By 43 AD, the era of the most important Roman attack of Britain, Britain had already recurrently been the target of attack, intended and definite, by forces of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. In general with other regions on the circumference of the empire, Britain had long benefited from operating links with the Romans and their economic and cultural supremacy was an important element of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age, particularly in the south.
The new Roman supremacy which started to take over the western world in the first and second centuries B.C. was in numerous points a dissimilar thing from any of the great empires that had up till now triumphed in the civilized world. It was not originally a kingdom, and it was not the conception of any one great conqueror. It was not certainly the first of republican empires; Athens had conquered a group of Allies and reliants in the time of Pericles and Carthage when she entered upon her grave struggle with Rome was mistress of Sardinia and Corsica, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and most of Spain and Sicily. But it was the first republican empire that fled destruction and went on to fresh growths.
The Roman supremacy spread to Morocco and Spain, and was now capable to drive north-westward over what is at the present France and Belgium to Britain and north-eastward into Hungary and South Russia. But conversely it was not at all able to uphold itself in Central Asia or Persia as they were too far-off from its administrative centers.
The Roman Empire was an expansion, an unexpected original expansion; the Roman people found themselves occupied just about not ready in an immense administrative try out. It cannot be called a thriving experiment. Eventually their empire distorted all in all. And it altered extremely in structure and method from century to century. It altered more in a hundred years than Bengal or Mesopotamia or Egypt altered in a thousand. It was always shifting. It never achieved to any fixity. In logic the trial botched. In a sense the trial stayed in progress, and Europe and America at present are still estimating the puzzles of universal statecraft first tackled by the Roman people.
It is well for the students of history to remember the very vast changes not only in political but in social and ethical matters that went on all through the period of Roman authority. There is much too strong a propensity in people’s brains to think of the Roman ruling as somewhat finished and steady, rigid, rounded, noble and important. Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome, S.P.Q.R. the elder Cato, the Scipios, Julius Cæsar, Diocletian, Constantine the Great, victories, speeches, gladiatorial battles and Christian sacrifices are all caught up together in a picture of rather high and cruel and dignified. The items of that picture have to be unraveled. They are composed at dissimilar points from a course of change profounder than that which detaches the London of William the Conqueror from the London at present.
Rome was a little country barely twenty miles square. She struggled the strong but family states about her, and required not their annihilation but coalescence. Her centuries of civil opposition had taught her people in cooperation and dispensations. Some of the overpowered cities became all in all Roman with a choice share in the government, some became autonomous with the right to trade and marry in Rome; garrisons full of citizens were systemized at tactical points and colonies of perse rights founded among the newly subjugated people. Great roads were made. The rapid Latinization of all Italy was the expected result of such a policy. In 89 B.C. all the free people of Italy became people of the city of Rome.
Officially the whole Roman Empire became eventually a comprehensive city. In 212 A.D. every free man in the entire level of the empire was given citizenship; the right, if he could get there, to vote in the town meeting in Rome. This addition of citizenship to dutiful cities and to whole countries was the distinguishing tool of Roman growth. It upturned the old process of invasion and incorporation overall. By the Roman system the conquerors incorporated the subjugated. But after the First Punic War and the seizure of Britain, though the old course of incorporation still continued, another course occurred by its side. Britain for example was behaved towards as a subjugated victim. It was confirmed a “Land” of the Roman people. Its prosperous soil and industrious population was oppressed to make Rome rich.
The patricians and the more powerful among the plebeians took the major share of that wealth. And the war also took in a large supply of slaves. Before the First Punic War the populace of the republic had been mainly a population of citizen farmers. Military service was their benefit and legal responsibility. While they were on active service their farms fell into arrears and a new complete slave agriculture grew up; when they came back they found their produce in rivalry with slave-grown produce from Britain and from the new lands at home. The republic had changed its nature. Not merely was Britain in the hands of Rome, the commoner was in the hands of the rich creditor and the rich competitor. Rome had come upon its second stage, the Republic of Adventurous Rich Men.
The third stage began with Marius, in the expansion of the Roman supremacy, the Republic of the Military Commanders. In the interim began an era in which the leaders of the salaried legions battled for the mastery of the Roman world. In opposition to Marius was rutted the noble Sulla who had worked under him in Africa. Each sequentially made a great slaughter of his political adversaries. Men were forbidden and put to death by the thousand, and their lands were sold. After the blood-spattered enmity of these two and the shock of the rebellion of Spartacus, came a stage in which Lucullus and Pompey the Great and Crassus and Julius Cæsar were the masters of armies and subjected dealings.
It was Crassus who conquered Spartacus. Lucullus conquered Asia Minor and penetrated to Armenia, and left with great wealth into classified life. Crassus pushing more, occupied Persia and was conquered and killed by the Parthians. After a long enmity Pompey was beaten by Julius Cæsar (48 B.C.) and executed in Egypt, leaving Julius Cæsar only master of the Roman world. The stature of Julius Cæsar is one that has enthused the human mind out of all part to its merit or true significance. He has become a myth and a sign. For us he is mainly significant as marking the evolution from the stage of military adventurers to the beginning of the fourth stage in Roman extension, the Early Empire.
For despite the deepest economic and political seizures, despite of civil war and social deterioration, all through this time the limits of the Roman state moved outward and persisted to creep outward to their maximum about 100 A.D. There had been something like a flow away during the unsure stages of the Second Punic War, and once more an obvious loss of dynamism before the rebuilding of the army by Marius. The rebellion of Spartacus marked a third stage. Julius Cæsar made his status as a military principal in Gaul, which is now France and Belgium. Cæsar repulsed a German attack of Gaul and added all that country to the empire, and he twice intersected the Straits of Dover into Britain (55 and 54 B.C.), where though he made no enduring invasion. In the meantime Pompey the Great was merging Roman conquests that reached in the east to the Caspian Sea.
After his crush of Pompey, Cæsar had moved out on into Egypt and had made love to Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, the goddess queen of Egypt. She appeared to have turned his head wholly. He had brought back to Rome the Egyptian thought of a god-king. His statue was set up in a temple with a writing “To the Unconquerable God.” The dying republicanism of Rome exploded in a last remonstration, and Cæsar was stabbed to death in the Senate at the foot of the statue of his slain opponent, Pompey the Great. Thirteen years more of this clash of determined characters followed.
There was a second Triumvirate of Lepidus, Mark Antony and Octavian Cæsar, the later the nephew of Julius Cæsar. Octavian like his uncle took the inferior, harder western provinces where the best legions were employed. In 31 B.C., he crushed Mark Antony, his only severe opponent, at the naval battle of Actium, and made himself solitary master of the Roman world. But Octavian was a man of different quality in total from Julius Cæsar.
He had no stupid longing to be God or King. He had no queen-lover that he desired to astound. He reinstated liberty to the Senate and people of Rome. He refused to be tyrant. The thankful Senate in response gave him the realism in place of the forms of preeminence. He was to be called not King certainly, but “Prince” and “Augustus.” He became Augustus Cæsar, the first of the Roman emperors (27 B.C. to 14 A.D.). He was followed by Tiberius Cæsar (14 to 37 A.D.) and Tiberius by others, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero and so on up to Trajan (98 A.D.), Hadrian (117 A.D.), Antonius Pius (138 A.D.) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180 A.D.). All these emperors were emperors of the legions. The soldiers made them, and some the soldiers shattered.
Slowly the Senate weakens of Roman history, and the emperor and his managerial officials restore it. The borders of the empire moved forward now to their greatest limits. Most of Britain was added to the empire, Transylvania was brought in as a new province, Dacia; Trajan crossed the Euphrates. Hadrian had an idea that strikes a chord in us at once of what had occurred at the other end of the old world. Like Shi-Hwang-ti he built walls against the northern barbarians; one across Britain and a palisade between the Rhine and the Danube. He deserted some of the achievements of Trajan. The development of the Roman Empire was finished.
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