CHAPTER X. INTERNAL CONDITION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.
The wines were often kept for two ages, and some qualities were so highly prized as to sell for about twenty dollars an ounce. Large hogs were roasted whole at a banquet. The ancient epicures expatiate on ram's-head pies, stuffed fowls, boiled calf, and pastry stuffed with raisins and nuts. Dishes were made of gold and silver, set with precious stones. Cicero and Pompey one day surprised Lucullus at one of his ordinary banquets, when he expected no guests, and even that cost fifty thousand drachmas - about four thousand dollars. His beds were of purple, and his vessels glittered with jewels. The halls of Heliogabalus were hung with cloth of gold, enriched with jewels. His beds were of massive silver, his table and plate of pure gold, and his mattresses, covered with carpets of cloth of gold, were stuffed with down found only under the wings of partridges. Crassus paid one hundred thousand sesterces for a golden cup. Banqueting rooms were strewed with lilies and roses. Apicius, in the time of Trajan, spent one hundred millions of sesterces in debauchery and gluttony. Having only ten millions left, he ended his life with poison, thinking he might die of hunger. The suppers of Heliogabalus never cost less than one hundred thousand sesterces. And things were valued for their cost and rarity, rather than their real value. Enormous prices were paid for carp, the favorite dish of the Romans. Drusillus, a freedman of Claudius, caused a dish to be made of five hundred pounds weight of silver. Vitellius had one made of such prodigious size that they were obliged to build a furnace on purpose for it; and at a feast in honor of this dish which he gave, it was filled with the livers of the scarrus (fish), the brains of peacocks, the tongues of a bird of red plumage, called Phaesuicopterus, and the roes of lampreys caught in the Carpathian Sea. Falernian wine was never drunk until ten years old, and it was generally cooled with ices. The passion for play was universal. Nero ventured four hundred thousand sesterces on a single throw of the dice. Cleopatra, when she feasted Antony, gave each time to that general the gold vessels, enriched with jewels, the tapestry and purple carpets, embroidered with gold, which had been used in the repasts. Horace speaks of a debauchee who drank at a meal a goblet of vinegar, in which he dissolved a pearl worth a million of sesterces, which hung at the ear of his mistress. Precious stones were so common that a woman of the utmost simplicity dared not go without her diamonds. Even men wore jewels, especially elaborate rings, and upon all the fingers at last. The taste of the Roman aristocracy, with their immense fortunes, inclined them to pomp, to extravagance, to ostentatious modes of living, to luxurious banquets, to conventionalities and ceremonies, to an unbounded epicureanism. They lived for the present hour, and for sensual pleasures. There was no elevation of life. It was the body and not the soul, the present and not the future, which alone concerned them. They were grossly material in all their desires and habits. They squandered money on their banquets, their stables, and their dress. And it was to their crimes, says Juvenal, that they were indebted for their gardens, their palaces, their tables, and their fine old plate. The day was portioned out in the public places, in the bath, the banquet. Martial indignantly rebukes these extravagances, as unable to purchase happiness, in his Epigram to Quintus: "Because you purchase slaves at two hundred thousand sesterces; because you drink wines stored during the reign of Numa; because your furniture costs you a million; because a pound weight of wrought silver costs you five thousand; because a golden chariot becomes yours at the price of a whole farm; because your mule costs you more than the value of a house - do not imagine that such expenses are the proof of a great mind." [Footnote: Book iii. p. 62.]
Unbounded pride, insolence, inhumanity, selfishness, and scorn marked this noble class. Of course there were exceptions, but the historians and satirists give the saddest pictures of their cold-hearted depravity. The sole result of friendship with a great man was a meal, at which flattery and sycophancy were expected; but the best wine was drunk by the host, instead of by the guest. Provinces were ransacked for fish and fowl and game for the tables of the great, and sensualism was thought to be no reproach. They violated the laws of chastity and decorum. They scourged to death their slaves. They degraded their wives and sisters. They patronized the most demoralizing sports. They enriched themselves by usury, and enjoyed monopolies. They practiced no generosity, except at their banquets, when ostentation balanced their avarice. They measured every thing by the money-standard. They had no taste for literature, but they rewarded sculptors and painters, if they prostituted art to their vanity or passions. They had no reverence for religion, and ridiculed the gods. Their distinguishing vices were meanness and servility, the pursuit of money by every artifice, the absence of honor, and unblushing sensuality.
[Gibbon's account of the nobles.]
[Sarcasms of Ammianus Marcellinus.]