CHAPTER XI. THE FALL OF THE EMPIRE.
We see, however, in each successive conquest, the destruction, not of civilization, but of men. Countries are overrun, thrones are subverted, the rich are made slaves, the proud utter cries of despair; but the land survives, and arts and science take a new direction, and the new masters are more interested in great improvements than the old tyrants. The condition of Babylonia was probably better for the Persian conquest, while the whole oriental world gained by the wars of Alexander. Grecian culture succeeded Persian misrule. The Romans came and took away from Grecian dynasties, in Asia and Egypt, when they became enfeebled by prosperity and self-indulgence, the powers they had usurped, without destroying Grecian civilization. That remained, and will remain, in some form, forever, as an heirloom of priceless value to all future nations. The Greeks, when they conquered the Persians, had also spared the most precious monuments of their former industry and genius. The Romans, also, when they conquered Greece itself, guarded and prized her peculiar contributions to mankind. And they gave to all these conquered territories, something of their own. They gave laws, and a good government. The Grecian and Asiatic cities were humiliated by what they regarded as barbaric inroads; for the culture of Athens, Corinth, Antioch, and Ephesus, was higher than that of Rome, at that time; but who can doubt a beneficent change in the administration of public affairs? Society was doubtless improved everywhere by the Roman conquests. It is not probable that Athens, after she became tributary to Rome, was equal to the Athens of Pericles and Plato; but it is probable that society in Athens was better than what it was for a century before her fall. But what if particular cities suffered? These did not constitute the whole country. Can it be doubted that Syria, as a province, enjoyed more rational liberty and more scope for energy, under the Roman rule, than under that of the degenerate scions of the old Grecian kings? We see a retribution in the conquest, and also a blessing in disguise.
[The Celtic nations.]
But still more forcibly are these truths illustrated in the conquest of the Celtic nations of Europe. They were barbarians; they had neither science, nor literature, nor art; they were given over to perpetual quarrels, and to rude pleasures. Ignorance, superstition, and unrestrained passions were the main features of society. Other rude warriors wandered from place to place, with no other end than pillage. They had fine elements of character, but they needed civilization. They were conquered. The Romans taught them laws, and language, and literature, and arts. Cities arose among them, and these conquered barbarians became the friends of order and peace, and formed the most prosperous part of the whole empire. It was from these Celtic nations that the Roman armies were recruited. The great men of Rome, in the second and third centuries, came from these Celtic provinces. They infused a new blood into the decaying body. Who can doubt the benefit to mankind by the conquests of Britain, of Gaul, and of Spain? The Romans proved the greatest civilizers of the ancient world, with all their arrogance and want of appreciation of those things which gave a glory to the Greeks. They introduced among the barbaric nations their own arts, language, literature, and laws; and the civilization which they taught never passed away. It was obscured, indeed, during the revolutions which succeeded the fall of the empire, but it was gradually revived, and beamed with added lustre when its merits were at last perceived.
Thus wars are not an unmixed calamity, since the evils are overruled in the ultimate good of nations. But they are a great calamity for the time, and they are sent when nations most need chastisement.
[Conquest of the Celts.]
The Romans triumphed, by their great and unexampled energy and patience and heroism, over all the world, and erected their universal empire upon the ruins of all the states of antiquity. They were suffered to increase and prosper, that great ends might be accomplished, either by the punishment of the old nations, or the creation of a new civilization.
But they, in their turn, became corrupted by prosperity, and enervated by peace. They had been guilty of the most heartless and cruel atrocities for eight hundred years. Their empire was built upon the miseries of mankind. They also must needs suffer retribution.
It was long delayed. It did not come till every conservative influence had failed. The condition of society was becoming worse and worse, until it reached a depravity and an apathy fatal to all genius, and more disgraceful than among those people whom they stigmatized as barbarians. Then must come revolution, or races would run out and civilization be lost.
God sent war - universal, cruel, destructive war, at the hands of unknown warriors; and they effected a total eclipse of the glory of man. The empire was resolved into its original elements. Its lands were overrun and pillaged; its cities were burned and robbed; and unmitigated violence overspread the earth, so that the cry of despair ascended to heaven, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea. Indeed, the end of the world was so generally believed to be at hand, on this universal upturning of society, that some of the best men fled to caves and deserts; and there were more monks that sought personal salvation by their austerities, than soldiers who braved their lives in battle.