« PreviousContinue »
ANCIENT Rome-Causes of its Fall — Religion - Temples - Amuse
ments—Baths—Campus Martius— Theatres—The Coliseum– The Gladiators—Triumphal Arches-Tombs-Castle of St. Angelo.
“Rome and its Vicissitudes” is a vast subject, and the difficulty is to compress our thoughts within reasonable limits. It has been said that whatever makes the past predominate over the present exalts us in the scale of thinking beings. Moreover, our subject, Rome and its fortunes, will set in motion trains of thought, useful alike to the student of history, to the practical statesman, to the inquiring Christian. You must throw your thoughts back to the beginning of the Christian era. What can be more interesting than to consider the rise and fall of a great nation—to discover in what way lived those who conquered and ruled the world-in what description of city dwelt “ the Commonwealth of kings -the men of Rome?" To recall to life a nation that has passed away is an impossibility; to rebuild a splendid city in the eye of the mind, and to re-people it with brave and busy men, would seem to be a difficult task-yet the character of such a people as the Romans is preserved by the memory of their great actions, by the labours of their historians, and by the genius of their poets; even the buildings of their famous city may be almost restored to our delighted gaze by relics which attest their imperishable beauty.
The two great nations of ancient tinies were Greece and Rome. Now they differed widely in character, and that very difference explains the peculiar excellence of each.
The Greeks were subtle in mind, ingenious, inventive, eloquent, witty ; but they wanted stability of character. The life of that celebrated nation as a free state did not last more than 200 years. The liberty of Greece fell when Demosthenes ceased to thunder. The Romans, on the contrary, possessed that gravity of character which the Greeks wanted; they disciplined their bodies to labour, and their minds to thought; they framed laws which were good, and enforced those laws, and therefore the length of time during which they governed far exceeds the period during which the more brilliant people of Greece enjoyed their freedom. Why did the Romans fall from power ? The answer is most instructive.
For centuries their patrician Senate ruled with wisdom; their generals led their armies with matchless skill, and returned in triumph to till their fields with victorious hands. They were laborious, virtuous, and brave. One of their famous men, Cato, said that while the Romans were pure and religious, they lived in modest mansions and exhausted their wealth on the temples of the gods; but, as they increased in power, they increased in wealth ; luxury oppressed them, corruption overtook them ; personal profligacy succeeded to personal virtue, and therefore Ancient Rome fell. Shakspeare has composed noble speeches for Brutus and Cassius. Addison describes Cato as struggling with the storms of fate, soliloquizing on the immortality of the soul, and perishing in the cause of freedom. All that sounds well, but the truth of the matter is this (as a German writer has tersely expressed it)—so utterly corrupt had the Romans become before their liberties were overthrown, that an angel from heaven could not have saved them. What is the moral to be drawn from my short statement of early Roman history? Why, this—a nation exists, not by the letter of its laws, not by acts of parliament, which are lifeless things—but by the virtue, by the purity, and by the faith of the rulers and of the masses of the people ; and the very moment the people become, in a mass, irreligious and corrupt, their leaders profligate, you can no longer keep the spirit of freedom fresh and pure. I invite you to consider what was the state of Rome, even as a city, after the time that Cæsar Augustus issued “a decree that all the world should be taxed.” Cæsar Augustus was at first a professing patriot, but when he had disposed of all his rivals, he became a cool and cunning tyrant. You have heard it said, “He found ancient Rome of brick, and left it of marble ;" which means that, possessed of boundless power and boundless wealth, he then did what a poorer and a better race of men had forgotten to do-adorned the City of Rome, and made it, in point of architectural beauty, and in reference to the enjoyment of physical life, the most wonderful city of ancient times. Let us examine how the Roman people lived; what kind of city Ancient Rome was, and by what kind of men it was adorned and governed. Augustus Cæsar had Mæcenas for his friend, Agrippa for his minister, the wit of Horace to season his supper, and the poetry of Virgil to enjoy. Augustus and his advisers were very methodical—they loved “law and order:" so they divided their great city, the population of which was not equal to five-eighths of the population of London at the present day, into fourteen departments. Writers say, that as far as they are enabled to calculate, the population of Rome was about one million and a half or two millions; but still they were in the City of the Seven Hills; surrounded with walls and much pent up and confined at the time Augustus ruled the world. Now the very word Rome signifies strength : everything the Romans did was done with prodigious solidity; their buildings were erected to last almost for eternity. It would be impossible at this distance of time, and in the present state of our information of the ancient city, to have regard to their streets ; because it is a matter of conjecture what description of dwelling-houses for the masses they built; but as to their public buildings, we can be more specific, and why ? - Ancient Rome was divided, as I have said, into fourteen regions, and, being a methodical people, the Romans never erected a public building that they did not preserve a record of it in the department to which it belonged. It was recorded in a catalogue by the regionaries: these catalogues have come down to modern times, and skilful archæologists have pursued their inquiries as to every ruined temple, every broken arch, every column that stands in solitary splendour; and they have so guided their investigations as to restore, by their plans and drawings, the original building on the very spot, and almost in the exact form in which it was originally erected.
The Romans were very religious, and this had a great effect on the early progress of Christianity-as I shall in a moment show. They had no idea of a State disconnected from religion; therefore religion, though it was a false religion, was interwoven with all their public acts. When the Senate assembled, it was in a temple, and they commenced with a religious ceremony, as we commence our meetings in our