Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1

The Infancy of Rome and the Wars it sustained

by Montesquieu Icon
7 minutes  • 1384 words

We are not to form to ourselves an idea of the city of Rome, in its infancy, from the cities which exist at this time, except we have in view those of the Crim Tartars, built for the stowing and securing of plunder, cattle, fruits, and other produce of the country.

The ancient names of the chief places in Rome, are all relative to this use.

Rome didn’t even have streets unless we call their central roads as such. The houses were:

  • straggling,
  • built in an irregular manner, and
  • very small

The inhabitants were always either at their work, or in the public square, were very seldom at home.

But the greatness of Rome soon appeared in its public edifices. Works which have raised, and still raise the greatest idea of its power, were formed under its kings. They began already to lay the foundation of that city which was to be eternal.

Romulus and his successors were in almost perpetual wars with their neighbours to encrease their population and territories.

  • They used to return to the city, loaded with the spoils of of wheatsheaves and flocks of the conquered nations and gave them the greatest joy.
  • Such is the origin of triumphs, to which Rome afterwards chiefly owed its grandeur.

The Sabines were a stubborn, warlike people, resembling the Spartans, from whom they sprung.

  • The Romans’ strength was greatly encreased by their union with them.
  • Romulus copied the shape of their shields, which were large, and used them since instead of the small buckler of Argos.

The Romans’ success came from=

  • their ability to lay aside their own customs as soon as they encountered better among the people they conquered.
  • them fighting successively against all nations, one at a time

It was a maxim then among the republics of Italy, that treaties made with one king did not extend towards his successor.

  • This was a sort of law of nations among them.
  • Thus, everything which had been submitted to by one king of Rome, they thought themselves disengaged from under another, and wars continually begot wars.

The reign of Numa was long and peaceful.

One cause of Roman prosperity was that all her kings were great men. No other history presents us with an uninterrupted succession of such statesmen and such captains.

In the infancy of societies, the leading men in the republic form the constitution. Afterwards, the constitution forms the leading men in the republic.

Tarquin was the government, without being elected by the senate, or the people. His power became hereditary and he rendered it absolute. These two revolutions were soon followed by a third.

Sextus, the son of Tarquin, by violating the chastity of Lucretia, took such a step as has seldom failed to drive tyrants from the cities over which they presided; for when once a people are made strongly sensible, by the commission of so enormous a crime, of the slavery to which they are reduced, they immediately form a desperate resolution.

A people may suffer, without murmuring, the imposing of new tributes, since they are not certain but that some advantage may accrue to themselves from the disposal of the monies so levied;

but when an insult is put upon them, they are affected with their misfortune only; and this they aggravate, by fixing to it the idea of all the calamities which can possibly happen.

Lucretia’s death led to an accidental revolution when the haughty, enterprizing, and bold people, confined within walls, must necessarily either=

  • shake off the yoke, or
  • soften the asperity of their manners

From the situation of things at that time, this was the result, either that Rome should change the form of its government, or continue for ever a small, poor monarchy.

Modern history furnishes us with a very remarkable example of what happened at that time in Rome; for as men have been sensible of the same passions in all ages, the occasions which give rise to great revolutions are various, but the causes are for ever the same.

As Henry 7th of England increased the power of the commons, merely to humble the nobility; so Servius Tullius enlarged the privileges of the people, in order to depress the senate= but the people growing afterwards bolder, ruined each of the monarchies under which they lived.

No flattering colours have been employed in the picture which is left us of Tarquin.

His name has not escaped any of the orators who declaimed against tyranny.

I think that Tarquin was not contemptible because:

  • his conduct foresaw his own calamities
  • he was gentle and humane towards the conquered
  • he was beneficent to the soldiers
  • he engaged so many arts to preserve him
  • he raised edifices for the public use
  • he had courage in the field
  • he was patient with his misfortunes
  • he carried on a 20 years’ war against the Romans, though he was deprived of his kingdom and very poor
  • there were resources perpetually found about him

The rank or place which posterity bestows, is subject, as all others are, to the whim and caprice of fortune. Woe to the reputation of that monarch who is oppressed by a party which after becomes the prevailing one; or who has endeavoured to destroy a prepossession that survives him.

The Romans, after having banished their kings, appointed consuls annually; a circumstance which contributed to raise them to so exalted a pitch.

In the lives of all princes there are certain periods of ambition, and these are afterwards succeeded by other passions, and even by indolence; but the commonwealth [5] being governed by magistrates who were changed every year, and who endeavoured to signalize themselves in their employment, in the view of obtaining new ones, ambition had not a moment to lose.

Hence it was that these magistrates were ever persuading the senate to stir up the people to war, and pointed our to them new enemies every day.

This body (the senate) was inclined enough to do this of their own accord; for, being quite tired of the complaints and demands of the people, they endeavoured to remove the occasion of their disquiet, and to employ them in foreign wars.

Now the common people were generally pleased with war, because a method had been found to make it beneficial to them, by the judicious distribution that was made of the spoils.

Rome being a city in which neither trade nor arts flourished, the several individuals had no other way of enriching themselves but by rapine.

An order and discipline was therefore established in the way and manner of pillaging, * and this was pretty near the same with that now practised among the inhabitants of Lesser Tartary.

The plunder was laid together, and afterwards distributed among the soldiers; not even the minutest article was lost, because every man, before he set out, swore not to embezzle any thing; besides that the Romans were, of all nations, the most religious observers of oaths, these being considered as the sinews of their military discipline.

In fine, those citizens who staid at home, shared also in the fruits of the victory; for part of the conquered lands was confiscated, and this was subdivided into two portions, one of which was sold for the benefit of the public, and the other divided, by the commonwealth, among such citizens as were but in poor circumstances, on condition of their paying a small acknowledgment.

As the consuls had no other way of obtaining the honour of a triumph, than by a conquest or a victory, this made them rush into field with unparalleled impetuosity; they marched directly to the enemy, when force immediately decided the contest.

Rome was therefore engaged in an eternal, and ever obstinate war= Now, a nation that is always * at war, and that too from the very frame and essence of its government, must necessarily be destroyed, or subdue all other nations; for, these being sometimes at war, and at other times in peace, could never be so able to invade others, nor so well prepared to defend themselves.

By this means the Romans attained a perfect knowledge in the military arts= In transient wars most of the examples are lost; peace suggests different ideas, and we forget not only our faults, but even our virtues.

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