women the victims and the toys of men, lax sentiments of public morality, a whole people given over to demoralizing sports and spectacles, pleasure the master passion of the people, money the mainspring of society, all the vices which lead to violence and prepare the way for the total eclipse of the glory of man. What was a cultivated face of nature, or palaces, or pomps, or a splendid material civilization, or great armies, or a numerous population, or the triumph of energy and skill, when the moral health was completely undermined? The external grandeur was nothing amid so much vice and wickedness and wretchedness. A world, therefore, as fair and glorious as our own, must needs crumble away. There were no proper conservative forces. The poison had descended to the extremities of the social system. A corrupt body must die when vitality had fled. The soul was gone. Principle, patriotism, virtue, had all passed away. The barbarians were advancing to conquer and desolate. There was no power to resist them, but enervated and timid legions, with the accumulated vices of all the nations of the earth, which they had been learning for four hundred years. Society must needs resolve itself into its original elements when men would not make sacrifices, and so few belonged to their country. The machine was sure to break up at the first great shock. No state could stand with such an accumulation of wrongs, with such complicated and fatal diseases eating out the vitals of the empire. The house was built upon the sands. The army may have rallied under able generals, in view of the approaching catastrophe; philosophy may have gilded the days of a few indignant citizens; good emperors may have attempted to raise barriers against corruption; and even Christianity may have converted by thousands: still nothing, according to natural laws, could save the empire. It was doomed. Retributive justice must march on in its majestic course. The empire had accomplished its mission. The time came for it to die. The Sibylline oracle must needs be fulfilled: "O haughty Rome, the divine chastisement shall come upon thee; the fire shall consume thee; thy wealth shall perish; foxes and wolves shall dwell among thy ruins: and then what land that thou hast enslaved shall be thy ally, and which of thy gods shall save thee? for there shall be confusion over the face of the whole earth, and the fall of cities shall come." [Footnote: If any one thinks this general description of Roman life and manners exaggerated, he can turn from such poets as Juvenal and Martial, and read what St. Pani says in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.]
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REFERENCES. - Mr. Merivale has written most fully of modern writers on the condition of the empire. Gibbon has occasional paragraphs which show the condition of Roman society. Lyman's Life of the Emperors should be read, and also DeQuincy's Lives of the Caesars. See, also, Niebuhr, Arnold, and Mommsen, though these writers have chiefly confined themselves to republican Rome. But, if one would get the truest and most vivid description, he must read the Roman poets, especially Juvenal and Martial. The work of Petronius is too indecent to be read. Ammianus Marcellinus gives us some striking pictures of the latter Romans. Suetonius, in his Lives of the Caesars, furnishes many facts. Becker's Gallus is a fine description of Roman habits and customs. Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities should be consulted, as it is a great thesaurus of important facts. Lucian does not describe Roman manners, but he aims his sarcasms on the hollowness of Roman life, as do the great satirists generally. Tillemont is the basis of Gibbon's history, so far as pertains to the emperors.