VI. THE ROMAN RUNNYMEDE.
The establishment of the republic marked an era in the history of Rome. The people had decreed, as has been said, that for them there never should be a king, and the law was kept to the letter; though, if they meant that supreme authority should never be held among them by one man, it was violated many times. The story of Rome is unique in the history of the world, for it is not the record of the life of one great country, but of a city that grew to be strong and successfully established its authority over many countries. The most ancient and the most remote from the sea of the cities of Latium, Rome soon became the most influential, and began to combine in itself the traits of the peoples near it; but owing to the singular strength and rare impressiveness of the national character, these were assimilated, and the inhabitant of the capital remained distinctively a Roman in spite of his intimate association with men of different origin and training.
The citizen of Rome was practical, patriotic, and faithful to obligation; he loved to be governed by inflexible law; and it was a fundamental principle with him that the individual should be subordinate to the state. His kings were either organizers, like Numa and Ancus Marcius, or warriors, like Romulus and Tullus Hostilius; they either made laws, like Servius, or they enforced them with the despotism of Tarquinius Superbus. It is difficult for us to conceive of such a majestic power emanating from a territory so insignificant. We hardly realize that Latium did not comprise a territory quite fifty miles by one hundred in extent, and that it was but a hundred miles from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic. It was but a short walk from Rome to the territory of the Etruscans, and when Tarquin found an asylum at Cære, he did not separate himself by twenty miles from the scene of his tyranny. Ostia was scarcely more distant, and one might have ridden before the first meal of the day to Lavinium, or Alba, or Veii, or to Ardea, the ancient city of the Rutuli. It is important to keep these facts in mind as we read the story of the remarkable city.
All towns were built on hills in these early days, for safety in case of war, as well as because the valleys were insalubrious, but this is not a peculiarity of the Romans, for in New England in the late ages of our own ancestors they were obliged to follow the same custom. On the tops and slopes of seven hills, as they liked to remind themselves, the Romans built their city. They were not impressive elevations, though their sides were sharp and rocky, for the loftiest rose less than three hundred feet above the sea level. Their summits were crowned with groves of beech trees and oaks, and in the lower lands grew osiers and other smaller varieties.
The earlier occupations of the Roman people were war and agriculture, or the pasturage of flocks and herds. They raised grapes and made wines; they cultivated the oil olive and knew the use of its fruit. They found copper in their soil and made a pound (as) of it their unit of value, but it was so cheap that ten thousand ases were required to buy a war horse, though cattle and sheep were much lower. They yoked their oxen and called the path they occupied a jugerum (jugum, a cross-beam, or a yoke), and this in time came to be their familiar standard of square measure, containing about two thirds of an acre. Two of these were assigned to a citizen, and seven were the narrow limit to which only one's landed possessions were for a long time allowed to extend. In time commerce was added to the pursuits of the men, and with it came fortunes and improved dwellings and public buildings.
Laziness and luxury were frowned upon by the early Romans. Mistress and maid worked together in the affairs of the household, like Lucretia and other noble women of whom history tells, and the man did not hesitate to hold the plow, as the example of Cincinnatus will show us. Time was precious, and thrift and economy were necessary to success. The father was the autocrat in the household, and exercised his power with stern rigidity.
Art was backward and came from abroad; of literature there was none, long after Greece had passed its period of heroic poetry. The dwellings of the citizens were low and insignificant, though as time passed on they became more massive and important. The vast public structures of the later kings were comparable to the task-work of the builders of the Egyptian pyramids, and they still strike us with astonishment and surprise.
The religion of these strong conquerors was narrow, severe, and dreary. The early fathers worshipped native deities only. They recognized gods everywhere - in the home, in the grove, and on the mountain. They erected their altars on the hills; they had their Lares and Penates to watch over their hearthstones, and their Vestal Virgins kept everlasting vigil near the never-dying fires in the temples. With the art of Greece that made itself felt through Etruria, came also the influence of the Grecian mythology, and Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva found a shrine on the top of the Capitoline, where the first statue of a deity was erected. The mysterious Sibylline Books are also a mark of the Grecian influence, coming from Cumæ, a colony of Magna Græcia.