Considerations on the Causes of
Greatness of the Romans
and their Decline
TRANSLATED, WITH NOTES AND AN INTRODUCTION,
by David Lowenthal
THE FREE PRESS, NEW YORK
With this new translation of Montesquieu's Considerations on the
Greatness and Decline of the Romans the Agora Editions makes available
another capital text in political philosophy, a text which is important not
only on historical grounds but because of the relevance of its thought to
modern problems. The work has fallen into undue neglect: Napoleon admired it
and recognized its Machiavellian roots. Through it can be seen the way in which
the new political doctrines were transmitted from their origins and transformed
on their way to the American founders and the French revolutionaries.
We continue our policy of publishing useful works not adequately
presented in English, in a format which makes it most possible to penetrate the
spirit of the source.
General Editor, Agora Editions
This work was first published in 1734, not in France but in Holland, and
anonymously. Montesquieu revised it himself for the edition of 1748, which is
I am aware of two earlier translations into English, one by an
Englishman in Montesquieu's own day, the other by an American scholar, Jehu
Baker, in 1882. Both have long been out of print. Both are written with more
flourish than befits current tastes. Of the two, Baker's is considerably more
accurate, and I have occasionally adopted a phrase from it, but it also
contains many errors and departs too frequently from an exact rendition of the
The function of translators is to translate, not to improve — as
they think — upon an author's intelligibility. I have not presumed any
incapacity to express himself on Montesquieu's part, or any superiority in my
own historical vantage point that might allow me to say better what he thought
he had said well enough. My sole purpose has been to reproduce the meaning and
fluency of his text as closely as possible. From this rule I have regularly
admitted only one deviation: sentences too lengthy or complex to parallel in
English have been divided up. All paragraphing, however, is faithful to the
The most erudite French editions are those of Camille Jullian (1906) and
Henri Barckhausen (1900), but these too have long been unavailable to the
public. Two recent editions are those of Gonzague Truc (published by Gamier)
and Roger Caillois (in the Pléiade series). The notes by Jullian and
Truc are especially helpful, and in all four French editions the interested
reader can find Montesquieu's textual revisions. A facsimile of the first
edition of Montesquieu's collected works (1758) appeared recently under the
editorship of André Masson (published by Nagel).
My own notes are meant merely to be informative, not interpretive, and,
for the most part, only on points the reader might have difficulty elucidating
for himself. Montesquieu's notes are indicated numerically and are found at the
end of each chapter, mine are by letter and at the foot of the page. The
references set in parenthesis are taken from Jullian and serve to correct,
amplify or supplement those of Montesquieu and thus to help the reader use
modern editions of the works he cites. Latin titles and quotations have also
been translated, and the Index is the one prepared for the 1748 edition either
by Montesquieu himself or under his supervision.
I wish to express my deep gratitude to the editor, Mr. Bloom, to Mrs.
Monique Miles, and to my wife for their generous assistance in improving the
translation. I am also grateful to Wheaton College for a grant facilitating my
studies as well as for the leisure afforded by a sabbatical leave of absence.
David Lowenthal Sharon, Mass.
TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE vii
I BEGINNINGS OF ROME; ITS WARS 23
II THE ART OF WAR AMONG THE ROMANS 33
III HOW THE ROMANS WERE ABLE TO EXPAND 39
IV THE GAULS; PYRRHUS; COMPARISON OF CARTHAGE AND ROME; HANNIBAL'S WAR
V THE CONDITION OF GREECE, MACEDONIA, SYRIA, AND EGYPT AFTER THE
REDUCTION OF THE CARTHAGINIANS 55
VI THE CONDUCT THE ROMANS PURSUED TO SUBJUGATE ALL PEOPLES 67
VII HOW MITHRIDATES WAS ABLE TO RESIST THEM 79
VIII THE DISSENSIONS THAT ALWAYS EXISTED IN THE CITY 83
IX TWO CAUSES OF ROME'S RUIN 91
X THE CORRUPTION OF THE ROMANS 97
XI SULLA; POMPEY AND CAESAR 101
XII THE CONDITION OF ROME AFTER CAESAR'S DEATH 113
XIII AUGUSTUS 119
XIV TIBERIUS 129
XV THE EMPERORS FROM CAIUS CALIGULA TO ANTONINUS 135
XVI THE CONDITION OF THE EMPIRE, FROM ANTONINUS TO PROBUS 145
XVII CHANGE IN THE STATE 157
XVIII NEW MAXIMS ADOPTED BY THE ROMANS 167
XIX ATTILA'S GREATNESS; CAUSE OF THE SETTLEMENT OF THE BARBARIANS;
REASONS WHY THE WESTERN EMPIRE WAS THE FIRST TO FALL 175
XX JUSTINIAN'S CONQUEST; HIS GOVERNMENT 185
XXI DISORDERS OF THE EASTERN EMPIRE 195
XXII WEAKNESS OF THE EASTERN EMPIRE 201
XXIII REASON FOR THE DURATION OF THE EASTERN EMPIRE; ITS DESTRUCTION
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CAUSES OF
GREATNESS OF THE ROMANS
AND THEIR DECLINE
Montesquieu's Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the
Romans and Their Decline was published almost midway between his Persian
Letters (1721) and The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Today it is the
least well known of the three, though not through any fault of its own. It may
have been the first (and certainly was one of the first) of all efforts to
comprehend the whole span of Roman history, and among such efforts it still has
few if any peers — even after a century and a half of the scientific
historiography Montesquieu's own writings did so much to engender, and which
has now grown disdainful of its philosophic forbears. It was probably one of
the works Gibbon had in mind in his Memoirs when he wrote: "... but my
delight was in the frequent perusal of Montesquieu, whose energy of style, and
boldness of hypothesis, were powerful to awaken and stimulate the genius of the
age." But the context in which it must be understood, and from which it derives
its chief value, is not that of history but of political philosophy. In the
annals of this subject, it is one of the few instances when a philosopher has
undertaken an extended analysis of any particular society, let alone of its
entire history. The only comparable thing on Rome is Machiavelli's
Discourses, to which it bears a deep inner kinship. But it is simpler
than the Discourses, both in structure and meaning. For the most part it
uses an historical framework, beginning with Rome's origins and ending with its
collapse, and its teaching is in some ways less devious.
Not that the Considerations automatically empties itself into the
reader's mind; on the contrary, it is written with a care — indeed, a
caution — which its apparent simplicity and directness belie, and only the
penetrating and reflective reader will catch sight of its depths. The work is
less than candid. In fact, it does not even vouchsafe its own purpose, and in
this respect differs markedly from Montesquieu's other two main works. It has
no preface, and there is no statement of intent elsewhere in the text. Its
purpose must therefore be inferred. Its unusually informative title indicates
that Montesquieu is not primarily interested in presenting a general history of
Rome, or even a history of its greatness and decline, but an account of the
causes of that greatness and decline. And it is the Romans —
an entity transcending particular political forms — not their republic or
empire as such that is under study.
In a manner becoming a political observer of political life, Montesquieu
makes no attempt in the text to set forth obtrusive "scientific" definitions of
greatness and decline. He uses the term "greatness" with fair frequency,
"decline" more sparingly. "Greatness" conveys the idea of large size and also
of power (let us call these its physical and political meanings, respectively).
As Rome grows larger and more powerful, it becomes greater. But power is the
crux of a nation's greatness, and a multitude of examples suggest that, for
Montesquieu, power is nothing but the ability to coerce other nations.
Correspondingly, the chief meaning of "decline" is increased weakness.
The third, or moral, aspect of "greatness" is related to, but not
identical with, the political. Roman power derived from Roman virtue, i.e.,
from great moral qualities. The average Roman was simple, steadfast,
honest, courageous, law-abiding, and patriotic; and his leaders were men of
unusual dedication and acumen. Now these virtues had their origin in the
particular circumstances of a small society constantly at war for its life, and
Montesquieu never regards them in terms of a natural perfection toward which
mankind is drawn. Nevertheless, they elicit his unabashed admiration and are
treated as elements not merely of Roman but of human greatness. Somehow
these virtues have a status rising beyond the particularity of their origin and
befitting man as such, but we are never told the reasons why.
Although Montesquieu seems to consider the moral virtues intrinsically
valuable and not simply socially useful, he does associate them especially with
the political life of small republics, and with the ancient city in particular.
His portrait of the city is vivid and profound. Few moderns have rivaled it,
and those who have, such as Rousseau and Fustel de Coulanges, were inspired by
it. He shows us the city's link to the gods, its sense of common destiny and
long-established custom, its sharing of a common life; he lets us see how the
free Roman citizen, through participation in fighting and ruling, developed a
keen sense of personal pride and patriotic ambition; he reveals the discord
between the higher and lower elements of Roman society, and its consequences.
Amid such circumstances, the ancient republic both nurtured, and was nurtured
by, moral virtues. The result was a powerful state; indeed, Montesquieu implies
that nothing can match a republic for sustained conquest, i.e., for the
steady augmentation of political power and greatness, as in the case of Rome.
Rome's power first revealed itself under the early kings and rose to its
height under the republic, apparently with Pompey (c. 65 B.C.), who "...
completed the splendid work of Rome's greatness." But by that time Rome's
internal corruption had become manifest and irremediable, and the republic
could no longer endure. It was replaced by the empire, which maintained itself
largely by means of habits and institutions inherited from the republic.
Because of these and other factors, it was only after the end of the third
century that the empire "... went, by slow degrees, from decline to fall, until
it suddenly collapsed under Arcadius and Honorius." (c. 400 A.D.)
If, as Montesquieu tells us, Pompey's foreign conquests did not really
increase Rome's power, real and apparent greatness must be distinguished. Mere
size, and even continuing conquests, do not suffice as indices of a nation's
real power. Its enemies of the moment may be weak; its magnitude may burden
rather than assist it. In the long run, and at bottom, a nation's strength
depends on the state of its internal health. It is hard to say when Rome
reached the height of its real power. The civil wars of the first century B.C.
assisted rather than obstructed its conquests, but they gave evidence of a
deepseated decay that ultimately had to reduce Roman power by destroying the
republic. In one place, Montesquieu generally dates this decay from the time of
Rome's expansion beyond Italy, and in another specifies that "... the war they
waged against Antiochus is the true beginning of their corruption." This would
mean that the republic began to decline internally from about 200 B.C. onward,
and that its corruption was completed in one and a half centuries.
Rome's greatness had many causes: the virtue of its citizens, the system
of consuls, the senate's wisdom, the limited influence of the people, the
concentration on war, the triumphs, the public sharing of booty, the equal
partition of land, the censorship, the broad distribution of political power.
The people were imbued with a passionate and indomitable love of country, and
the senate sustained a military and foreign policy that led unceasingly to the
defeat and subjection of Rome's enemies. Thus, once formed, it was the
republican order, not particular individuals, that made Rome great, and, in
Montesquieu's account, individuals hardly regain prominence till this order
Rome's decline was the result of its conquests. The waning of public
spiritedness in distant Roman generals and soldiers, the growing inequality of
wealth and power, with extremes of luxury and poverty, the exacerbation of
faction, the loss of a sense of common identity among Romans as citizenship was
extended to other peoples — these made it impossible to preserve the
republic. Montesquieu also draws attention to the corroding effect of
Epicureanism on Roman morals, implying that the spread of its atheistic
materialism and hedonism helped destroy religious and moral beliefs upon which
Roman patriotism and virtue depended.
Montesquieu judges the empire by the moral and political standards of
the republic, thereby making clear the general human decline that, in his view,
occurred with the transition from one to the other. At first the empire was
more wanting in liberty, security, and virtue than in external power. While
tyranny intensified from Augustus to Caligula, an effort was made to preserve
the territory of the empire in peace. And as the emperors became increasingly
arbitrary, harsh and fear-ridden, both the senate and the people —
stripped of their political function and dignity — became slavish and
despicable. Yet, especially in the span from Nerva to the Antonines (96-180
A.D.), the empire had its glorious moments. The highest praise of any man in
the entire book is reserved for the emperor Trajan — "the most
accomplished prince in the annals of history." Montesquieu also extols Marcus
Aurelius, and refers admiringly to the Stoic sect which, in contrast to
Epicureanism, had helped produce such rulers. After the Antonines, however, the
empire degenerated into a tyranny of armies and then a more subtle and
withdrawn tyranny of emperors. It recovered from third century barbarian
invasions, but then divided the imperial authority and split into an East and a
West (c. 300 A.D.). Ultimately, the ancient Roman military virtues and
practices were themselves abandoned, and marauding barbarians overran the West
By deciding to concentrate on the theme of Rome's greatness or power,
Montesquieu already shows that he has decided the crucial philosophical
question against Plato and Aristotle and in favor of Machiavelli. If the proper
yardstick for measuring political worth is power, it cannot be moral goodness
as such. He must therefore eschew the kind of moral criticism the Greek
political philosophers leveled at Sparta and Cicero leveled at Rome. Departing
from the "Utopian" standards of the classics and adopting Machiavelli's
"realism," he must be willing to sacrifice moral virtue to political greatness
at crucial points. Especially in a nation's external conduct but also in its
internal affairs, too much by way of moral virtue is not to be expected or
sought. Thus, Rome's dedication not only to war but to aggressive conquest, its
nefarious practices in foreign policy, its use of slavery, its internal
factiousness must either go without serious criticism or receive express
At one point, while analyzing the causes of Rome's ruin, Montesquieu
states that Rome could have remained a republic had it not sought domination
beyond the borders of Italy. And he does indeed advise wise republics to hazard
neither good fortune nor bad, and to perpetuate their condition without
expanding. Soon afterward, however, he takes it for granted that the necessary
result of "good laws" in a small republic is to cause it to conquer other
states and grow larger, until it reaches the point where it can no longer
retain a republican form of government. Here republican imperialism is accorded
something approaching a necessary and natural status, and this supposition,
coupled with Montesquieu's admiration for Roman greatness and the means by
which it was achieved, differs little in its net effect from Machiavelli's
forthright support of such imperialism.
Machiavelli had let the decision concerning the internal make-up of a
properly constituted republic depend on whether the republic would be
nonexpansionist, like Sparta and Venice, or expansionist, like Rome. Pondering
this alternative, he recognized that the expansionist republic could not avoid
civil discord between nobles and people, since the people, growing in size,
would be emboldened by their military importance to struggle with the nobles
for supremacy. He decided in favor of adopting the Roman course from the
outset, on the ground that necessity would at some point probably compel the
Spartan type either to engage in an expansion for which it was utterly unfit,
or to be weakened by excessive freedom from war; a steady middle way between
these alternatives was impossible. To avoid these risks, therefore, it is
better to begin with an expansionist, and factious, republic. Montesquieu, by
contrast, does not even seem to admit the Spartan alternative. He acknowledges
that both Rome and Sparta exemplify the most powerful kind of republic, the
kind based on passion, or patriotism; but he flatly denies that a free republic
can be composed of soldiers and yet be lacking in civil discord (as Sparta
was). This makes the Roman solution seem even more natural than in
The best regimes devised by classical political philosophy were meant to
embody the highest possibilities of human existence. Although they would be
strong, their chief objective was neither conquest nor war but rather a life of
nobility, pursued in a civic setting where the best men had the predominant
voice and where harmony and stability prevailed. The preservation of these
regimes from the risks of defeat in war and decay in peace could not be
absolutely guaranteed, though it could be reasonably well provided for. Nor
were such political conceptions to be abandoned because of the difficulty of
the moral training they required, or the rarity of the circumstances under
which they would be practicable. But Machiavelli, followed later by
Montesquieu, was impatient with demands and risks that had their source in a
conception of human virtue higher than that practiced by any state whatsoever.
Once both men had decided they could not criticize a Spartan-type dedication to
war, they were led to reject Spartan defensiveness in favor of Roman
aggression, and hence to support the unequalled political greatness of
The encouragement thus given to the imitation of Rome does indeed
eliminate certain risks and demands. However, it also guarantees that the
republic involved will be constantly risking its survival in the wars it seeks,
constantly embroiled in civil discord, and inevitably transformed into some
kind of tyranny should its imperialism prove successful. And this is wholly
apart from the general impetus given to the bellicosity of states by such a
teaching, and to impractical attempts to create a Roman-type republic. To make
such choices for the sake of being more realistic and avoiding chance evils
would assuredly have been decried by the classics. Chance, and a prudent use of
the conception of human excellence, were kinder masters than these harsh,
self-imposed necessities. And it is less compromising to one's love of moral
greatness and republican advantages in general to see a good republic go down
by chance than to see it subverted by a tyranny made necessary by one's own
initial choice of expansionism.
Such are the costs of distinguishing political from moral greatness, and
of making the former the supreme political objective rather than the latter.
Machiavelli could do so because of his view that the moral virtue of classical
philosophy had no basis in human nature. But Montesquieu seems intent on
preserving the dignity of moral virtue even while refusing to follow the
classics in making it the direct object of political life. The best evidence of
this is his glowing tribute to Trajan, which begins by calling Trajan a great
statesman and general, then acclaims his noble, great, and beautiful soul and
his virtues, and ends by describing him as "the man most suitable for honoring
human nature, and representing the divine." Here Montesquieu implies that the
best of all princes is the best of all men, and that moral virtue displayed in
ruling constitutes the chief end of man and the chief criterion of human
This panegyric sounds more classical than Machiavellian, and the
feelings of tenderness to which Montesquieu confesses on reading about Marcus
Aurelius — like his earlier testimonial to the friendships of Cicero and
the last republicans — is certainly not in the style of Machiavelli.
Nevertheless, Montesquieu does not make a classical use of the virtue he
admires and loves. The life of full virtue is not taken as the model for the
life of political societies. Trajan himself is depicted as a conqueror, and
even the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius is praised for its moral and political
effects but not for its intrinsic merits as a philosophy, or for the act of
philosophizing as such. In sort, we are given no glimpse of an excellence
grounded in contemplation rather than action from which the latter receives
inspiration, guidance, and restraint. Warlike action, not rational thought, is
the model for human societies. This bears out the Aristotelian insight linking
an interest limited to action and politics to an interest in war. Ultimately,
then, it is not possible that Montesquieu, any more than Machiavelli, believed
man to be fitted by nature for a life of reason and virtue, or that political
life lends itself to their guidance. But if moral virtue is not in accord with
man's nature, what is the source of its value? And must not this justification
be made clear if virtue is not to suffer a mortal wound from the new
Whereas the choice of Rome over Sparta was made behind the scenes, so to
speak, Montesquieu is more open about showing the nature of Rome's superiority
to Carthage. Carthage, we may remember, had been regarded by Aristotle, less
than a century before the First Punic War, as perhaps the best of all actual
regimes, better even than Sparta. He had not called attention to its mercantile
character and imperialism, any more than he had to its being a non-Greek or
"barbarian" city. But among its defects he had numbered its stress on wealth
and also certain powers of the popular assembly. According to Montesquieu,
Carthage's main weakness relative to Rome lay in defects of a similar kind,
deriving from its mercantile character and the excessive power wielded by its
people. Rome, on the other hand, was not a commercial power, and its
imperialism stemmed mainly from ambition rather than avarice. Its moral virtue,
its devotion to war, its constancy and unity in war, its wise leadership could
therefore be greater than Carthage's, and these, in the long run, prevailed.
Nevertheless, the threat to Rome mounted by Carthage was graver than any
thereafter, and Montesquieu saves the superlative "finest spectacle presented
by antiquity" for the exploits of the Carthaginian, Hannibal. Eventually,
however, the imperialistic commercial republic proved inferior in power to the
imperialistic noncommercial or agricultural republic, and suffered extinction
at its hands.
While following Machiavelli's approval of fraud and force in the
international arena and adopting his enthusiasm for the imperialistic
noncommercial republic, Montesquieu refuses to follow him in teaching the use
of fraud and force for the purpose of obtaining or maintaining tyrannical rule,
or in advocating private wickedness. Instead, he constantly and severely
criticizes tyrants for the harm they inflict upon their country, and he never
gives positive encouragement to the clever cruelty of princes or individuals.
In a few cases he may possibly intimate a willingness to overlook grave
misdeeds on the part of great and ruthless men — as, for example, in what
he says and does not say about Tarquin, Caesar and even Severus — but his
reticence in doing so lends even greater emphasis to his modification or
correction of Machiavelli. The principle he seems to adopt is that the
responsible political philosopher or statesman must always seek to promote the
common good, not some merely private good, and must also do as little as
possible to promote the cause of tyranny, which for all normal purposes is the
worst of possible regimes.
Although Montesquieu can glorify the monarchical rule of a Trajan or a
Marcus Aurelius, the regime he considers the source of Rome's political and
moral greatness is the republic. It is, moreover, a regime in transition from
an aristocratic to a democratic republic, under the stress of civil discord.
Unlike the classics, Montesquieu is not averse to the idea of a factious
community in principle; commotion can be part of its proper working. He even
finds a cosmological basis for the idea in the action and reaction that keep
the heavenly bodies in their course — a derivative from Newtonian physics.
But his discussion in this place of the desirability of contending groups in
Rome is less explicit than Machiavelli's; he is less willing to admit candidly
that the "true peace" at which Rome's harmony of dissonances aimed was the
constant subjection of its neighbors and rivals.
In his discussions of Rome's internal politics, Montesquieu does not
appear to be an enthusiastic democrat, or even, like Machiavelli, a supporter
of the justness of the people's cause as over against the cause of the
patricians or nobles. He does suggest that the most fortunate republics are
those without an hereditary privileged class, but in so doing he stresses the
simple fact that such a class is detested by the people, not that it practices
injustices deserving popular detestation. And in outlining Rome's internal
conflicts, he remains strangely aloof, again without taking the side of the
people against the privileged groups. The main exception to this rule is
forceful but not express: he quotes from a speech by the ill-fated Tiberius
Gracchus adjuring the nobles to be less avaricious for land, and thus implies
criticism of the oligarchical tendencies of the dominant class. In general,
however, he is less explicitly critical of the rich and wellborn than Aristotle
himself. At the same time, although perfectly aware of the virtues of the Roman
people, he always recognizes the superior and leading virtues of the senate,
and sees that the immoderate liberty and power of the people is a great evil.
In short, Montesquieu seems to favor a republic where the people have enough
power to protect themselves against grave injustices but insufficient power to
direct the state. That task must be left to a body of men who make it their
main occupation, and who, by the scope and continuity of their experience, are
able to sustain well-reflected policies for generations. Here the views of
Montesquieu and the classics approach each other — if we discount the
imperialism he would have the senate pursue as its highest goal. But
Montesquieu would claim that it is this very dedication to conquest that serves
to engender the other advantages of which this republic can boast — its
internal liberty and security, its moral virtue, and, indeed, the prominence of
In the most theoretical statement of the Considerations,
Montesquieu asserts that general moral and physical causes, not chance or
particular causes, rule the world and account for Rome's greatness and decline.
It is impossible for us to inquire here as to how he would have defined the
basic terms involved, or to ask whether his thesis allows sufficient room for
the actions of great individuals or the effects of chance. Nevertheless, it is
clear that no sense of physical, historical or divine teleology pervades the
work. Montesquieu approaches Rome as an entirely "natural" phenomenon in the
modern sense of the term, with a beginning, middle, and end that are more
clearly discernible, and more impressive, than in the case of other nations,
and that requires to be explained by some combination of general and particular
causes. He seems to write as a Cartesian who, unlike Descartes himself and
Pascal after him, refuses to abandon the realm of human affairs to
particularity, chance and the unintelligible. As to the role in this scheme of
divine or supernatural powers, miracles — or, more broadly, divine acts of
particular providence — are never dwelled upon and barely alluded to. Nor
is there any place among general "moral" cause for divine influence. The only
"moral," as opposed to "physical," causes seem to consist in man's varying
ideas and the institutions, habits and ways of doing things directly connected
with them; ideas about morality are only one of many kinds of ideas or moral
causes. And we are never told how, as a matter of theoretical principle, moral
and physical causes are related to each other. The work naturally concentrates
on moral or human causes, though without ignoring the effects of such physical
things as climate, geography and terrain. And of the diverse kinds of moral
causes, Montesquieu is mostly interested in those bearing on the critical
problems of Roman life, and hence in those that are political. He is very
sensitive to the influence of social, economic, military, technological,
intellectual, religious, and other kinds of moral causes, but always because of
the light they throw on the nature and behavior of the Roman body politic. The
political community, and nothing else, is assumed to be the core of human
Not only is the Considerations conceived in independence of
religion: it has a strong anti-Christian animus as well. This is most manifest
in its sympathetically reviving the image of Rome's greatness, but more
particular indications of the same intent also abound, both in what Montesquieu
says and fails to say. Not long after displaying a remarkable openness to the
motives underlying pagan suicide, for example, he declares Trajan "the man most
suitable for honoring human nature, and representing the divine," and then is
unstinting in his praise of the Stoics, whom he distinctly links with nature
and human nature rather than with the Christian God. On the other hand, such
crucial Christian (and Roman) events as the birth of Christ, the spread of
Christianity, the persecutions it suffered, its toleration by Constantine, and
Julian's apostasy are buried in a tomb of silence — never directly
recounted and seldom mentioned at all. The reader has settled into what is
almost complete ignorance of the very existence of Christianity when Chapter
XIX — the one on Attila and the collapse of the West — suddenly opens
with a topic not even indicated by the chapter title. The topic is the argument
that raged at the time between pagans and Christians over Christianity's
responsibility for Rome's collapse. After presenting the pagan position in
somewhat greater detail than the Christian, Montesquieu attributes to St.
Augustine the view that "... the ancient Romans, for some human virtues, had
received rewards that were as vain as these virtues." He does not try to settle
the argument directly, but this quotation shows the significance of his own
work with beautiful conciseness. The whole issue is then abruptly dropped as he
goes on to display an unusual fascination for the person and accomplishments of
Attila the Hun.
The criticism of Christianity begins to mount in the following chapter
on Justinian, and it rises to a crescendo in the three final chapters on what
Montesquieu calls the Eastern or Greek (not Roman) empire. He contrasts the
tolerance of pagan Rome with the Christian Justinian's extermination of
dissenting Christian and non-Christian sects. He describes the heresy-hunting
of the Greeks, and their loss of obedience to their princes. He refers to the
Christian trend toward slackening the punishment of crimes not directly
involving religion, including rebellion. In accounting for the rapid conquest
of parts of the Christian Eastern empire by Mohammedanism, he quotes "a
celebrated author" to the effect that sickness, or weakness, is the true state
of a Christian, and far from denying it, applies the maxim to the condition of
the Christian church, claiming that the church is at its real height when its
worldly extension and power are minimal, i.e., when it is "sickest." He
depicts the small-mindedness of the Greeks, their superstition and bigotry,
their endless religious turmoil, their faintheartedness, and, finally, their
neglect of political action, even to the point of jeopardizing survival.
Montesquieu concludes his criticism of the Greeks by speaking of the
fundamental need to distinguish ecclesiastical from secular power. He
approvingly adduces the old Roman solution to the problem, which, while
distinguishing the two kinds of power, amounted to having no independent clergy
and giving supreme religious authority to the highest political authority. We
must conclude, therefore, that Montesquieu considered Christianity a
contributory cause of the Roman empire's decline (West and East), just as
Epicureanism had contributed to the decline of the republic. But the empire was
in decay without it, and the main reason for dwelling upon the connection
between the Greek empire and Christianity is to illumine the essential effect
of Christianity on political life. This is why a work considering the greatness
and decline of the Romans ends with three chapters explicitly devoted to
the Greeks. The otherworldly Greeks — meaning Christianity in its
most unrestrained form — are the diametrical opposites of the Roman
In acclaiming the political life of ancient Rome, Montesquieu does more
than spurn classical political philosophy and Christianity: he apparently
rejects modern theory and practice as well. Remarks in which he approves of
anything modern are infrequent and usually incidental. He does evince
admiration for such things as improvements in marine navigation, the role of
communications technology in preventing conspiracies against the state, the
destiny of the Swiss republic of Bern, the more limited powers of modern
European monarchs as compared to the Roman emperors, and the self-correction
inherent in the English government. He credits gentler manners and a "more
repressive" religion (i.e., Christianity) with making impossible the
imperial Roman practice of putting citizens to death in order to confiscate
their property. He admits the Romans made sport of human nature in their
treatment of children and slaves, and lacked "this virtue we call humanity,"
yet at the same time strongly criticizes the inhuman colonial practices of
modern European powers. His analysis of self-love has an anti-Christian but
also a peculiarly modern ring, as does his assertion that the most legitimate
basis for a people's acquiring sovereign power over itself consists in its
right to self-preservation. But apart from such traces of reservations in favor
of post-Machiavellian political philosophy, humanitarianism, and technological
and political possibilities that rise superior to the imperialistic polis
— reservations that are only permitted to triumph in The Spirit of the
Laws — the Considerations cannot be characterized as anything
but a monument to pagan republican Rome. Implicitly, however, it is also a
monument to the modern genius of Machiavelli, who was the first philosopher to
dare supply the true understanding and justification of Roman greatness.
The Considerations is an inquiry into the greatness and decline
of Rome that is cast in the form of a history, proceeding from Rome's origins
to its end, and even beyond its end. But the purpose Montesquieu reveals in his
title would not require such a structure. Had he wanted to, he could have
presented a summary view of the causes of Rome's greatness and decline, as he
actually does in many chapters. Instead, he chooses to follow the history,
sketching in its most significant features or drawing attention to them by
omission, and making what must have been a rather novel use of extensive
footnoting, much in the manner of more recent scholarship. It would seem, then,
that in order to explain the general and particular causes of Rome's historical
saga, that saga had first to be ascertained in its reality and established as
an accepted subject matter. Its various parts, its various aspects had first to
be gathered together and freed of the heavy incrustation of prejudice built up
over centuries. They had also to be seen in the light of new and shocking
principles attacking both the religious and philosophic traditions. The notes
are therefore important not only for supplying the demonstrative evidence
required in historical studies but for calling men back to the original sources
and alerting them to those novelties of interpretation Montesquieu could not
Since the work is little given to overt practical recommendations for
Montesquieu's own day and even less to overt theoretical reflection, its
surface appearance is closer in substance as well as form to history and a
limited kind of political philosophy. On the one hand, the overall impression
it leaves is a stimulus not to political innovation or even participation but
to something more like sad, scholarly withdrawal from politics. For it is
indeed melancholy to watch the "eternal city" perish. It is melancholy to
contemplate the "spectacle of things human," whereby Rome's republican virtues
are seen leading inexorably to imperial tyranny. It is melancholy to see Roman
greatness reduced to Greek decadence, and to lose cosmological and political
optimism with the realization that all human things grow and die untended by
higher powers of any kind.
Nevertheless, beneath its historical exterior, and on the very nutriment
of disillusion, the Considerations quite perceptibly revives the
conception of a political life that is both pagan and republican, rather than
Christian and monarchical, that admires ancient rather than Christian virtue,
republican equality rather than monarchical inequality, republican patriotism
rather than monarchical honor, and that approves imperialism on the Roman
model. We may therefore discern in the work an effort to achieve both
theoretical and practical effects: theoretical, by teaching, however
indirectly, the true standard of political greatness and, therewith, the nature
of political things; practical, by preparing minds and hearts for action in the
style of the ancients should the occasion ever arise. But exactly what
Montesquieu purported by this double influence remains unclear. He never openly
indicates what the practical possibilities of restoration are, or might become.
To be sure, his single most extensive comment on modern society is ostensibly
devoted to showing how the new technology of communications and commerce
drastically reduces the possibility of conspiratorial revolutions against
princes. Yet his strange euphemism for such conspiracies is "great
enterprises," he omits considering the impact of modern weapons (such as guns
and bombs), and he leads the reader to think of the sanctity of rulers in terms
of nothing but the precedents established in different nations. Thus, in spite
of its colorations as "mere history," the work may have had the effect of
encouraging in its readers an incautious contempt for their own society and
arousing groundless or excessive hopes. It may, in short, have contributed to
the initial growth of that radical, secular republicanism partly modeled on
Rome that later showed itself so violently in the French Revolution. By
comparison, the republicanism of The Spirit of the Laws is meant to be,
and is, much more prudent. It is kinder to the possibilities of modern
monarchy; it delineates the special conditions required for a successful
republic; it strongly criticizes republican imperialism; and it opens up a
modern alternative (England) superior to the ancient republic as such.
Nevertheless, the Considerations, by the very glare of its relatively
rash concentration, does more than any other of Montesquieu's works to reveal
the Machiavellian foundations of his thought, and to ready the public for his
This study of Rome has a particular utility for us in the West today.
The societies of the West are living embodiments of the modern representative
republic first rationally conceived by Locke and then elaborated by Montesquieu
himself. This daring quasi-English republic was to be based on liberty and
commerce rather than virtue, and was to emphasize the private life rather than
communal solidarity. Montesquieu's own portrait of Rome serves to remind us of
one of the great alternatives to such a republic, and gives prominence to some
of the qualities most lacking, and missed in it. Among these are moral
integrity, and, in general, the more severe virtues; dedication to the public
weal; and the will and capacity to subdue foreign foes. But the broader
significance of the Considerations is that it helps remind us of the
great issues separating classical, Christian and modern thought — issues
which were uppermost in Montesquieu's mind, but of which we are only dimly
aware. By picturing ancient political practice against the background of
Machiavellian political principles, it especially forces us to re-examine the
original alternative to this combination: classical political philosophy. Above
all, it inspires us to imitate the author and those like him who sought the
fullest truth about things human, who ruled out no vital question, and whose
voices fail to move only those whose vanity has already rendered them
ABOUT THE NOTES
Montesquieu's notes are numbered and follow each chapter. The numbers in
parentheses are those supplied as aids to the reader from the French edition of
Camille Jullian. Roman and Arabic numerals stand for book and chapter,
respectively. The translator's notes are lettered and fall to the foot of the
1. BEGINNINGS OF ROME 2. ITS WARS
We should not form the same impression of the city of Rome in its
beginnings a as we get from the cities we see today, except perhaps
for those of the Crimea, which were built to hold booty, cattle and the fruits
of the field. The early names of the main places in Rome are all related to
The city did not even have streets, unless you call the continuation of
paths that led to it by that name. The houses were located without any
particular order, and were very
a Montesquieu, oddly enough, cites no dates. Of the
twenty-three chapters, seven are clearly general or nonchronological in content
(II, III, VI, VIII, IX, X, and XVIII). Present historians would date the
stretch of events covered by the others in something like the following manner:
I (753-387 B.C.); IV (fourth century to 201 B.C.); V (201-168 B.C.); VII (89-63
B.C.); XI (first half of first century B.C.); XII (44-42 B.C.); XIII (42 B.C.
to 14 A.D.); XIV (14-37 A.D.); XV (37-138 A.D.); XVI (138-282 A.D.); XVII
(285-378 A.D.); XIX (end of fourth century and second half of fifth century
A.D.); XX (527-565 A.D.); XXI (565-610 A.D.); XXII (610-1300 A.D.); XXIII
(seventh century to 1400 A.D.). Chapters XXI and XXII are both historical and
small, for the men were always at work or in the public square, and
hardly ever remained home.
But the greatness b of Rome soon appeared in its public
edifices. The works1 which conveyed and today still convey the
strongest impression of its power were produced under the kings. Already the
Romans were beginning to build the eternal city.
To obtain citizens, wives and lands, Romulus and his successors were
almost always at war with their neighbors. Amid great rejoicing they returned
to the city with spoils of grain and flocks from the conquered peoples. Thus
originated the triumphs, which subsequently were the main cause of the
greatness this city attained.
Rome markedly increased its strength by its union with the Sabines
— a tough and warlike people, like the Lacedaemonians from whom they were
descended. Romulus2 adopted their buckler, which was a large one, in
place of the small Argive buckler he had used till then. And it should be noted
that the main reason for the Romans becoming masters of the world was that,
having fought successively against all peoples, they always gave up their own
practices as soon as they found better ones.
In those days in the republics of Italy it was thought that the treaties
they made with a king did not bind them toward his successor. This was a kind
of law of nations for them.3 Thus, whoever had fallen under the
domination of one Roman king claimed to be free under another, and wars
constantly engendered wars.
b I have, throughout, translated grandeur and
decadence by "greatness" and "decline" because "grandeur" and
"decadence" have a somewhat more specialized meaning today. On the other hand,
I have retained "considerations" in the title, despite its rarity today,
because Montesquieu himself seems to distinguish it, in some his titles, from
the more common "reflections."
Numa's long and peaceful reign was ideal for keeping Rome in a state of
mediocrity, and if it had then had a less limited territory and greater power,
its fate would probably have been decided once and for all.
One of the causes of its success was that its kings were all great men.
Nowhere else in history can you find an uninterrupted succession of such
statesmen and captains.
At the birth of societies, the leaders of republics create the
institutions; thereafter, it is the institutions that form the leaders of
Tarquin seized the throne without being elected by either the senate or
the people.4 Power was becoming hereditary: he made it absolute.
These two revolutions were soon followed by a third.
In violating Lucretia, his son Sextus did the sort of thing that has
almost always caused tyrants to be expelled from the city they ruled. Such an
action makes the people keenly aware of their servitude, and they immediately
go to extremes.
A people can easily endure the exaction of new tributes: it does not
know whether some benefit may come to it from the use to which the money is
put. But when it receives an affront, it is aware of nothing but its
misfortune, and begins thinking of all the possible evils to which it may be
It is true, however, that the death of Lucretia was only the occasion of
the revolution which occurred. For a proud, enterprising and bold people,
confined within walls, must necessarily either shake off its yoke or become
gentler in its ways.c
c The French word moeurs signifies the "morals,"
"moral customs, "manners" or "ways" of societies and individuals; it refers to
both expected and actual behavior, as well as to the inner character of which
they are expressions. In each case I have used one of these four terms to
express its meaning, depending on context.
One of two things had to happen: either Rome would change its
government, or it would remain a small and poor monarchy.
Modern history furnishes us with an example of what happened at that
time in Rome, and this is well worth noting. For the occasions which produce
great changes are different, but, since men have had the same passions at all
times, the causes are always the same.
Just as Henry VII, king of England, increased the power of the commons
in order to degrade the lords, so Servius Tullius, before him, had extended the
privileges of the people5 in order to reduce the senate. But the
people, at once becoming bolder, overthrew the one and the other monarchy.
The portrait painted of Tarquin is not flattering; his name did not
escape any of the orators who had something to say against tyranny. But his
conduct before his misfortune — which we know he himself foresaw, his mild
treatment of conquered peoples, his generosity toward the soldiers, the art he
had of interesting so many people in his preservation, his public works, his
courage in war, his constancy in misfortune, a war that he waged or had waged
against the Roman people for twenty years when he had neither realm nor wealth,
his continual resourcefulness — all clearly show that he was not a
The places bestowed by posterity are subject, like others, to the
caprice of fortune. Woe to the reputation of any prince who is oppressed by a
party that becomes dominant, or who has tried to destroy a prejudice that
Having ousted the kings, Rome established annual consuls, and this too
helped it reach its high degree of power. During their lifetime, princes go
through periods of ambition, followed by other passions and by idleness itself.
But, with the republic having leaders who changed every year and who sought to
signalize their magistracy so that they might obtain new ones, ambition did not
lose even a moment. They in-
duced the senate to propose war to the people, and showed it new enemies
This body was already rather inclined that way itself. Wearied
incessantly by the complaints and demands of the people, it sought to distract
them from their unrest by occupying them abroad.6
Now war was almost always agreeable to the people, because, by the wise
distribution of booty, the means had been found of making it useful to them.
Since Rome was a city without commerce, and almost without arts, pillage
was the only means individuals had of enriching themselves.
The manner of pillaging was therefore brought under control, and it was
done with much the same discipline as is now practiced among the inhabitants of
The booty was assembled7 and then distributed to the
soldiers. None was ever lost, for prior to setting out each man had sworn not
to take any for himself. And the Romans were the most religious people in the
world when it came to an oath — which always formed the nerve of their
Finally, the citizens who remained in the city also enjoyed the fruits
of victory. Part of the land of the conquered people was confiscated and
divided into two parts. One was sold for public profit, the other distributed
to poor citizens subject to a rent paid to the republic.
Since only a conquest or victory could obtain the honor of a triumph for
the consuls, they waged war with great impetuosity. They went straight for the
enemy, and strength decided the matter immediately.
Rome was therefore in an endless and constantly violent war. Now a
nation forever at war, and by the very principle of its government, must
necessarily do one of two things.
d Little Tartary: southern Russia, from the Crimea to the
Either it must perish, or it must overcome all the others which were
only at war intermittently and were therefore never as ready to attack or as
prepared to defend themselves as it was.
In this way the Romans acquired a profound knowledge of military art. In
transient wars, most of the examples of conduct are lost; peace brings other
ideas, and one's faults and even one's virtues are forgotten.
Another consequence of the principle of continual war was that the
Romans never made peace except as victors. In effect, why make a shameful peace
with one people to begin attacking another?
With this idea in mind, they always increased their demands in
proportion to their defeats. By so doing they consternated their conquerors and
imposed on themselves a greater necessity to conquer.
Since they were always exposed to the most frightful acts of vengeance,
constancy and valor became necessary to them. And among them these virtues
could not be distinguished from the love of oneself, of one's family, of one's
country, and of all that is most dear to men.
The peoples of Italy made no use of machines for carrying on
sieges.8 In addition, since the soldiers fought without pay, they
could not be retained for long before any one place. Thus, few of their wars
were decisive. They fought to pillage the enemy's camp or his lands —
after which the victor and vanquished each withdrew to his own city. This is
what produced the resistance of the peoples of Italy, and, at the same time,
the obstinacy of the Romans in subjugating them. This is what gave the Romans
victories which did not corrupt them, and which let them remain poor.
If they had rapidly conquered all the neighboring cities, they would
have been in decline at the arrival of Pyrrhus, the Gauls, and Hannibal. And
following the fate of nearly
all the states in the world, they would have passed too quickly from
poverty to riches, and from riches to corruption.
But, always striving and always meeting obstacles, Rome made its power
felt without being able to extend it, and, within a very small orbit, practiced
the virtues which were to be so fatal to the world.
All the peoples of Italy were not equally warlike. The Tuscans had grown
soft from their affluence and luxury. The Tarentines, Capuans, and nearly all
the cities of Campania and Magna Graecia e languished in idleness
and pleasures. But the Latins, Hernicans, Sabines, Aequians, and Volscians
loved war passionately. They were all around Rome. Their resistance to it was
unbelievable, and they outdid it in obstinacy.
The Latin cities were colonies of Alba founded9 by Latinus
Sylvius. Aside from a common origin with the Romans, they also had common
rites, and Servius Tullius 10 had induced them to build a temple in
Rome to serve as the center of the union of the two peoples. Having lost a
great battle near Lake Regillus, they were subjected to an alliance and
military association 11 with the Romans.
During the short time the tyranny of the decemvirs lasted, we clearly
see the degree to which the extension of Rome's power depended on its liberty.
The state seemed to have lost12 the soul which animated it.
There were then only two sorts of men in the city: those who endured
servitude, and those who sought to impose it for their own interests. The
senators withdrew from Rome as from a foreign city, and the neighboring peoples
met with no resistance anywhere.
e Campania: a district of western Italy below Latium; Magna
Graecia: southern Italy, where there were numerous colonies founded by the
When the senate had the means of paying the soldiers, the siege of Veii
was undertaken. It lasted ten years. The Romans employed a new art and a new
way of waging war. Their successes were more brilliant; they profited more from
their victories; they made larger conquests; they sent out more colonies. In
short, the taking of Veii was a kind of revolution.
But their labors were not lessened. The very fact that they struck
harder blows against the Tuscans, Aequians, and Volscians caused their allies
— the Latins and Hernicans, who had the same arms and discipline they did
— to abandon them. It caused the Samnites, the most warlike of all the
peoples of Italy, to wage war against them furiously.
With the establishment of military pay, the senate no longer distributed
the lands of conquered peoples to the soldiers. It imposed other conditions on
these peoples; it required them, for example, to furnish 13 the army
with its pay for a certain time, and to give it grain and clothing.
The capture of Rome by the Gauls deprived it of none of its strength.
Dispersed rather than vanquished, almost the whole army withdrew to Veii. The
people took refuge in the neighboring cities; and the burning of the city only
amounted to the burning of some shepherds' cabins.
1. See the amazement of Dionysius of Halicarnassus at the sewers built
by Tarquin; Roman Antiquities, III (67). They still exist.
2. Plutarch, Life of Romulus (21).
3. This is shown by the whole history of the kings of Rome.
4. The senate named a magistrate of the interregnum who elected the
king; this election had to be confirmed by the people. See Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, II (40), III, and IV.
5. See Zonaras (VII, 9) and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, IV
6. Besides, the authority of the senate was less limited in external
affairs than in those of the city.
7. See Polybius, X (16).
8. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, IX (68), says so expressly, and it is
shown by history. They did not know how to make galleries to shelter themselves
from the besieged; they tried to take cities by scaling the walls. Ephorus
recorded that Artemon, an engineer, invented heavy machines for battering down
the strongest walls. Pericles used them first at the siege of Samos, according
to Plutarch's Life of Pericles (27).
9. As we see in the treatise entitled Origin of the Roman People
(17), believed to be by Aurelius Victor.
10. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, IV (26).
11. See one of the treaties made with them, in Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, VI (115).
12. On the pretext of giving the people written laws, they seized the
government. See Dionysius of Halicarnassus, XI.
13. See the treaties that were made.
THE ART OF WAR AMONG THE ROMANS
Destined for war, and regarding it as the only art, the Romans put their
whole spirit and all their thoughts into perfecting it. It was doubtlessly a
god, says Vegetius,1 who inspired them with the idea of the
They judged it necessary to give the soldiers of the legion offensive
and defensive arms stronger and heavier2 than those of any other
But since warfare requires things that a heavy troop cannot do, they
wanted the legion to contain in its midst a light troop that could sally forth
into battle, and, if necessary, withdraw to it. They also wanted the legion to
have cavalry, archers,a and slingers to pursue fugitives and
consummate the victory. They wanted it to be defended by every type of war
machinery, drawn along with it. They wanted it to entrench every evening and
become, as Vegetius3 says, a kind of fortress.
So that they could handle heavier arms than other men, they had to make
themselves more than men. This they did by continual labor, which increased
their strength, and by
a The term translated as "archers" is hommes de trait
and actually refers to soldiers who shot or hurled various kinds of
exercises giving them dexterity, which is nothing more than the proper
use of one's strength.
We observe today that our armies suffer great losses from the soldiers
laboring4 excessively, yet it was by enormous labor that the Romans
preserved themselves. The reason is, I believe, that their toil was continual,
whereas our soldiers constantly go from extremes of labor to extremes of
idleness — which is the best way in the world to destroy them.
I must report here what the authors5 tell us about the
education of Roman soldiers. They were accustomed to marching at military pace,
that is, to covering twenty miles, and sometimes twenty-four, in five hours.
During these marches, they had to carry sixty-pound packs. They were kept in
the habit of running and jumping completely armed. In their exercises they used
6 swords, javelins, and arrows double the weight of ordinary arms,
and these exercises were continual.
The camp was not their only military school. There was a place in the
city where citizens went to exercise (the Campus Martius). After their
labors,7 they threw themselves into the Tiber to keep up their
swimming ability and clean off the dust and sweat.
We no longer have the right idea about physical exercises. A man who
applies himself to them excessively seems contemptible to us because their only
purpose now is enjoyment. For the ancients, however, all exercises, including
the dance, were part of the military art.
With us it has even come to pass that too studied a dexterity in the use
of military weapons has become ridiculous. For since the introduction of the
custom of single combat, fencing has come to be regarded as the science of
quarrelers or cowards.
Those who criticize Homer for usually exalting the physical strength,
dexterity or agility of his heroes should find Sallust quite ridiculous when he
praises Pompey 8 "for run-
ning, jumping and carrying a load as well as any man of his time."
Whenever the Romans believed themselves in danger or wanted to make up
for some loss, their usual practice was to tighten military discipline. Is it
necessary to wage war against the Latins — peoples as inured to war as
themselves? Manlius, intent on strengthening his authority, has his own son put
to death for conquering the enemy without an order to do so. Are they defeated
at Numantia? Scipio Aemilianus immediately deprives them of everything that had
made them soft.9 Have the Roman legions been forced to submit in
Numidia? Metellus repairs this shame as soon as he has made them revive their
old institutions. To defeat the Cimbri and the Teutones, Marius begins by
turning rivers from their course. And when the soldiers of Sulla's army are
afraid of the war against Mithridates, he works them so hard 10 that
they beg for combat as an end to their pains.
Publius Nasica made them construct a fleet without needing one. Idleness
was feared more than their enemies.
Aulus Gellius 11,b gives rather poor reasons for the Roman
custom of bleeding soldiers who had committed some offense. The true reason is
that weakening them was a means of degrading them, since strength is a
soldier's main attribute.
Men so hardened were general[ly] healthy. We do not notice in the
authors that the Roman armies, which made war in so many climates, lost many
men through sickness. But today it happens almost continually that armies
dissolve, so to speak, in a campaign without fighting a single battle.
Among us desertions are frequent because soldiers are the vilest part of
each nation, and no one nation has or believes it has an unquestionable
advantage over the others. With the Romans they were more rare. Soldiers drawn
b Aulus Gellius was a Latin author and grammarian (c. 130-180
the midst of a people that was so bold, so proud, so sure of commanding
others could scarcely think of humbling themselves to the point of ceasing to
Since their armies were not large,c it was easy to provide
for their subsistence. The commander could know them better, and detected
offenses and breaches of discipline more easily.
The strength they derived from their exercises and the admirable roads
they had constructed enabled them to make long and rapid marches.12
Their unexpected appearance chilled the spirit. They showed up particularly
after a setback, when their enemies were displaying the negligence that usually
In our battles today, an individual soldier hardly has any confidence
except when he is part of a multitude. But each Roman, more robust and inured
to war than his opponent, always relied on himself. Courage — the virtue
which is the consciousness of one's own strength — came to him naturally.
Since their troops were always the best disciplined, it was unusual,
even in the most unfavorable battle, if they did not rally somewhere, or if
disorder did not arise somewhere among their opponents. The histories,
therefore, constantly show them wresting victory from the hands of the enemy in
the end, although at first they may have been overcome by his numbers or his
Their chief care was to examine in what way the enemy might be superior
to them, and they corrected the defect immediately. They became accustomed to
seeing blood and wounds at their gladiatorial exhibitions, which they acquired
from the Etruscans.13
The cutting swords14 of the Gauls and the elephants of
Pyrrhus surprised them only once. They made up for
c An army, consisting of two legions, had about twelve
thousand Romans in it and an equal number of allies.
the weakness of their cavalry,15 first by removing the
bridles of their horses so. that their impetuosity could not be restrained,
then by introducing velites.16 When they became familiar with the
Spanish sword,17 they abandoned their own. They got around the skill
of pilots by inventing a device Polybius describes to us.d In sum,
as Josephus says,18 war was a meditation for them, and peace an
If nature or its institutions gave a nation some particular advantage,
the Romans immediately made use of it. They left no stone unturned to get
Numidian horses, Cretan archers, Balearic slingers, and Rhodian vessels.
In short, no nation ever prepared for war with so much prudence, or
waged it with so much audacity.
1. II, 1 (II, 21).
2. See what the arms of the Roman soldier were in Polybius (VI, 13) and
in Josephus, The Jewish War, II (III, 5, 6). The latter says there is
little difference between packhorses and Roman soldiers. "They carry," Cicero
tells us, "food for more than fifteen days, everything they will use, and
whatever is necessary to fortify themselves. As for their arms, they are no
more encumbered by them than by their hands." Tusculan Disputations, III
3. II, 25.
4. Especially from digging up the ground.
5. See Vegetius, I (9). See in Livy, XXVI (51), the exercises Scipio
Africanus made his soldiers do after the capture of New Carthage. Marius, in
spite of his old age, went to the Campus Martius every day. Pompey, at the age
of fifty-eight, went in full armor to fight with the young men; he mounted his
horse, rode at full speed, and hurled his javelins. Plutarch, Lives of
Marius and Pompey.
d Polybius, I, 22.
6. Vegetius, I (11-14).
7. Vegetius I (10).
8. Cum alacribus saltu, cum velocibus cursu, cum validis vecte
certabat. (He vied in leaping with the most active, in running with the
swiftest, and in exercises of strength with the most robust). Fragment of
Sallust, reported by Vegetius, I, 9.
9. He sold all the beasts of burden of the army, and made each soldier
carry thirty days of grain and seven stakes. Florus, Epitome, LVII.
10. Frontinus, Strategems, I, 11.
11. X, 8.
12. See especially the defeat of Hasdrubal and their diligence against
13. Fragment of Nicolaus of Damascus, X, taken from Athenaeus, IV (39).
Before the soldiers left for the army, they were shown a gladiatorial combat.
Julius Capitolinus, Lives of Maximus and Balbinus.
14. The Romans held out their javelins, which received the strokes of
the Gallic swords, and blunted them.
15. Nevertheless, it was better than the cavalry of the small peoples of
Italy. It was formed from the leading citizens, for each of whom a horse was
maintained at public expense. When dismounted, there was no more redoubtable
infantry, and very often it was decisive in achieving victory.
16. These were young men, lightly armed, and the most agile in the
legion, who, at the slightest signal, jumped on the rump of the horses, or
fought on foot. Valerius Maximus, II (3); Livy, XXVI (4).
17. Fragment of Polybius cited by Suidas in connection with the word
18. The Jewish War, II (III, 5, 6).
HOW THE ROMANS WERE ABLE
Since all the peoples of Europe these days have practically the same
arts, the same arms, the same discipline, and the same way of making war, the
marvelous good fortune of the Romans seems incredible to us. Besides, such
great differences in power exist today that a small state cannot possibly rise
by its own efforts from the lowly position in which Providence has placed it.
This calls for reflection; otherwise, we would see events without
understanding them, and, by not being aware of the difference in situations,
would believe that the men we read about in ancient history are of another
breed than ourselves.
In Europe constant experience has shown that a prince who has a million
subjects cannot maintain more than ten thousand troops without ruining himself.
Only great nations therefore have armies.
It was not the same in the ancient republics. Today the proportion of
soldiers to the rest of the people is one to a hundred, whereas with them it
could easily be one to eight.
The founders of the ancient republics had made an equal partition of the
lands. This alone produced a powerful people, that is, a well-regulated
society. It also produced a good army, everyone having an equal, and very
great, interest in defending his country.
When the laws were no longer stringently observed, a situation just like
the one we are in came about. The avarice of some individuals and the
prodigality of others caused landed property to pass into the hands of a few,
and the arts were at once introduced for the mutual needs of rich and poor. As
a result, almost no citizens or soldiers were left. Landed properties
previously destined for their support were employed for the support of slaves
and artisans — instruments of the luxury of the new owners. And without
this the state, which had to endure in spite of its disorder, would have
perished. Before the corruption set in, the primary incomes of the state were
divided among the soldiers, that is, the farmers. When the republic was
corrupt, they passed at once to rich men, who gave them back to the slaves and
artisans. And by means of taxes a part was taken away for the support of the
Now men like these were scarcely fit for war. They were cowardly, and
already corrupted by the luxury of the cities, and often by their craft itself.
Besides, since they had no country in the proper sense of the term, and could
pursue their trade anywhere, they had little to lose or to preserve.
In a census of Rome 1 taken some time after the expulsion of
the kings, and in the one Demetrius of Phalerum took at Athens,2
nearly the same number of inhabitants was found. Rome had a population of four
hundred and forty thousand, Athens four hundred and thirty-one thousand. But
this census of Rome came at a time when its institutions were vigorous, and
that of Athens at a time when it was entirely corrupt. It was discovered that
the number of citizens at the age of puberty constituted one fourth of Rome's
inhabitants and a little less than one twentieth of Athens'. At these different
times, therefore, the power of Rome was to the power of Athens nearly as one
quarter to one twentieth — that is, it was five times larger.
When the kings Agis and Cleomenes realized that instead
of the nine thousand citizens Sparta had in Lycurgus' time,3
only seven hundred were left, hardly a hundred of whom were
landowners,4 and that the rest were only a mob of cowards, they set
out to restore the laws5 in this regard. Lacedaemon regained the
power it once had and again became formidable to all the Greeks.
It was the equal partition of lands that at first enabled Rome to rise
from its lowly position; and this was obvious when it became corrupt.
It was a small republic when, after the Latins refused to contribute the
troops they had promised, ten legions were raised in the city on the
spot.6 "Today's Rome," says Livy, "even though the whole world
cannot contain it, could hardly do as much if an enemy suddenly appeared before
its walls. This is a certain indication that we have not become greater at all,
and that we have only increased the luxury and riches that obsess us."
"Tell me," said Tiberius Gracchus to the nobles,7 "who is
worth more: a citizen or a perpetual slave; a soldier, or a man useless for
war? In order to have a few more acres of land than other citizens, do you wish
to renounce the hope of conquering the rest of the world, or to place yourself
in danger of seeing these lands you refuse us snatched away by enemies?"
1. This is the census of which Dionysius of Halicarnassus speaks in IX,
art. 25, and which seems to me to be the same as the one he reports toward the
end of his sixth book, which was taken sixteen years after the expulsion of the
2. Ctesicles, in Athenaeus, VI.
3. These were citizens of the city, properly called Spartans. Lycurgus
made nine thousand shares for them; he gave thirty thousand to the other
inhabitants. See Plutarch. Life of Lycurgus (8).
4. See Plutarch, Lives of Agis and Cleomenes.
6. Livy, First Decade, VII (25). This was some time after the capture of
Rome, under the consulate of L. Furius Camillus and Ap. Claudius Crassus.
7. Appian, The Civil War (I, 11).
1. THE GAULS
3. COMPARISON OF CARTHAGE
4. HANNIBAL'S WAR
The Romans had many wars with the Gauls. The love of glory, the contempt
for death, and the stubborn will to conquer were the same in the two peoples.
But their arms were different. The buckler of the Gauls was small, and their
sword poor. They were therefore treated in much the same way as the Mexicans
were treated by the Spaniards in recent centuries. And the surprising thing is
that these peoples, whom the Romans met in almost all places, and at almost all
times, permitted themselves to be destroyed one after the other without ever
knowing, seeking or forestalling the cause of their misfortunes.
Pyrrhus came to make war on the Romans at a time when they were in a
position to resist him and to learn from
his victories. He taught them to entrench, and to choose and arrange a
camp. He accustomed them to elephants and prepared them for greater wars.
Pyrrhus' greatness consisted only in his personal qualities.1
Plutarch tells us that he was forced to undertake the Macedonian war
because he could not support the eight thousand infantry and five hundred
cavalry that he had.2 This prince — ruler of a small state of
which nothing was heard after him — was an adventurer who constantly
undertook new enterprises because he could exist only while undertaking them.
His allies, the Tarentines, had strayed far from the institutions of
their ancestors,3 the Lacedaemonians. He could have done great
things with the Samnites, but the Romans had all but destroyed them.
Having become rich sooner than Rome, Carthage had also been corrupted
sooner. In Rome, public office could be obtained only through virtue, and
brought with it no benefit other than honor and being preferred for further
toils, while in Carthage everything the public could give to individuals was
for sale, and all service rendered by individuals was paid for by the public.
The tyranny of a prince does no more to ruin a state than does
indifference to the common good to ruin a republic. The advantage of a free
state is that revenues are better administered in it. But what if they are more
poorly administered? The advantage of a free state is that there are no
favorites in it. But when that is not the case — when it is necessary to
line the pockets of the friends and relatives, not of a prince, but of all
those who participate in the government — all is lost. There is greater
danger in the laws being evaded in a free state than in their being violated by
a prince, for a prince is always the foremost citizen of his state, and has
more interest in preserving it than anyone else.
The old morals, a certain custom favoring poverty, made
fortunes at Rome nearly equal, but at Carthage individuals had the
riches of kings.
Of the two factions that ruled in Carthage, one always wanted peace, the
other war, so that it was impossible there to enjoy the former or do well at
While war at once united all interests in Rome, it separated them still
further in Carthage.4
In states governed by a prince, dissensions are easily pacified because
he has in his hands a coercive power that brings the two parties together. But
in a republic they are more durable, because the evil usually attacks the very
power that could cure it.
In Rome, governed by laws, the people allowed the senate to direct
public affairs. In Carthage, governed by abuses, the people wanted to do
Carthage, which made war against Roman poverty with its opulence, was at
a disadvantage by that very fact. Gold and silver are exhausted, but virtue,
constancy, strength and poverty never are.
The Romans were ambitious from pride, the Carthaginians from avarice;
the Romans wanted to command, the Carthaginians to acquire. Constantly
calculating receipts and expenses, the latter always made war without loving
Lost battles, the decrease in population, the enfeeblement of commerce,
the exhaustion of the public treasury, the revolt of neighboring nations could
make Carthage accept the most severe conditions of peace. But Rome was not
guided by experiences of goods and evils. Only its glory determined its
actions, and since it could not imagine itself existing without commanding, no
hope or fear could induce it to make a peace it did not impose.
There is nothing so powerful as a republic in which the laws are
observed not through fear, not through reason, but through passion — which
was the case with Rome and Lace-
daemon. For then all the strength a faction could have is joined to the
wisdom of a good government.
The Carthaginians used foreign troops, and the Romans employed their
own. Since the latter never regarded the vanquished as anything but instruments
for further triumphs, they made soldiers of all the peoples they had overcome,
and the more trouble they had in conquering them, the more they judged them
suitable for incorporation into their republic. Thus we see the Samnites, who
were subjugated only after twenty-four triumphs,5 become the
auxiliaries of the Romans. And some time before the Second Punic War they drew
from them and their allies — that is, from a country scarcely larger than
the states of the pope and of Naples — seven hundred thousand infantry and
seventy thousand cavalry to oppose the Gauls.6
At the height of the Second Punic War, Rome always had from twenty-two
to twenty-four legions in action. Yet it appears from Livy that the census then
indicated only about one hundred and thirty-seven thousand citizens.
Carthage employed greater forces for attacking, Rome for defending
itself. The latter, as has just been said, armed a prodigious number of men
against the Gauls and Hannibal, who attacked it, and sent out only two legions
against the greatest kings — a policy which perpetuated its forces.
Carthage's situation at home was less secure than Rome's. Rome had
thirty colonies around it, which were like ramparts.7 Prior to the
battle of Cannae, no ally had abandoned it, for the Samnites and the other
peoples of Italy were accustomed to its domination.
Since most of the cities of Africa were lightly fortified, they
surrendered at once to whoever came to take them. Thus, all who disembarked
there — Agathocles, Regulus, Scipio — immediately drove Carthage to
The ills which befell the Carthaginians throughout the
war waged against them by the first Scipio can only be attributed to a
bad government. Their city and even their armies were starving, while the
Romans had an abundance of all things.8
Among the Carthaginians, armies which had been defeated became more
insolent. Sometimes they crucified their generals, and punished them for their
own cowardice. Among the Romans, the consul decimated the troops that had fled,
and led them back against the enemy.
The rule of the Carthaginians was very harsh.9 So severely
had they tormented the peoples of Spain that when the Romans arrived there they
were regarded as liberators. And, if we bear in mind the immense sums it cost
them to support a war in which they were defeated, we plainly see that
injustice is a bad manager, and that it does not even accomplish its own ends.
The founding of Alexandria had considerably diminished the commerce of
Carthage. In early times superstition practically banished foreigners from
Egypt, and, when the Persians conquered it, they had thought only of weakening
their new subjects. But under the Greek kings Egypt carried on almost all the
commerce of the world, and that of Carthage began to decline.
Commercial powers can continue in a state of mediocrity a long time, but
their greatness is of short duration. They rise little by little, without
anyone noticing, for they engage in no particular action that resounds and
signals their power. But when things have come to the point where people cannot
help but see what has happened, everyone seeks to deprive this nation of an
advantage it has obtained, so to speak, only by surprise.
The Carthaginian cavalry was superior to the Roman for two reasons.
First, the Numidian and Spanish horses were better than those of Italy; second,
the Roman cavalry was
poorly armed, for it was only during the wars the Romans fought in
Greece that this feature was changed, as we learn from Polybius.10
In the First Punic War, Regulus was beaten as soon as the Carthaginians
chose to bring their cavalry into combat on the plains, and, in the Second,
Hannibal owed his principal victories to his Numidians.11
After Scipio conquered Spain and made an alliance with Masinissa, he
took this superiority away from the Carthaginians. It was the Numidian cavalry
that won the battle of Zama and finished the war.
The Carthaginians had more experience on the sea and could manoeuver
better than the Romans, but I think this advantage was not so great then as it
would be today.
Since the ancients did not have the compass, they could hardly navigate
anywhere but near the coasts. Also, they used only boats with oars, which were
small and flat. Practically every inlet was a harbor for them. The skill of
pilots was very limited, and their manoeuvers amounted to very little. Thus
Aristotle said 12 that it was useless to have a corps of sailors,
and that laborers sufficed for the job.
The art was so imperfect that they could scarcely do with a thousand
oars what today is done with a hundred.13
Large vessels were disadvantageous, since the difficulty the crew had in
moving them made them unable to execute the necessary turns. Anthony had a
disastrous experience 14 with them at Actium; his ships could not
move, while Augustus' lighter ones attacked them on all sides.
Because ancient vessels were rowed, the lighter ones easily shattered
the oars of the larger ones, which then became nothing more than immobile
objects, like our dismasted vessels today.
Since the invention of the compass, things have changed. Oars have been
abandoned,15 the coasts have been left be-
hind, great vessels have been built. The ship has become more
complicated, and sailing practices have multiplied.
The invention of powder had an unsuspected effect. It made the strength
of navies consist more than ever in nautical art. For to resist the cannon's
violence and avoid being subjected to superior firing power, great ships were
needed. But the level of the art had to correspond to the magnitude of the
The small vessels of former days used to grapple on to each other
suddenly, and the soldiers of both sides did the fighting. A whole land army
was placed on a fleet. In the naval battle that Regulus and his colleague won,
we see one hundred and thirty thousand Romans fighting against one hundred and
fifty thousand Carthaginians. At that time soldiers meant a great deal and an
expert crew little; at present, soldiers mean nothing, or little, and an expert
crew a great deal.
The victory of the consul Duilius brings out this difference well. The
Romans had no knowledge of navigation. A Carthaginian galley ran aground on
their coasts; they used it as a model to build their own. In three months'
time, their sailors were trained, their fleet constructed and equipped. It put
to sea, found the Carthaginian navy and defeated it.
At present, a lifetime hardly suffices for a prince to create a fleet
capable of appearing before a power which already rules the sea. It is perhaps
the only thing that money alone cannot do. And if, in our day, a great prince
immediately succeeds at it,16 others have learned from experience
that his example is more to be admired than followed.17
The Second Punic War is so famous that everybody knows it. When we
carefully examine the multitude of obstacles confronting Hannibal, all of which
this extraordinary man surmounted, we have before us the finest spectacle
presented by antiquity.
Rome was a marvel of constancy. After the battles of Ticinus, Trebia,
and Lake Trashnene, after Cannae more dismal still, abandoned by almost all the
peoples of Italy, it did not sue for peace. The reason is that the senate never
departed from its old maxims.a It dealt with Hannibal as it had
previously dealt with Pyrrhus, with whom it had refused to make any
accommodation so long as he remained in Italy. And I find in Dionysius of
Halicarnassus 18 that, at the time of the negotiation with
Coriolanus, the senate declared that it would not violate its old practices,
that the Roman people could not make peace while enemies were on its soil, but
that, if the Volscians withdrew, their just demands would be met.
Rome was saved by the strength of its institutions. After the battle of
Cannae not even the women were permitted to shed tears. The senate refused to
ransom the prisoners, and sent the miserable remains of the army to make war in
Sicily, without pay or any military honor, until such time as Hannibal was
expelled from Italy.
In another instance, the consul Terentius Varro had fled shamefully to
Venusia.b This man, who was of the lowest birth, had been elevated
to the consulate only to mortify the nobility. But the senate did not wish to
enjoy this unhappy triumph. Seeing how necessary it was on this occasion to win
the confidence of the people, it went before Varro and thanked him for not
having despaired of the republic.
Usually it is not the real loss sustained in battle (such as that of
several thousands of men) which proves fatal to a
a The French word maxime means "rule -of conduct";
"maxim," in English, still has this as one of its meanings, and, for the sake
of simplicity and consistency, will be used throughout.
b Venusia: an Italian city of Apulia, some distance south of
state, but the imagined loss and the discouragement, which deprive it of
the very strength fortune had left it.
There are things that everybody says because they were once
said.c People believe that Hannibal made a signal error in not
having laid siege to Rome after the battle of Cannae. It is true that at first
the terror in Rome was extreme, but the consternation of a warlike people,
which almost always turns into courage, is different from that of a vile
populace, which senses only its weakness. A proof that Hannibal would not have
succeeded is that the Romans were still able to send assistance everywhere.
People say further that Hannibal made a great mistake in leading his
army to Capua, where it grew soft. But they fail to see that they stop short of
the true cause. Would not the soldiers of his army have found Capua everywhere,
having become rich after so many victories? On a similar occasion, Alexander,
who was commanding his own subjects, made use of an expedient that Hannibal,
who had only mercenary troops, could not use. He had the baggage of his
soldiers set on fire, and burned all their riches and his too. We are told that
Kuli Khan,d after his conquest of India, left each soldier with only
a hundred rupees of silver.19
It was Hannibal's conquests themselves that began to change the fortunes
of this war. He had not been sent to Italy by the magistrates of Carthage; he
received very little help, whether because of the jealousy of one party or the
overconfidence of the other. While he retained his whole army, he defeated the
Romans. But when he had to put garrisons in the cities, defend his allies,
besiege strongholds or prevent
c For this reference and the one in the next paragraph, see
Livy, XXII, 51, and XXIII, 18.
d Kuli Khan: Nadir Shah, who was shah of Iran from 1736-47.
them from being besieged, his forces were found to be too small, and he
lost a large part of his army piecemeal. Conquests are easy to make, because
they are made with all one's forces; they are difficult to preserve because
they are defended with only a part of one's forces.
1. See a fragment from Dio, I, in The Extract of Virtues and
2. Life of Pyrrhus (26).
3. Justin, XX (1).
4. The presence of Hannibal made all dissensions among the Romans cease,
but Scipio's presence embittered the dissensions already existing among the
Carthaginians, and took all the remaining strength from the government. The
generals, the senate, the notables became more suspect to the people, and the
people became wilder. See, in Appian, the entire war of the first Scipio.
5. Floras, I (16).
6. See Polybius (II, 24). Floras' Epitome says that they raised
three hundred thousand men in the city and among the Latins.
7. Livy, XXVII (9, 10).
8. See Appian, The Punic Wars (25).
9. See what Polybius says of their exactions, especially in the fragment
of book IX (11) in The Extract of Virtues and Vices.
10. VI (25).
11. Entire corps of Numidians went over to the side of the Romans, who
from that point began to breathe again.
12. Politics, VII (6 (5).
13. See what Perrault says about the oars of the ancients, Essay in
Physics, tit. HI, Mechanics of the Ancients.
14. The same thing happened at the battle of Salamis. Plutarch, Life
of Themistocles (14). History is full of similar facts.
15. From which we can judge the imperfection of the navigation of the
ancients, since we have abandoned a practice in which we were so superior to
16. Louis XIV.
17. Spain and Muscovy.
18. Roman Antiquities, VIII.
19. History of His Life, Paris, 1742, p. 402.
THE CONDITION OF GREECE,
MACEDONIA, SYRIA, AND EGYPT
AFTER THE REDUCTION OF
I imagine Hannibal made few witty remarks and even fewer favoring Fabius
and Marcellus over himself.a I regret seeing Livy strewing his
flowers on these enormous colosses of antiquity. I wish he had done as Homer,
who refrained from adorning them and knew so well how to make them come
Furthermore, the remarks attributed to Hannibal should be sensible. For
if on learning of his brother's defeat he confessed he foresaw the ruin of
Carthage, I know nothing better calculated to throw despair into the peoples
who had placed themselves under his protection, and to discourage an army which
expected such great rewards after the war.
Since the Carthaginians faced only victorious armies in Spain, Sicily,
and Sardinia, Hannibal — whose enemies were constantly gaining strength
— was reduced to a defensive war.
a For the passages referred to here and in the next
paragraph, see Livy, XXVII, 16, 51.
This gave the Romans the idea of carrying the war to Africa, and Scipio
went there. The successes he had there forced the Carthaginians to recall
Hannibal from Italy, weeping for grief as he yielded to the Romans the soil on
which he had vanquished them so often.
Everything a great statesman and captain can do, Hannibal did to save
his country. Unable to induce Scipio to make peace, he fought a battle in which
fortune seemed to take pleasure in confounding his skill, experience, and good
Carthage obtained peace not from an enemy but from a master. It was
forced to pay ten thousand talents in fifty years, to give hostages, to hand
over its vessels and elephants, and to make no war without the consent of the
Roman people. And the power of its inveterate enemy, Masinissa, was increased
in order to keep it humbled forever.
After the reduction of the Carthaginians, Rome had almost nothing but
small wars and great victories, whereas before it had had small victories and
In those times something like two separate worlds existed. In one, the
Carthaginians and Romans fought each other. The other was agitated by quarrels
dating from Alexander's death. There no thought was given to what was happening
in the West,1 for although Philip, king of Macedonia, had made a
treaty with Hannibal, it was practically without consequence. And this prince,
who gave the Carthaginians nothing but very feeble assistance, only
demonstrated useless ill will toward the Romans.
When we see two great peoples engage in a long and stubborn war, it is
often impolitic to think we can remain tranquil spectators. For the people
which wins immediately undertakes new wars, and a nation of soldiers goes off
to fight against peoples who are only citizens.
This was shown very clearly in those times, for the Romans had hardly
subdued the Carthaginians when they attacked
new peoples and appeared everywhere on earth to invade every country.
Only four powers in the East were then capable of resisting the Romans:
Greece, and the kingdoms of Macedonia, Syria, and Egypt. Let us see what the
situation of these first two powers was, since the Romans began by subjugating
them. Three notable peoples lived in Greece: the Aetolians, the Achaeans, and
the Boeotians. These were grouped in associations of free cities which had
general assemblies and common magistrates. The Aetolians were warlike, hardy,
reckless, greedy for gain, and always free with their word and oaths; in short,
they made war on land as pirates do at sea. The Achaeans were constantly vexed
by troublesome neighbors or protectors. The Boeotians, dullest of the Greeks,
participated as little as possible in general affairs. Led solely by their
immediate experience of good and evil, they did not have enough spirit to make
it easy for orators to agitate them, and, surprisingly, their republic was
preserved amid anarchy itself.2
Lacedaemon had preserved its power — that is, the warlike spirit
with which the institutions of Lycurgus imbued it. The Thessalians were, to a
considerable degree, kept in subjection by the Macedonians. The kings of
Illyria had already been crushed by the Romans. The Acarnanians and Athamenes
b were ravaged in turn by the forces of Macedonia and Aetolia.
Without any strength of their own and without allies,3 the Athenians
no longer amazed the world except by their flattery of kings. And the tribune
where Demosthenes had spoken was no longer mounted except to propose the most
cowardly and scandalous decrees.
Otherwise, Greece was formidable because of its situation, its strength,
the multitude of its cities, the number of its sol-
b Acarnanians: a people of western Greece; Athamanes: a
people of Epirus.
diers, its public order,c its morals, its laws. It loved war,
it knew the art of war, and had it been united it would have been
It had indeed been shaken by the first Philip, Alexander, and Antipater,
but not subjugated. And the kings of Macedonia, who could not resolve to
abandon their claims and hopes, stubbornly labored to enslave it.
Macedonia was almost surrounded by inaccessible mountains. Its people
were admirably suited for war — courageous, obedient, industrious,
indefatigable. And they must have received these qualities from the climate,
since to this day the men of that country are still the best soldiers of the
Greece maintained itself by a kind of balance: the Lacedaemonians were
usually the allies of the Aetolians, and the Macedonians of the Achaeans. But
all equilibrium was upset by the coming of the Romans.
Since the kings of Macedonia could not maintain a great number of
troops,4 the least reverse was of consequence to them. Besides, they
would have had trouble extending their power, since their designs were not
unknown, and their proceedings were always watched closely. And the successes
they had in wars undertaken for their allies were an evil that these same
allies sought at once to repair.
But the kings of Macedonia were usually skilful princes. Their monarchy
was not one of those that are carried along by a kind of momentum imparted to
them at their beginning. Continually instructed by perils and problems,
entangled in all the quarrels of the Greeks, they had to win the leaders of
cPolice, the French word here, referred to the
function or branch of government involving the keeping of public order and
morality — a conception still retained in the "police powers" thought to
be inherent in the state governments of the United States. See also
Blackstone's Commentaries, IV, 13.
the cities, dazzle the peoples, divide or unite interests. In short,
they were forced to expose themselves at every moment.
Philip, who at the beginning of his reign won the love and confidence of
the Greeks by his moderation, suddenly changed. He became a cruel tyrant, at a
time when policy and ambition should have made him just.5 He saw,
though from afar, the Carthaginians and the Romans, whose forces were immense.
He had ended the war to the advantage of his allies, and had reconciled himself
with the Aetolians. It was natural that he should think of uniting all of
Greece behind him in order to prevent foreigners from establishing themselves
there. But, instead, he irritated it by small usurpations, and, amusing himself
with quarrels about vain interests when his very existence was at stake, he
made himself odious and detestable to all the Greeks by three or four bad
The Aetolians were the most irritated, and the Romans, seizing the
opportunity offered by their resentment, or rather by their folly, made an
alliance with them, entered Greece, and armed it against Philip.
This prince was vanquished at the battle of Cynoscephalae, and the
victory was due in part to the valor of the Aetolians. He was so consternated
as to be reduced to a treaty that was less a peace than an abandonment of his
own forces. He withdrew his garrisons from all Greece, surrendered his vessels,
and obligated himself to pay a thousand talents in ten years.
With his usual good sense, Polybius compares the military order of the
Romans with that of the Macedonians, which was adopted by all the kings
succeeding Alexander. He lets us see the advantages and inconveniences of the
phalanx and the legion; he prefers the Roman order, and appears to be right,
judging by all the events of those days.
In the Second Punic War, the fact that Hannibal immediately armed his
soldiers in Roman style greatly endangered the Romans. But the Greeks changed
neither their arms nor their manner of fighting. It did not so much as enter
minds to renounce practices with which they had done such great things.
The success of the Romans against Philip was the greatest of all the
steps they took toward general conquest. To assure themselves of Greece, they
used all sorts of ways to reduce the Aetolians who had helped them conquer.
What is more, they ordained that every Greek city which had been under Philip
or some other prince would be governed thenceforth by its own laws.
It is easy to see that these small republics could only be dependent.
The Greeks abandoned themselves to senseless delight and believed themselves
free in reality because the Romans declared them so.
The Aetolians, who had imagined they would dominate Greece, were in
despair upon seeing that they had only succeeded in giving themselves masters.
And since they always went to extremes, seeking to correct their follies by
still other follies, they called into Greece the king of Syria, Antiochus, as
they had called in the Romans.
The kings of Syria were the most powerful of Alexander's successors, for
they possessed almost all the states of Darius, except Egypt. But events had
taken place to weaken their power considerably.
Toward the end of his life, Seleucus, who had founded the Syrian empire,
destroyed the kingdom of Lysimachus. In the confusion, several provinces
revolted. The kingdoms of Pergamum, Cappadocia, and Bithyniad were
formed. But these small timid states always regarded the humbling of their old
masters as a piece of good fortune for themselves.
Since the kings of Syria always looked upon the felicity of the kingdom
of Egypt with extreme envy, they thought of nothing but reconquering it.
Neglecting the East for this
d Pergamum, Cappadocia, and Bithynia were in Asia Minor.
reason, they lost several provinces there and met with much disobedience
in the others.
Finally, the kings of Syria held upper and lower Asia,e but
experience has shown that when the capital and the main forces are in the lower
provinces of Asia, the upper ones cannot be preserved, and when the seat of
empire is in the upper ones, the state is weakened by the attempt to protect
the lower. The Persian and Syrian empires were never as strong as the Parthian,
which comprised only a part of the provinces of the other two. If Cyrus had not
conquered the kingdom of Lydia, if Seleucus had stayed in Babylonia and had
left the maritime provinces to Antigonus' successors, the Persian empire would
have been invincible to the Greeks, and Seleucus' to the Romans. Nature has
given states certain limits to mortify the ambition of men. When the Romans
transgressed these limits, the Parthians almost always destroyed
them;6 when the Parthians dared to transgress them, they were
immediately forced to withdraw. And in our own day the Turks, after advancing
beyond these limits, were compelled to retire within them.
The kings of Syria and of Egypt had two kinds of subjects in their
countries: conquering peoples, and conquered peoples. The former,f
still thinking of their original condition, were very difficult to govern. They
did not have the spirit of independence that prompts men to throw off their
yoke, but the impatience that makes them desire to change masters.
But the main weakness of the kingdom of Syria came from that of the
court where the successors of Darius and not of Alexander reigned. The luxury,
vanity, and indolence which,
e "Upper" and "lower" Asia, as the terms are used here, refer
to the contrast between Iran, on the one hand, and the maritime provinces of
Asia Minor, on the other.
f Former: This is the wording in Jullian and Masson, yet
other editions read "latter."
in all ages, have never left the courts of Asia, reigned especially at
this one. The evil passed to the people, and to the soldiers, and became
contagious even for the Romans, since the war they waged against Antiochus is
the true beginning of their corruption.
Such was the situation of the kingdom of Syria when Antiochus, who had
done such great things, undertook to make war against the Romans. But he did
not even conduct himself with the prudence one employs in ordinary affairs.
Hannibal wanted the war in Italy renewed and Philip won over or made neutral.
Antiochus did neither of these. He appeared in Greece with a small part of his
forces and, as if he had wanted to observe a war there rather than wage one, he
was only concerned with his pleasures. He was defeated and fled to Asia, more
frightened than conquered.
In this war, Philip, swept along by the Romans as by a torrent, served
them with all his power and became the instrument of their victories. The
pleasure of avenging himself and ravaging Aetolia, the promise that his tribute
would be reduced and that some cities would be left to him, his jealousy of
Antiochus — in short, petty motives — determined his conduct. And,
not daring to conceive the idea of throwing off his yoke, he thought only of
Antiochus judged matters so badly that he imagined the Romans would
leave him alone in Asia. But they followed him there. He was defeated again
and, in his consternation, consented to the most infamous treaty a great prince
has ever made.
I know nothing so magnanimous as the resolve of a monarch of our own
day7 to be buried under the debris of his throne rather than accept
proposals that a king should not even hear. He had too proud a soul to descend
lower than the level of his misfortunes, and he well knew that a crown can be
strengthened by courage but never by infamy.
It is a common thing to find princes who can conduct a battle. There are
very few who know how to wage a war, who are equally capable of taking
advantage of fortune and awaiting it, and who, with the frame of mind that
makes them cautious before an undertaking, fear nothing once the undertaking is
After the reduction of Antiochus only small powers remained except for
Egypt, which by its situation, its fecundity, its commerce, the number of its
inhabitants, and its naval and land forces could have been formidable. But the
cruelty of its kings, their cowardice, their avarice, their imbecility, their
frightful sensuality made them so odious to their subjects that most of the
time only the protection of the Romans kept them in power.
It was practically a fundamental law of the crown of Egypt that sisters
succeeded to it along with brothers; and, in order to maintain unity in the
government, the brother was married to the sister. Now it is difficult to
imagine anything in politics more pernicious than such an order of succession.
Every little domestic quarrel became a disorder in the state, and whichever one
of the pair had the slightest grievance immediately raised the people of
Alexandria in revolt against the other. This immense populace was always ready
to join the first of its kings who wanted to agitate it. Moreover, since the
kingdoms of Cyrene g and Cyprus were usually in the hands of other
princes of this family, all with reciprocal rights of succession, both reigning
princes and pretenders to the crown were almost always in existence. These
kings therefore sat on an unstable throne, and they were powerless outside the
country because they were insecurely established within it.
g Cyrene: a North African city on the Mediterranean west of
The forces of the kings of Egypt, like those of other Asian kings,
consisted of their Greek auxiliaries. Aside from the spirit of liberty, honor
and glory that animated the Greeks, they were constantly engaged in all sorts
of physical exercises. In the main cities they had regular games where the
victors obtained crowns in the sight of all Greece, thus producing a general
spirit of emulation. Now at a time when arms required strength and dexterity
for success in battle, men trained in this way doubtlessly had great advantages
over a crowd of barbarians selected at random and led to war involuntarily
— as the armies of Darius indeed demonstrated.
To deprive the kings of such a militia and quietly take their main
forces from them, the Romans did two things. First, they gradually established
it as a maxim among the Greeks that they could not form any alliance, accord
help or make war on anyone without Roman consent. In addition, in their
treaties with the kings they forbade them to levy troops among the allies of
the Romans — which left them only their national troops.8
1. It is surprising, as Josephus remarks in his book Against Apion
(I, 12), that neither Herodotus nor Thucydides ever spoke of the Romans,
even though they waged such great wars.
2. To please the multitude, the magistrates no longer permitted the
courts to open; dying men bequeathed their property to their friends for use at
feasts. See a fragment of Polybius, XX (4, 6), in The Extract of Virtues and
3. They had no alliance with the other peoples of Greece. Polybius, VIII
4. See Plutarch, Life of Flamininus (2).
5. See, in Polybius (VII, 12), the injustices and cruelties by which
Philip discredited himself.
6. I shall speak of the reasons for this in Chapter XV. They are drawn,
in part, from the geographic situation of the two empires.
7. Louis XIV.
8. They had already had this policy with the Carthaginians, whom they
forced by treaty to make no further use of auxiliary troops, as we see from a
fragment of Dio.
THE CONDUCT THE ROMANS
PURSUED TO SUBJUGATE
In the course of so many successes, when men ordinarily become
negligent, the senate always acted with the same profundity; and while the
armies caused consternation everywhere, it held on to the nations that had
already been struck down.
It set itself up as a tribunal for judging all peoples, and at the end
of every war decided the penalties and rewards each had deserved. It took part
of the domain of the conquered peoples for Rome's allies, and by this means
accomplished two things, attaching to Rome those kings from whom it had little
to fear and much to hope for, and weakening others from whom it had little to
hope for and everything to fear.
Allies were used to make war on an enemy, but then the destroyers were
at once destroyed. Philip was conquered by means of the Aetolians, who
immediately afterward were annihilated for having joined with Antiochus.
Antiochus was conquered with the help of the Rhodians; but after receiving
splendid rewards, they were forever humbled on the pretext of having demanded
that peace be made with Persia.
When the Romans had several enemies on their hands they made a truce
with the weakest, which believed itself fortunate to obtain it, placing great
value on the postponement of its ruin.
While engaging in a great war, the senate pretended not to notice all
sorts of wrongs, and waited in silence till the time for punishment had come.
And if the people in question sent it the culprits, it refused to punish them,
preferring to consider the whole nation criminal and reserving to itself a more
Since they inflicted unbelievable evils upon their enemies, leagues were
hardly ever formed against them, for the country furthest from the peril did
not wish to venture closer.
Because of this, they were rarely warred upon, but always went to war at
the time, in the manner, and with those that suited them. And of all the
peoples they attacked, very few would not have borne all kinds of insults if
the Romans had wanted to leave them in peace.
Since it was their custom always to speak as masters, the ambassadors
they sent to peoples who had not yet felt their power were sure to be
mistreated — which was a sure pretext for waging a new war.1
Since they never made peace in good faith, and since universal conquest
was their object, their treaties were really only suspensions of war, and they
put conditions into them that always began the ruin of the state accepting
them. They made garrisons leave strongholds, or limited the number of ground
troops, or had horses or elephants surrendered to them. And if the people was a
sea power they forced it to burn its vessels and sometimes to live further
After destroying the armies of a prince, they ruined his finances by
excessive taxes or a tribute on the pretext of making him pay the expenses of
the war — a new kind of tyranny that forced him to oppress his subjects
and lose their love.
When they granted peace to some prince, they took one of his brothers or
children in hostage, which gave them the means of vexing his kingdom at will.
When they had the closest heir, they intimidated the present ruler; if they
only had a prince of distant degree, they used him to instigate popular
When some prince or people broke away from obedience to a ruler, they
were immediately accorded the title of ally of the Roman people.2
This way the Romans made them sacred and inviolable, so that there was no king,
however great, who could be sure of his subjects or even of his family for a
Although the title of being their ally entailed a kind of servitude, it
was nevertheless much sought after.3 Those holding it were sure to
receive insults only from the Romans, and there were grounds for hoping these
would be smaller. Thus, to obtain it there were no services peoples and kings
were not ready to render, and no baseness to which they would not stoop.
They had many sorts of allies. Some were united to them by privileges
and a participation in their greatness, like the Latins and Hernicans; others,
by origin itself, like their colonies; some by benefits, as were Masinissa,
Eumenes, and Attalus, who received their kingdoms or the extension of their
power from the Romans; other by free treaties, and these became subjects
through long-existing alliance, like the kings of Egypt, Bithynia, and
Cappadocia, and most of the Greek cities; several, finally, by forced treaties,
like Philip and Antiochus, for the Romans never made a peace treaty with an
enemy unless it contained an alliance — that is, they subjugated no people
which did not help them in reducing others.
When they allowed a city to remain free, they immediately caused two
factions to arise within it.4 One upheld local laws and liberty, the
other maintained that there was
no law except the will of the Romans. And since the latter faction was
always the stronger, it is easy to see that such freedom was only a name.
Sometimes they became masters of a country on the pretext of succession.
They entered Asia, Bithynia, and Libya by the testaments of Attalus,
Nicomedes,5 and Apion,a and Egypt was enslaved by the
testament of the king of Cyrene.
To keep great princes permanently weak, the Romans did not want them to
make any alliance with those to whom they had accorded their own.6
And since they did not refuse their own to a powerful prince's neighbors, this
condition, stipulated in a peace treaty, left him without allies.
Moreover, when they had conquered some eminent prince, they wrote into
the treaty that he could not have recourse to war to settle his differences
with allies of the Romans (that is, usually with all his neighbors), but that
he would have to use arbitration. This removed his military power for the
And, to reserve all such power to themselves, they deprived even their
allies of it. As soon as the allies had the least dispute, the Romans sent
ambassadors who forced them to make peace. We need only observe how they
terminated the wars of Attalus and Prusias.
When some prince had made a conquest, which often left him exhausted, a
Roman ambassador immediately arrived to snatch it from his hands. From among a
thousand examples, we can recall how, with a word, they drove Antiochus out of
Knowing how well-suited the peoples of Europe were for war, they made it
a law that no Asian king would be permitted to enter Europe and subjugate any
people whatsoever.7 The main motive for their war against
Mithridates was that
a Pergamum is said to have been willed to the Romans by
Attalus III (133 B.C.), Bithynia by Nicomedes III (74 B.C.), and Cyrene by
Apion (96 B.C.).
he had contravened this prohibition by subduing some
When they saw two peoples at war, even though they had no alliance or
dispute with one or the other, they never failed to appear on the scene. And
like our knights-errant, they took the part of the weaker. Dionysius of
Halicarnassus9 says it was an old practice of the Romans always to
extend their help to whomever came to implore it.
These practices of the Romans were in no sense just particular actions
occurring by chance. These were ever-constant principles, as may readily be
seen from the fact that the maxims they followed against the greatest powers
were precisely the ones they had followed, in the beginning, against the small
cities around them.
They used Eumenes and Masinissa to subjugate Philip and Antiochus in the
same way they had used the Latins and Hernicans to subjugate the Volscians and
Tuscans. They required the fleets of Carthage and of the Asian kings to be
surrendered to them in the same way that they had forced the barks of Antium to
be given up. They removed the political and civil links connecting the four
parts of Macedonia in the same way that they had formerly broken up the union
of the small Latin cities.10
But, above all, their constant maxim was to divide. The Achaean republic
was formed by an association of free cities. The senate declared that
thenceforth each city would be governed by its own laws, without depending on a
The republic of the Boeotians was similarly a league of several cities.
But in the war against Perseus some cities sided with Perseus and the rest with
the Romans, and the Romans took the latter into their favor only on condition
that the common alliance be dissolved.
If a great prince b who reigned in our day had followed
b This is an allusion to Louis XIV and James II.
these maxims, he would have employed stronger forces to support a
neighboring prince who was overthrown by revolt, so as to confine him within
the island which remained loyal to him. By dividing the only power that could
oppose his designs, he would have derived immense advantages from the very
misfortune of his ally.
When disputes broke out in some state, the Romans adjudicated the matter
immediately, and by this means they were sure of having against them only the
party they had condemned. If princes of the same blood were disputing the
crown, the Romans sometimes declared them both kings.11 If one of
them was under age,12 they decided in his favor and took him under
their tutelage, as protectors of the world. For they had carried things to the
point where peoples and kings were their subjects without knowing precisely by
what title, the rule being that it was enough to have heard of them to owe them
They never waged distant wars without procuring some ally near the enemy
under attack, who could join his troops to the army they were sending. And
since this army was never very large, they always made sure to keep
another13 in the province nearest the enemy, and a third in Rome
constantly ready to march. Thus they exposed only a very small part of their
forces, while their enemy hazarded all of his.14
Sometimes they abused the subtlety of the terms of their language. They
destroyed Carthage, saying that they had promised to preserve the people of the
city but not the city itself.c We know how the Aetolians, who had
entrusted themselves to the good faith of the Romans, were deceived: the Romans
claimed that the meaning of the words to entrust oneself to the good faith
of an enemy d entailed the loss of
c In French the distinction is between cité and
ville, in Latin between civitas and oppidum.
d The Romans interpreted the phrase to mean unconditional
surrender. See Jullian, and Polybius, XX, 9.
all sorts of things — of persons, lands, cities, temples, and even
They could even give a treaty an arbitrary interpretation. Thus, when
they wanted to reduce the Rhodians, they said they had not previously given
them Lycia as a present but as a friend and ally.
When one of their generals made peace to save his army as it was about
to perish, the senate did not ratify the peace but profited from it and
continued the war. Thus, when Jugurtha had surrounded a Roman army and,
trusting to a treaty, let it go, the very troops he had spared were used
against him. And when the Numantians had forced twenty thousand Romans who were
about to die of hunger to sue for peace, this peace which had saved so many
citizens was broken at Rome, and public faith was evaded by handing back the
consul who had signed it.15
Sometimes they made peace with a prince on reasonable conditions, and
when he had executed them, added such unreasonable ones that he was forced to
reopen the war. Thus, after making Jugurtha surrender16 his
elephants, horses, treasures, and Roman deserters, they demanded that he
surrender himself — an act which is the worst possible misfortune for a
prince and can never constitute a condition of peace.
Finally, they judged kings for their personal faults and crimes. They
heard the complaints of all those who had some dispute with Philip; they sent
deputies to provide for their safety. And they had Perseus accused before them
for some murders and quarrels with citizens of allied cities.
Since a general's glory was judged by the amount of gold and silver
carried at his triumph, he left nothing to the conquered enemy. Rome
continually grew richer, and every war put it in a position to undertake
The peoples who were friends or allies all ruined themselves by the
immense presents they gave to keep or gain
favor, and half the money sent to the Romans for this purpose would have
been enough to conquer them.17
Masters Of the world, they assigned all its treasures to themselves, and
in plundering were less unjust as conquerors than as legislators. Learning that
Ptolemy, king of Cyprus, had immense riches, on the motion of a tribune they
enacted 18 a law by which they gave themselves the estate of a
living man and a fortune confiscated from an allied prince.
Soon the cupidity of individuals finished carrying off whatever had
escaped public avarice. The magistrates and governors sold their injustices to
kings. Two competitors ruined themselves vying with each other to buy a
protection that was always doubtful against any rival whose funds were not
entirely exhausted. For not even the justice of brigands, who bring a certain
honesty to the practice of crime, was to be found among the Romans. In short,
since legitimate or usurped rights were sustained by money alone, princes
despoiled temples and confiscated the property of the richest citizens in order
to get it. A thousand crimes were committed just to give the Romans all the
money in the world.
But nothing served Rome better than the respect it commanded everywhere.
It immediately reduced kings to silence, and, as it were, stupefied them. Not
only was the extent of their power at stake, but their own person came under
attack. To risk a war with Rome was to expose oneself to captivity, death and
the infamy of the triumph. Thus, kings who lived amid pomp and delights did not
dare cast a steady glance at the Roman people. And losing courage, they hoped,
through their patience and baseness, to gain some delay of the calamities with
which they were menaced.19
Please observe the conduct of the Romans. After the defeat of Antiochus,
they were masters of Africa, Asia, and Greece with scarcely any cities of their
own there. It seemed that they conquered only to give. But so thoroughly did
remain the masters that when they made war on some prince, they
overwhelmed him, so to speak, with the weight of the whole world.
The time had not yet come to take over the conquered countries. If they
had kept the cities captured from Philip, they would have opened the eyes of
the Greeks. If, after the Second Punic War or the war with Antiochus, they had
taken lands in Africa or Asia, they would have been unable to preserve
conquests established on so slight a foundation.20
It was necessary to wait until all nations were accustomed to obeying as
free states and allies before commanding them as subjects, and until they
disappeared little by little into the Roman republic.
Look at the treaty they made with the Latins after the victory of Lake
Regillus.21 It was one of the main foundations of their power. Not a
single word is found there that might arouse suspicions of empire.
It was a slow way of conquering. They vanquished a people and were
content to weaken it. They imposed conditions on it which undermined it
insensibly. If it revolted, it was reduced still further, and it became a
subject people without anyone being able to say when its subjection began.
Thus Rome was really neither a monarchy nor a republic, but the head of
a body formed by all the peoples of the world.
If the Spaniards had followed this system after the conquest of Mexico
and Peru, they would not have been forced to destroy everything in order to
It is the folly of conquerors to want to give their laws and customs to
all peoples. This serves no purpose, for people are capable of obeying in any
form of government.
But since Rome imposed no general laws, the various peoples had no
dangerous ties among themselves. They constituted a body only by virtue of a
common obedience, and, without being compatriots, they were all Romans.
The objection will perhaps be made that empires founded on the laws of
fiefse have never been either durable or powerful. But no two
systems in the world were so antithetical as the Roman and the barbarian. In a
word, the former was the work of strength, the latter of weakness; in one,
subjection was extreme, in the other, independence. In the countries conquered
by the Germanic nations, power was in the hands of the vassals and only legal
authority in the hands of the prince. The exact opposite was true with the
1. One example of this is the war against the Dalmatians. See Polybius
2. See especially their treaty with the Jews, in the first book of the
3. Ariarathes made a sacrifice to the gods, Polybius tells us (XXXIV,
15), to thank them for his having obtained this alliance.
4. See Polybius on the cities of Greece.
5. Son of Philopator.
6. This was the case with Antiochus.
7. The prohibition made even before the war against Antiochus' crossing
into Europe was extended against the other kings.
8. Appian, The War with Mithridates (13).
9. A fragment of Dionysius, taken from The Extract of Embassies.
10. Livy, VII (VIII, 15).
11. As happened to Ariarathes and Holophernes, in Cappadocia. Appian,
The Syrian Wars (XLVII).
12. In order to be able to ruin Syria through their regency, they
declared themselves for the son of Antiochus, who was still an infant, and
against Demetrius, who was their hostage
e "Laws of fiefs" refers to the political structure of
and who begged them to give him his due, saying that Rome was his mother
and the senators his fathers.
13. It was an invariable practice, as we can see from history.
14. See how they conducted themselves in the Macedonian war.
15. They acted the same way with the Samnites, the Lusitanians, and the
peoples of Corsica. On these last-named, see a fragment of Dio, I.
16. They acted the same way with Viriathus. After getting him to return
their deserters, they demanded that he surrender his arms, to which neither he
nor his men could consent. Fragment of Dio.
17. The presents the senate sent the kings were mere bagatelles, like a
chair and a baton of ivory, or some magisterial robe.
18. Floras, III, 9.
19. They hid their power and riches from the Romans as much as they
could. On this point, see a fragment of Dio. I.
20. They did not dare expose their own colonies there. They preferred to
plant an everlasting jealousy between the Carthaginians and Masinissa, and to
use the help of the one and the other to subdue Macedonia and Greece.
21. Dionysius of Halicarnassus reports it, VI, 95, Oxford edition.
HOW MITHRIDATES WAS ABLE TO RESIST THEM
Of all the kings the Romans attacked, only Mithridates defended himself
with courage and posed a threat to them.
His states were ideally located for waging war against them. They
bordered on the inaccessible country of the Caucasus — filled with fierce
nations that could be drawn upon — and from there extended to the Black
Sea. Mithridates covered this sea with his vessels and continually made trips
to buy new armies of Scythians. Asia was open to his invasions. He was rich,
because his cities on the Black Sea carried on an advantageous commerce with
nations less industrious than themselves.
Proscriptions, the practice of which began in those times, forced many
Romans to leave their country. Mithridates welcomed them with open arms. He
formed legions in which he enrolled them and which were his best
On its side, Rome, suffering from civil dissensions, occupied with more
pressing evils, neglected Asian affairs and let Mithridates pursue his
victories or rest after his defeats.
Nothing had been more ruinous to most of the kings than their manifest
desire for peace. This deterred all other peoples from sharing with them a
peril from which they themselves wanted so much to escape. But Mithridates im-
mediately let it be known to all that he was an enemy of the Romans and
always would be.
Finally, the cities of Greece and Asia, feeling the yoke of the Romans
weigh more heavily on them every day, placed their confidence in this barbarian
king who summoned them to liberty.
This state of affairs led to three great wars which form one of the
finest portions of Roman history. For here we do not see princes already
vanquished by indulgences and pride, like Antiochus and Tigranes, or by fear,
like Philip, Perseus, and Jugurtha, but a magnanimous king, who, in his
adversities, like a lion viewing his wounds, was only made more indignant by
These wars were peculiar because of their continual and always
unexpected shifts of fortune. For if Mithridates could easily replenish his
armies, it was also the case that in reverses, when obedience and discipline
were needed most, his barbarian troops abandoned him. If he had the art of
inciting peoples and making cities revolt, he in turn experienced perfidies on
the part of his captains, his children, and his wives. Finally, if he had
unskilful Roman generals to deal with, at various times Sulla, Lucullus, and
Pompey were also sent against him.
This prince defeated the Roman generals and conquered Asia, Macedonia,
and Greece. Vanquished in turn by Sulla, reduced, by treaty, to his old
borders, harassed by Roman generals, he again became their victor and the
conqueror of Asia. Then, pursued by Lucullus and followed into his own country,
he was forced to withdraw to Tigranes' realm, and seeing this king hopelessly
lost after defeat, and now relying only on himself, he took refuge in his own
states and reestablished himself there.
Pompey succeeded Lucullus, and Mithridates was overwhelmed by him. He
fled from his states, and, crossing the
Araxes, marched from one danger to another through the country of the
Lazians.a Collecting on his way whatever barbarians he found, he
appeared at the Bosporus to confront his son Machares, who had made peace with
In the abyss in which he found himself, he devised a scheme for carrying
the war to Italy and going to Rome with the same nations that subdued it some
centuries later, and by the same route.3
Betrayed by Pharnaces, another of his sons, and by an army dismayed at
the magnitude of his enterprises and of the dangers he was about to seek, he
died a king.
It was then that Pompey, in a rapid succession of victories, completed
the splendid work of Rome's greatness. He joined an infinite number of
countries to the body of its empire — which served the show of Roman
magnificence more than its true power. And although it seemed, from placards
carried in his triumph, that he had increased the public revenues by more than
a third, power was not increased, and public liberty was only the more
1. Frontinus, Stratagems, II (3), says that Archelaus,
Mithridates' lieutenant, fighting against Sulla, placed his scythe-bearing
chariots in the first ranks, his phalanx in the second, and his auxiliaries,
armed in Roman style, in the third, mixtis fugitivis Italiae, quorum
pervicaciae multum fidebat (with an admixture of Italian fugitive slaves in
whose doggedness he had much confidence). Mithridates even made
a Araxes: a river in Asia Minor, flowing eastward into the
Caspian Sea: Lazians: a people living at the eastern end of the Black Sea.
an alliance with Sertorius. Also see Plutarch, Life of Lucullus
2. Mithridates had made him king of the Bosporus. At the news of his
father's arrival, he killed himself.
3. See Appian, The War with Mithridates (XVI, 109).
4. See Plutarch, in the Life of Pompey (39), and Zonaras, II (X,
THE DISSENSIONS THAT ALWAYS
EXISTED IN THE CITY
While Rome conquered the world, a secret war was going on within its
walls. Its fires were like those of volcanoes which burst forth whenever some
matter comes along to increase their activity.
After the expulsion of the kings, the government had become
aristocratic. The patrician families alone 1 obtained all the
magistracies, all the dignities, and consequently all military and civil
To prevent the return of the kings, the patricians sought to intensify
the feelings existing in the minds of the people. But they did more than they
intended: by imbuing the people with hatred for kings, they gave them an
immoderate desire for liberty. Since royal authority had passed entirely into
the hands of the consuls, the people felt they lacked the liberty they were
being asked to love. They therefore sought to reduce the consulate, to get
plebeian magistrates, and to share the curule magistracies a with
the nobles. The patricians were forced to grant everything they demanded, for
in a city where poverty was public virtue, and where riches — the secret
a Curule magistracies: those conferring the right of using
the sella curulis or chair of state — namely, those of the
dictator, consuls, praetors, censors, and curule aediles.
to the acquisition of power — were scorned, birth and dignities
could not confer great advantages. Thus, power had to return to the greatest
number, and gradually the aristocracy had to change into a popular state.
Those who obey a king are less tormented by envy and jealousy than those
who live under an hereditary aristocracy. The prince is so distant from his
subjects that he is almost unseen by them. And he is so far above them that
they can conceive of no relationship on his part capable of shocking them. But
the nobles who govern are visible to all, and are not so elevated that odious
comparisons are not constantly made. Therefore it has at all times been seen,
and is still seen, that the people detest senators. Those republics where birth
confers no part in the government are in this respect the most fortunate, for
the people are less likely to envy an authority they give to whomever they wish
and take back whenever they fancy.
Discontented with the patricians, the people withdrew to Mons
Sacer.b Deputies were sent to appease them, and since they all
promised to help each other in case the patricians did not keep their pledge
3 — which would have caused constant seditions and disturbed
all the operations of the magistrates — it was judged better to create a
magistracy that could prevent injustices from being done to
plebeians.4 But, due to a malady eternal in man, the plebeians, who
had obtained tribunes to defend themselves, used them for attacking. Little by
little they removed the prerogatives of the patricians — which produced
continual contention. The people were supported, or rather, animated by their
tribunes; and the patricians were defended by the senate, which was almost
completely composed of them, was more inclined to the old maxims, and
b Mons Sacer: a low range of hills about three miles from
Rome, consecrated by the people to Jupiter after their secession.
was fearful that the populace would elevate some tribune to tyranny.
In their own behalf the people employed their strength and their voting
superiority, their refusal to go to war, their threats to withdraw, the
partiality of their laws, and, finally, their judgments against those who
resisted them too staunchly. The senate defended itself by means of its wisdom,
its justice, and the love of country it inspired; by its benefactions and a
wise use of the republic's treasury; by the respect the people had for the
glory of the leading families and the virtue of illustrious men;5 by
religion itself, the old institutions, and the skipping of assembly days on the
pretext that the auspices had not been favorable; by clients; by the opposition
of one tribune to another; by the creation of a dictator,6 the
occupations of a new war, or misfortunes which united all interests; finally,
by a paternal condescension in granting the people a part of their demands in
order to make them abandon the rest, and by the constant maxim of preferring
the preservation of the republic to the prerogatives of any order or of any
With the passage of time, the plebeians had so reduced the patricians
that this distinction7 among families became empty and all were
elevated to honors indifferently. Then there arose new disputes between the
common people, agitated by their tribunes, and the leading families, whether
patrician or plebeian, who were called nobles and who had on their side the
senate, which was composed of them. But since the old morals no longer existed,
since individuals had immense riches, and since riches necessarily confer
power, the nobles resisted with more force than had the patricians, and this
was the cause of the death of the Gracchi and of several who worked for their
I must mention a magistracy that greatly contributed to upholding Rome's
government — that of the censors. They
took the census of the people, and, what is more, since the strength of
the republic consisted in discipline, austerity of morals, and the constant
observance of certain customs, they corrected the abuses that the law had not
foreseen, or that the ordinary magistrate could not punish.9 There
are bad examples which are worse than crimes, and more states have perished by
the violation of their moral customs than by the violation of their laws. In
Rome, everything that could introduce dangerous novelties, change the heart or
mind of the citizen, and deprive the state — if I dare use the term —
of perpetuity, all disorders, domestic or public, were reformed by the censors.
They could evict from the senate whomever they wished, strip a knight of the
horse the public maintained for him, and put a citizen in another tribe and
even among those who supported the burdens of the city without participating in
M. Livius stigmatized the people itself, and, of the thirty-five tribes,
he placed thirty-four in the ranks of those who had no part in the privileges
of the city.11 "For," he said, "after condemning me you made me
consul and censor. You must therefore have betrayed your trust either once, by
inflicting a penalty on me, or twice, by making me consul and then censor."
M. Duronius, a tribune of the people, was driven from the senate by the
censors because, during his magistracy, he had abrogated the law limiting
expenses at banquets.12
The censorship was a very wise institution. The censors could not take a
magistracy from anyone, because that would have disturbed the exercise of
public power,13 but they imposed the loss of order and rank, and
deprived a citizen, so to speak, of his personal worth.
Servius Tullius had created the famous division by centuries, as
Livy14 and Dionysius of Halicarnassus 15 have so well
explained to us. He had distributed one hundred and ninety-three centuries into
six classes, and put the whole of
the common people into the last century, which alone formed the sixth
class. One sees that this disposition excluded the common people from the
suffrage, not by right but in fact. Later it was ruled that the division by
tribes would be followed in voting, except in certain cases. There were
thirty-five tribes, each with a voice — four in the city and thirty-one in
the countryside. The leading citizens, all farmers, naturally entered the
tribes of the countryside. Those of the city received the common
people,16 which, enclosed there, had very little influence on
affairs, and this was regarded as the salvation of the republic. And when
Fabius relocated among the four city tribes the lower classes whom Appius
Claudius had spread among all the tribes, he acquired the surname of Very
Great.17,c Every five years the censors took a look at the actual
situation of the republic, and distributed the people among the different
tribes in such a manner that the tribunes and the ambitious could not gain
control of the voting, and the people themselves could not abuse their power.
The government of Rome was admirable. From its birth, abuses of power
could always be corrected by its constitution, whether by means of the spirit
of the people, the strength of the senate, or the authority of certain
Carthage perished because it could not even endure the hand of its own
Hannibal when abuses had to be cut away. Athens fell because its errors seemed
so sweet to it that it did not wish to recover from them. And, among us, the
republics of Italy, which boast of the perpetuity of their government, ought
only to boast of the perpetuity of their abuses. Thus, they have no more
liberty than Rome had in the time of the decemvirs.18
The government of England is wiser, because a body d
c In Latin, Maximus.
d For Montesquieu's analysis of the English Parliament, see
The Spirit of the Laws, XI, 6.
there continually examines it and continually examines itself. And such
are its errors that they never last long and are often useful for the spirit of
watchfulness they give the nation. In a word, a free government — that is,
a government constantly subject to agitation — cannot last if it is not
capable of being corrected by its own laws.
1. The patricians even had something of a sacred quality: they alone
could take the auspices. See Appius Claudius' harangue in Livy, VI (40, 41).
2. For example, they alone could have a triumph, since only they could
be consuls and command the armies.
3. Zonaras, II (VII, 15).
4. Origin of the tribunes of the people.
5. Loving glory and composed of men who had spent their lives at war,
the people could not refuse their votes to a great man under whom they had
fought. They obtained the right to elect plebeians, and elected patricians.
They were forced to tie their own hands in establishing the rule that there
would always be one plebeian consul. Thus, the plebeian families which first
held office were then continually returned to it, and when the people elevated
to honors some nobody like Varro or Marius, it was a kind of victory they won
6. To defend themselves, the patricians were in the habit of creating a
dictator — which succeeded admirably well for them. But once the plebeians
had obtained the power of being elected consuls, they could also be elected
dictators — which disconcerted the patricians. See in Livy, VIII (12), how
Publius Philo reduced them during his dictatorship; he made three laws which
were very prejudicial to them.
7. The patricians retained only some sacerdotal offices and the right to
create a magistrate called interrex.
8. Like Saturninus and Glaucia.
9. We can see how they degraded those who had favored abandoning Italy
after the battle of Cannae, those who had surrendered to Hannibal, and those
who — by a mischievous interpretation — had broken their word to him.
(Livy, XXIV, 18).
10. This was called: Aerarium aliquem facere, aut in Caeritum tabulas
referre (to make someone a citizen of the lowest class, or to place him on
the list of the [voteless] inhabitants of Caere). He was expelled from his
century and no longer had the right to vote.
11. Livy, XXIX (37).
12. Valerius Maximus, II (9).
13. The dignity of senator was not a magistracy.
14. I (42, 43).
15. IV, art. 15 ff.
16. Called turba forensis (the rabble of the forum).
17. See Livy, IX (46).
18. Nor even more power.
CHAPTER IX TWO CAUSES OF ROME'S RUIN
When the domination of Rome was limited to Italy, the republic could
easily maintain itself. A soldier was equally a citizen. Every consul raised an
army, and other citizens went to war in their turn under his successor. Since
the number of troops was not excessive, care was taken to admit into the
militia only people who had enough property to have an interest in preserving
the city.1 Finally, the senate was able to observe the conduct of
the generals and removed any thought they might have of violating their duty.
But when the legions crossed the Alps and the sea, the warriors, who had
to be left in the countries they were subjugating for the duration of several
campaigns, gradually lost their citizen spirit. And the generals, who disposed
of armies and kingdoms, sensed their own strength and could obey no longer.
The soldiers then began to recognize no one but their general, to base
all their hopes on him, and to feel more remote from the city. They were no
longer the soldiers of the republic but those of Sulla, Marius, Pompey, and
Caesar. Rome could no longer know if the man at the head of an army in a
province was its general or its enemy.
As long as the people of Rome were corrupted only by their tribunes, to
whom they could grant only their own power, the senate could easily defend
itself because it acted with constancy, whereas the populace always went from
extreme ardor to extreme weakness. But, when the people could give their
favorites a formidable authority abroad, all the wisdom of the senate became
useless, and the republic was lost.
What makes free states last a shorter time than others is that both the
misfortunes and the successes they encounter almost always cause them to lose
their freedom. In a state where the people are held in subjection, however,
successes and misfortunes alike confirm their servitude. A wise republic should
hazard nothing that exposes it to either good or bad fortune. The only good to
which it should aspire is the perpetuation of its condition.
If the greatness of the empire ruined the republic, the greatness of the
city ruined it no less.
Rome had subjugated the whole world with the help of the peoples of
Italy, to whom it had at different times given various
privileges.2;a At first most of these peoples did not care very much
about the right of Roman citizenship, and some preferred to keep their
customs.3 But when this right meant universal sovereignty, and a man
was nothing in the world if he was not a Roman citizen and everything if he
was, the peoples of Italy resolved to perish or become Romans. Unable to
succeed by their intrigues and entreaties, they took the path of arms. They
revolted all along the coast of the Ionian sea; the other allies started to
follow them.4 Forced to fight against those who were, so to speak,
the hands with which it enslaved the world, Rome was lost. It was going to be
reduced to its walls; it therefore accorded the coveted right of citizenship to
the allies who had not yet ceased being loyal,5 and gradually to
After this, Rome was no longer a city whose people had but a single
spirit, a single love of liberty, a single hatred
a In extent and importance, Latin rights were between Roman
and Italian rights.
of tyranny — a city where the jealousy of the senate's power and
the prerogatives of the great, always mixed with respect, was only a love of
equality. Once the peoples of Italy became its citizens, each city brought to
Rome its genius, its particular interests, and its dependence on some great
protector.6 The distracted city no longer formed a complete whole.
And since citizens were such only by a kind of fiction, since they no longer
had the same magistrates, the same walls, the same gods, the same temples, and
the same graves, they no longer saw Rome with the same eyes, no longer had the
same love of country, and Roman sentiments were no more.
The ambitious brought entire cities and nations to Rome to disturb the
voting or get themselves elected. The assemblies were veritable conspiracies; a
band of seditious men was called a comitia.b The people's
authority, their laws and even the people themselves became chimerical things,
and the anarchy was such that it was no longer possible to know whether the
people had or had not adopted an ordinance.7
We hear in the authors only of the dissensions that ruined Rome, without
seeing that these dissensions were necessary to it, that they had always been
there and always had to be. It was the greatness of the republic that caused
all the trouble and changed popular tumults into civil wars. There had to be
dissensions in Rome, for warriors who were so proud, so audacious, so terrible
abroad could not be very moderate at home. To ask for men in a free state who
are bold in war and timid in peace is to wish the impossible. And, as a general
rule, whenever we see everyone tranquil in a state that calls itself a
republic, we can be sure that liberty does not exist there.
What is called union in a body politic is a very equivocal thing. The
true kind is a union of harmony, whereby all the
b These were the assemblies into which the Roman people were
organized for electoral purposes.
parts, however opposed they may appear, cooperate for the general good
of society — as dissonances in music cooperate in producing overall
concord. In a state where we seem to see nothing but commotion there can be
union — that is, a harmony resulting in happiness, which alone is true
peace. It is as with the parts of the universe, eternally linked together by
the action of some and the reaction of others.
But, in the concord of Asiatic despotism — that is, of all
government which is not moderate — there is always real dissension. The
worker, the soldier, the lawyer, the magistrate, the noble are joined only
inasmuch as some oppress the others without resistance. And, if we see any
union there, it is not citizens who are united but dead bodies buried one next
to the other.
It is true that the laws of Rome became powerless to govern the
republic. But it is a matter of common observation that good laws, which have
made a small republic grow large, become a burden to it when it is enlarged.
For they were such that their natural effect was to create a great people, not
to govern it.
There is a considerable difference between good laws and expedient laws
— between those that enable a people to make itself master of others, and
those that maintain its power once it is acquired.
There exists in the world at this moment a republic that hardly anyone
knows about,8 and that — in secrecy and silence —
increases its strength every day. Certainly, if it ever attains the greatness
for which its wisdom destines it, it will necessarily change its laws. And this
will not be the work of a legislator but of corruption itself.
Rome was made for expansion, and its laws were admirable for this
purpose. Thus, whatever its government had been — whether the power of
kings, aristocracy, or a popular state — it never ceased undertaking
enterprises that made demands on its conduct, and succeeded in them. It did not
prove wiser than all the other states on earth for a day, but
continually. It. sustained meager, moderate and great prosperity with the same
superiority, and had neither successes from which it did not profit, nor
misfortunes of which it made no use.
It lost its liberty because it completed the work it wrought too soon.
1. The freedmen, and those called capite censi (because they had
very little property and were only taxed by head) at first were not enrolled in
the army except in pressing cases. Servius Tullius had put them into the sixth
class, and soldiers were only taken from the first five. But Marius, setting
out against Jugurtha, enrolled everyone indifferently: Milites scribere non
more majorum neque, ex classibus, sed uti cujusque libido erat, capite censos
plerosque (He himself, in the meantime, proceeded to enlist soldiers not in
the old way, or from the classes, but taking all who were willing to join him,
and most of them from the capite censi). Sallust, The Jugurthine War,
LXXXVI. Notice that in the division by tribes, those in the four tribes of
the city were almost the same as those who were in the sixth class in the
division by centuries.
2. Latin rights, Italian rights.
3. The Aequians said in their assemblies: "Those able to choose have
preferred their own laws to the law of the city of Rome, which has been a
necessary penalty for those who could not defend themselves against it." Livy,
4. The Asculans, Marsians, Vestinians, Marrucinians, Ferentinians,
Hirpinians, Pompeianians, Venusinians, Iapygians, Lucanians, Samnites and
others. Appian, The Civil War, I (39).
5. The Tuscans, Umbrians, and Latins. This led some peoples to submit;
and, since they too were made citizens, still others
laid down their arms; and finally there remained only the Samnites, who
6. Just imagine this monstrous head of the peoples of Italy which, by
the suffrage of every man, directed the rest of the world.
7. See the Letters of Cicero to Atticus, IV, letter 18.
8. The canton of Bern.
THE CORRUPTION OF THE
I believe the sect of Epicurus,a which was introduced at Rome
toward the end of the republic, contributed much toward tainting the heart and
mind of the Romans.1 The Greeks had been infatuated with this sect
earlier and thus were corrupted sooner. Polybius tells us that in his time a
Greek's oaths inspired no confidence, whereas a Roman was, so to speak,
enchained by his.2
A fact mentioned in the letters of Cicero to Atticus3 shows
us the extent to which the Romans had changed in this regard since the time of
"Memmius," he says, "has just communicated to the senate the agreement
his competitor and he had made with the consuls, by which the latter had
pledged to favor them in their quest for the next year's consulate. And they,
on their part, promised to pay the consuls four hundred thousand
a Epicurus was a Greek philosopher (341-270 B.C.) who
elaborated the doctrine of hedonism in ethics as the proper complement of
atheistic atomism in physics. The greatest Roman author in this tradition was
Lucretius (99-55 B.C.).
sisterces if they furnished three auguries which would declare that they
were present when the people had made the law curiate,4
although they had not been, and two ex-consuls who would affirm that they had
assisted in signing the senatus consultum which regulated the condition
of their provinces, although they had not." How many dishonest men in a single
Aside from the fact that religion is always the best guarantee one can
have of the morals of men, it was a special trait of the Romans that they
mingled some religious sentiment with their love of country. This city, founded
under the best auspices; this Romulus, their king and their god; this Capitol,
eternal like the city, and this city, eternal like its founder — these, in
earlier times, had made an impression on the mind of the Romans which it would
have been desirable to preserve.
The greatness of the state caused the greatness of personal fortunes.
But since opulence consists in morals, not riches, the riches of the Romans,
which continued to have limits, produced a luxury and profusion which did
not.5 Those who had at first been corrupted by their riches were
later corrupted by their poverty. With possessions beyond the needs of private
life it was difficult to be a good citizen; with the desires and regrets of one
whose great fortune has been ruined, one was ready for every desperate attempt.
And, as Sallust says,6 a generation of men arose who could neither
have a patrimony nor endure others having any.
Yet, whatever the corruption of Rome, not every misfortune was
introduced there. For the strength of its institutions had been such that it
preserved its heroic valor and all of its application to war in the midst of
riches, indolence and sensual pleasures — which, I believe, has happened
to no other nation in the world.
Roman citizens regarded commerce 7 and the arts as the
occupations of slaves: 8 they did not practice them. If there
were any exceptions, it was only on the part of some freedmen who continued
their original work. But, in general, the Romans knew only the art of war,
which was the sole path to magistracies and honors.9 Thus, the
martial virtues remained after all the others were lost.
1. When Cineas discoursed of it at Pyrrhus' table, Fabricius wished that
Rome's enemies might all adopt the principles of such a sect. Plutarch, Life
of Pyrrhus (20).
2. "If you lend a Greek a talent and bind him by ten promises, ten
sureties, and as many witnesses, it is impossible for him to keep his word. But
among the Romans, whether in accounting for public or private funds, people are
trustworthy because of the oath they have taken. The fear of hell has therefore
been wisely established, and it is fought today without reason." Polybius, VI
3. IV, letter 18.
4. The law curiate conferred military power; and the senatus
consultum regulated the troops, money and officers that the governor was to
have. Now for all that to be done at their fancy, the consuls wanted to
fabricate a spurious law and a spurious senatus consultum.
5. The house Cornelia had bought for seventy-five thousand drachmas was
bought by Lucullus shortly afterwards for two million five hundred thousand.
Plutarch, Life of Marius (18).
6. Ut merito dicatur genitos esse, qui nec ipsi habere possent res
familiares, nec alios pati (So that it was rightly said of Rome that she
begot men who could neither keep property themselves nor suffer others to do
so). Fragment of Sallust's history, taken from St. Augustine's The City of
God, II, 18.
7. Romulus permitted free men only two kinds of occupation —
agriculture and war. Merchants, artisans, those who paid
rent for their house, and tavern-keepers were not numbered among the
citizens. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, II (28), IX (25).
8. Cicero gives the reasons for this in his Offices, I, 42.
9. It was necessary to have served ten years, between the ages of
sixteen and forty-seven. See Polybius, VI (19).
2. POMPEY AND CAESAR
I beg permission to avert my eyes from the horrors of the wars of Marius
and Sulla. Their appalling history is found in Appian. Over and above the
jealousy, ambition, and cruelty of the two leaders, every Roman was filled with
frenzy. New citizens and old no longer regarded each other as members of the
same republic,1 and they fought a war which — due to its
peculiar character — was civil and foreign at the same time.
Sulla enacted laws well-designed to remove the cause of the existing
disorders. They increased the authority of the senate, tempered the power of
the people, and regulated that of the tribunes. The whim that made him give up
the dictatorship seemed to restore life to the republic. But, in the frenzy of
his successes, he had done things that made it impossible for Rome to preserve
In his Asian expedition he ruined all military discipline. He accustomed
his army to rapine,2 and gave it needs it never had before. He
corrupted for the first time the soldiers who were later to corrupt their
He entered Rome arms in hand, and taught Roman generals to violate the
asylum of liberty.3
He gave the lands of citizens to the soldiers,4 and made them
forever greedy; from this moment onward, every warrior awaited an occasion that
could place in his hands the property of his fellow citizens.
He invented proscriptions, and put a price on the heads of those who
were not of his party. After that, it was impossible to adhere to the republic,
for with two ambitious men disputing for victory, those who were neutral and
partisans only of liberty were sure to be proscribed by whoever won. It was
therefore prudent to be an adherent of one or the other.
After him, Cicero tells us,5 came a mana who, in
an impious cause, and after a still more shameful victory, not only confiscated
the property of individuals but enveloped whole provinces in the same calamity.
In laying down the dictatorship, Sulla had appeared to want only to live
under the protection of his own laws. But this action, indicating so much
moderation, was itself a consequence of his acts of violence. He had set up
forty-seven legions in different places in Italy. "Regarding their fortunes as
attached to his life," says Appian, "these men watched over his safety and were
always ready to aid or avenge him."6
Since the republic necessarily had to perish, it was only a question of
how, and by whom, it was to be overthrown.
Two men of equal ambition — except that one did not know how to
gain his end as directly as the other — overshadowed all other citizens by
their repute, their exploits and their virtues. Pompey was first to appear;
Caesar came right after him.
To attract favor to himself, Pompey set aside the laws of Sulla limiting
the power of the people. When he had sacrificed the most salutary laws of his
country to his ambition,
a A man: Caesar.
he obtained all he wanted, and the temerity of the people in his behalf
knew no bounds.
The laws of Rome had wisely divided public power among a large number of
magistracies, which supported, checked and tempered each other. Since they all
had only limited power, every citizen was qualified for them, and the people
— seeing many persons pass before them one after the other — did not
grow accustomed to any in particular. But in these times the system of the
republic changed. Through the people the most powerful men gave themselves
extraordinary commissions — which destroyed the authority of the people
and magistrates, and placed all great matters in the hands of one man, or a
Was it necessary to make war on Sertorius? The commission was given to
Pompey. On Mithridates? Everyone cried Pompey. Did grain have to be brought to
Rome? The people thought themselves lost if Pompey was not appointed. Were the
pirates to be destroyed? Only Pompey could do it. And, when Caesar threatened
invasion, the senate cried out in its turn and placed its hopes in none but
"I really believe," said Marcus8 to the people "that Pompey
— whom the nobles await — will prefer to secure your liberty rather
than their domination. But there was a time when each of you had the protection
of many, and not all the protection of one, and when it was unheard of that one
mortal could give or take away such things."
Since Rome was made for expansion, honors and power had to be united in
the same persons, which in times of trouble could fix the admiration of the
people on a single citizen.
When one accords honors, one knows precisely what one gives; but when
power is joined to them, one cannot say how far it may be stretched.
Excessive preference given to a citizen in a republic always has
necessary effects. It either makes the people envious or increases their love
On two occasions Pompey returned to Rome with the power to crush it, but
had the moderation to discharge his armies before entering the city and to
appear as a simple citizen. These actions, which covered him with glory, had
the effect thereafter of causing the senate always to declare itself for him,
whatever he did to the prejudice of the laws.
Pompey had a slower and milder ambition than Caesar. The latter wanted
to ascend to sovereign power arms in hand, like Sulla. This way of oppressing
did not please Pompey. He aspired to the dictatorship, but through the votes of
the people. He could not consent to usurp power, but he would have wanted it
placed in his hands.
Since the favor of the people is never constant, there were times when
Pompey saw his prestige diminish.9 And he was really upset when men
he scorned increased their prestige and used it against him.
This made him do three equally fatal things. He corrupted the people
with money, and in elections put a price on the vote of every citizen.
In addition, he used the vilest mobs to disturb the magistrates in their
functions, hoping that sober men, tired of living in anarchy, would make him
dictator out of despair.
Finally, he joined forces with Caesar and Crassus. Cato said it was
their union, not their enmity, that destroyed the republic. Indeed, Rome was in
the unfortunate position of being less burdened by civil wars than by peace,
which united the views and interests of the leading men and brought nothing but
Pompey did not exactly lend his reputation to Caesar, but, without
knowing it, he sacrificed it to him. Soon Caesar employed against Pompey the
forces Pompey had given him, and even his artifices. He disturbed the city with
his emissaries, and gained control over the elections. Consuls, praetors, and
tribunes were bought at the price they themselves set.
The senate, which clearly saw Caesar's designs, had recourse to Pompey.
It begged him to undertake the defense of the republic — if this name
could be used for a government which implored protection from one of its
I believe that Pompey was ruined more than anything else by his shame at
thinking that he had lacked foresight in elevating Caesar as he did. He yielded
as slowly as possible to this idea. He did not prepare his defense so that he
would not have to admit he had placed himself in jeopardy. He maintained before
the senate that Caesar did not dare make war, and because he said it so often,
he always repeated it.
One circumstance seems to have given Caesar the opportunity to undertake
anything he wanted. Because of an unfortunate conformity of names, the
government of Gaul beyond the Alps had been joined to his government of
State policy had not permitted armies close to Rome, but neither had it
allowed Italy to be entirely emptied of troops. For this reason, considerable
forces were kept in Cisalpine Gaul — that is, in the region going from the
Rubicon, a small river in Romagna, to the Alps. But to secure the city of Rome
against these troops, the famous senatus consultum which can still be
seen engraved on the road from Rimini to Cesena was issued. It consigned to the
infernal gods, and declared guilty of sacrilege and parricide, anyone who
passed the Rubicon with a legion, an army or a cohort.
To so important a government another still more considerable was joined
— that of Transalpine Gaul, consisting of the regions of southern France.
This gave Caesar a chance to wage war for several years on all the peoples he
wanted. It made his soldiers grow older with him and enabled him to conquer
them no less than the barbarians. If Caesar had not had the government of
Transalpine Gaul, he would not have corrupted his soldiers, nor made his name
respected by so many victories. If he had not had that of Cisalpine Gaul,
Pompey could have stopped him at the Alpine pass. As it turned out,
Pompey had to abandon Italy at the outset of the war, thus losing for his party
the prestige which, in civil wars, is power itself.
The same fright that Hannibal awakened in Rome after the battle of
Cannae was spread by Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon. Pompey was distraught
and, in the early moments of the war, saw no alternative but the one resorted
to last in desperate situations. He could only yield and fly; he departed from
Rome, leaving the public treasury behind; nowhere could he delay the victor; he
abandoned part of his troops, all of Italy, and crossed the sea.
Much is said of Caesar's good fortune. But this extraordinary man had so
many great qualities, without a single defect — although he had many vices
— that it would have been very difficult for him not to have been
victorious, whatever army he commanded, and not to have governed any republic
in which he was born.
After defeating Pompey's lieutenants in Spain, Caesar went to Greece
seeking Pompey himself. Pompey, in possession of the sea coast and superior
forces, was on the verge of seeing Caesar's army perish from misery and famine.
But since his supreme weakness was wanting the approval of others, he could not
refrain from lending an ear to the vain talk of his men, who railed at him or
reproached him endlessly.10 "He wishes," said one, "to perpetuate
himself in command and be the king of kings, like Agamemnon." "I warn you,"
said another, "that we shall not eat the figs of Tusculum again this year."
Some particular successes he had finally turned the head of this senatorial
group. Thus, in order to escape censure, Pompey did something posterity will
always censure, and sacrificed so many advantages to engage in battle with new
troops against an army that had been victorious so often.
When the survivors of Pharsalus had withdrawn to Africa, Scipio, who
commanded them, was never willing to follow Cato's advice and protract the war.
Made overconfident by certain advantages, he risked all and lost all. And when
Brutus and Cassius reestablished this party, the same precipitation lost the
republic a third time.11
You will notice that during these civil wars, which lasted so long,
Rome's external power kept growing steadily. Under Marius, Sulla, Pompey,
Caesar, Anthony, and Augustus, Rome constantly became more terrifying and
completed the destruction of all the remaining kings.
No state threatens others with conquest like one in the throes of civil
war. Everyone — noble, burgher, artisan, farmer — becomes a soldier,
and when peace unites the opposing forces, this state has great advantages over
those with nothing but citizens. Besides, during civil wars great men are often
produced, because in the confusion those with merit come to the fore. Each man
finds his own place and rank, whereas at other times each is given his place,
and almost always wrongly. And, to go from the example of the Romans to others
that are more recent, the French were never more to be feared abroad than after
the quarrels of the houses of Burgundy and Orleans, after the commotions of the
League, and after the civil wars during the minorities of Louis XIII and Louis
XIV. England was never so respected as under Cromwell, after the wars of the
Long Parliament. The Germans acquired superiority over the Turks only after the
civil wars of Germany. The Spanish, under Philip V, immediately after the civil
wars for the succession, showed a strength in Sicily that amazed Europe. And
today we see Persia reborn from the ashes of civil war and humbling the Turks.
Finally, the republic was crushed. And we must not blame it on the
ambition of certain individuals; we must blame it on man — a being whose
greed for power keeps
increasing the more he has of it, and who desires all only because he
already possesses much.
If Caesar and Pompey had thought like Cato, others would have thought
like Caesar and Pompey; and the republic, destined to perish, would have been
dragged to the precipice by another hand.
Caesar pardoned everyone, but it seems to me that moderation shown after
usurping everything does not deserve great praise.
In spite of what has been said of Caesar's diligence after Pharsalus,
Cicero rightly charges him with procrastination. He tells Cassius that they
would never have believed Pompey's party would make such a comeback in Spain
and Africa, and that, if they could have foreseen Caesar would toy with his
Alexandrian war, they would not have made their peace and would have withdrawn
to Africa with Scipio and Cato.12 Thus, a mad love affair made
Caesar take on four wars, and, by not foreseeing the last two, he again put
into question what had been decided at Pharsalus.
At first Caesar governed under titles of magistracy — for men are
hardly moved by anything but names. And just as the peoples of Asia abhorred
the names of consul and proconsul, the peoples of Europe detested the name of
king — so that, in those days, these names made for the happiness or
despair of all the earth. Caesar did not refrain from trying to have the diadem
placed on his head, but, seeing the people stop its acclamations, he rejected
it. He made still other attempts;13 and I cannot comprehend how he
could believe that because the Romans endured him as a tyrant, they therefore
loved tyranny or believed they had done what they had.
One day when the senate was conferring certain honors upon him, he
neglected to rise; and it was then that the gravest members of this body lost
all remaining patience.
Men are never more offended than when their ceremonies and practices are
flouted. Seeking to oppress them is some-
times a proof of the esteem one has for them; flouting their customs is
always a mark of contempt.
At all times an enemy of the senate, Caesar could not conceal the scorn
he felt for that body, which had become almost ridiculous since its loss of
power. For this reason, his clemency itself was insulting. It was observed that
he did not pardon but rather disdained to punish.
He carried scorn to the point where he himself decreed senatus
consulta; he signed them with the names of the first senators who came to
mind. "I sometimes learn," says Cicero,14 "that a senatus
consultum, passed on my recommendation, has been carried into Syria and
Armenia before I knew a thing about it. And several princes have written me
letters of thanks for advising that they receive the title of king when I was
not only ignorant of their being kings but of their very existence."
From the letters of some great men of this time,15 attributed
to Cicero because most are by him, we can see the dejection and despair of the
foremost men of the republic at this sudden revolution depriving them of their
honors and even their occupations. When the senate no longer had a function,
the respect they had enjoyed everywhere on earth they could only hope to win in
the cabinet of one man. And this is much more obvious in these letters than in
the treatises of historians. They are the chef d'oeuvre of the naivete
of men united by a common affliction, and of an age when false politeness had
not spread lying everywhere. In short, we do not see in them men who wish to
deceive each other, as in most of our modern letters, but unhappy friends who
seek to tell each other everything.
It was quite difficult for Caesar to defend his life. Most of the
conspirators were of his own party, or had been heaped with benefits by
him.16 And the reason for this is quite natural: they had found
great advantages in his victory, but the more their fortune improved, the more
they began to par-
take of the common misfortune.17 For to a man who has nothing
it makes rather little difference, in certain respects, under what kind of
government he lives.
Moreover, there was a certain law of nations b — an
opinion held in all the republics of Greece and Italy — according to which
the assassin of someone who had usurped sovereign power was regarded as a
virtuous man. Especially in Rome, after the expulsion of the kings, the law was
precise, and its precedents established. The republic put arms in the hand of
every citizen, made him a magistrate for the moment, and recognized him as its
Brutus18 even dares tell his friends that if his own father
returned to earth, he would kill him just the same. And although the
continuation of the tyranny gradually brought about the disappearance of this
spirit of liberty, conspiracies were constantly reviving at the beginning of
It was an overpowering love of country which — taking leave of the
ordinary rules for crimes and virtues — hearkened
b The term law of nations referred either to primarily
unwritten rules of justice regulating the relations among nations (i.e.,
to international law, as at the beginning of chapter I above) or to laws
(written and unwritten) common to all or most nations, as in the present
instance. But Montesquieu applies it to a belief about tyrannicide confined to
the republics of Greece and Italy of that day. Compare Chapter XV, par. 4,
where it is used even more narrowly. See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Theologica, first part of the second part, Q 95, art. 4; Grotius Of the
Law of War and Peace, I, 1 (14); Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws,
c This sentence makes little obvious sense, because
Montesquieu has omitted the part where Brutus says that he would not concede
even to his own father (were he to return to earth) the things he would not
endure in Caesar. See Cicero's Letters edited by Shuckburgh (London,
1909), vol. 4, p. 245.
only to itself and saw neither citizen, friend, benefactor, nor father.
Virtue seemed to forget itself in order to surpass itself, and it made men
admire as divine an action that at first could not be approved because it was
Indeed, was it not impossible to punish the crime of Caesar, who lived
under a free government, in any other way than by assassination? And was not
asking why he had not been proceeded against by open force or by the laws the
same as asking that his crimes be punished?
1. So that he himself rather than Sulla would receive the commission for
the war against Mithridates, Marius, with the help of the tribune, Sulpicius,
had spread the eight new tribes of the peoples of Italy among the old tribes.
This gave the Italians control over the voting, and they, for the most part,
were in Marius' party, while the senate and the old citizens were in
2. See the portrait of this army given us by Sallust in The
Conspiracy of Catiline (11, 12).
3. Fugatis Marii copiis, primus urbem Romani cum armis ingressus est
(The troops of Marius having fled, he was the first to enter the city of
Rome with arms). Fragment of John of Antioch, in The Extract of Virtues and
4. In the beginning, part of the lands of the conquered enemy was indeed
distributed; but Sulla gave out the lands of citizens.
5. Offices, II, 8.
6. We can see what happened after Caesar's death.
7. Plebis opes imminutae, paucorum potentia crevit (The power of
the people was reduced, and the authority of the few increased). Sallust,
The Conspiracy of Catiline (39).
8. Fragment of Sallust's History.
9. See Plutarch.
10. See Plutarch, Life of Pompey.
11. This is well explained in Appian, The Civil War, IV (108
12. Letters to His Friends, XV (letter 15).
13. He dismissed the tribunes of the people.
14. Letters to His Friends, IX (letter 15).
15. See the letters of Cicero and Servius Sulpicius.
16. Decimus Brutus, Caius Casca, Trebonius, Tullius Cimber, and Minutius
Basillus were friends of Caesar. Appian, The Civil War, II (113).
17. I do not speak of a tyrant's satellites, who would share his ruin,
but of his companions in a free government.
18. Letters of Brutus, in the collection of those of Cicero (I,
THE CONDITION OF ROME
AFTER CAESAR'S DEATH
So impossible was it for the republic to be reestablished that something
entirely unprecedented happened: the tyrant was no more, but there was no
liberty either. For the causes that had destroyed the republic still
The conspirators had only made plans for the conspiracy, not for
following it up.
After the deed was done, they withdrew to the Capitol. The senate did
not meet, and the next day, Lepidus, who was looking for trouble, seized the
Roman forum with armed men.
The veteran soldiers, who feared the immense gifts they had received
would not be repeated, entered Rome. This made the senate give approval to all
Caesar's acts, and, for the purpose of conciliating the extremes, grant an
amnesty to the conspirators — which produced a counterfeit peace.
Before his death, in preparation for his expedition against the
Parthians, Caesar had appointed magistrates for several years, so that his own
men might maintain the tranquillity of his government while he was gone. Thus,
after his death, his partisans enjoyed resources for a long time.
Since the senate had approved all Caesar's acts without
restriction, and since their execution was delegated to the consuls,
Antony, who was a consul, seized his ledgers, won over his secretary, and had
inscribed in the ledgers whatever he wanted. In this way the dictator reigned
more imperiously than during his lifetime, for Antony did what Caesar would
never have done. The money he would never have distributed was distributed by
Antony, and every man who bore a grudge against the republic suddenly found a
reward in Caesar's ledgers.
As a further misfortune, Caesar had amassed immense sums for his
expedition and stored them in the temple of Ops. Antony, with his ledger,
disposed of them as he wished.
The conspirators had resolved to throw Caesar's body into the
Tiber.1 They would have met with no obstacle, for in the moments of
shock which follow an unexpected action, it is easy to do whatever one dares.
But it was not done,a and this is what happened.
The senate thought itself obliged to permit Caesar's obsequies, and
indeed, since it had not declared him a tyrant, it could not refuse him burial.
Now it was a Roman custom, highly praised by Polybius,b to carry
images of their ancestors in funerals and then deliver a funeral oration for
the deceased. Antony, as the orator, showed the people Caesar's bloody robe,
read them his will, in which he bestowed great bounties upon them, and stirred
them to such a pitch that they set fire to the conspirators' houses.
We have an admission from Cicero, who governed the senate during the
whole affair,2 that it would have been better to act with vigor and
risk death, and that no one would have died either. But he exculpates himself
by claiming that by
a At this point the Pléiade edition includes a
footnote, considered as Montesquieu's own, to Suetonius, Julius, 82.
b See Polybius, VI, 53.
the time the senate was assembled, it was too late. And anyone who knows
the importance of a moment in affairs in which the people have so large a part
will not be surprised at this.
And another accident was involved. While games were in progress honoring
Caesar, a comet with a long tail appeared for seven days. The people believed
his soul had been admitted into heaven.
It was indeed customary among the peoples of Greece and Asia to build
temples to the kings and even the proconsuls who had governed them.3
They were permitted to do these things as the strongest evidence they could
give of their servitude. Even the Romans could accord divine honors to their
ancestors in their lararia or private temples.c But I do not see
that any Roman, from Romulus to Caesar, had been numbered among the public
The government of Macedonia had fallen to Antony; he wanted that of the
Gauls instead, and it is easy to see why. Decimus Brutus had Cisalpine Gaul and
Antony wanted to drive him out because he refused to turn it over to him. This
produced a civil war, in which the senate declared Antony an enemy of his
Cicero had made the mistake of working to elevate Octavius in order to
ruin Anthony, his personal enemy. And instead of trying to make the people
forget Caesar, he had put Caesar back before their eyes.
Octavius conducted himself adroitly with Cicero. He flattered him,
praised him, consulted him, and employed all the artifices of which vanity is
Almost all ventures are spoiled by the fact that those who undertake
them usually seek — in addition to the main objec-
c Lararium: a private chapel in which the lares, or tutelary
gods, were placed.
tive — certain small, personal successes which flatter their
self-loved and give them self-satisfaction.
I believe that if Cato had preserved himself for the republic, he would
have given a completely different turn to events. Cicero's talents admirably
suited him for a secondary role, but he was not fit for the main one. His
genius was superb, but his soul was often common. With Cicero, virtue was the
accessory, with Cato, glory.5 Cicero always thought of himself
first, Cato always forgot about himself. The latter wanted to save the republic
for its own sake, the former in order to boast of it.
I could continue the comparison by saying that when Cato foresaw, Cicero
feared, that where Cato hoped, Cicero was confident, that the former always saw
things dispassionately, the latter through a hundred petty passions.
Antony was defeated at Mutina, but the two consuls, Hirtius and Pansa,
lost their lives there. The senate, believing it had things under control,
considered reducing Octavius, who, for his part, stopped working against
Antony, led his army to Rome, and had himself declared consul.
This is how Cicero, who boasted that his robe had destroyed Antony's
armies, presented the republic with an enemy even more dangerous because his
name was more beloved and his rights, in appearance, more
After his defeat, Antony took refuge in Transalpine Gaul, where he was
received by Lepidus. These two men united with Octavius, and they traded off to
each other the lives of their friends and enemies.7 Lepidus remained
in Rome. The
d Unlike Rousseau, Montesquieu does not carefully distinguish
between amour-propre (normally "pride" or "vanity" but, in the context,
better translated as "self-love") and amour de soi ("love of oneself").
Here, amour-propre is used as if it were synonymous with the word
vanité ("vanity") in the preceding sentence; but in the last
paragraph of this chapter it signifies a more general
other two went looking for Brutus and Cassius, and they found them in
those places where mastery of the world was contested three times over.
Brutus and Cassius killed themselves with inexcusable precipitation, and
we cannot read this chapter in their lives without pitying the republic which
was thus abandoned. Cato had killed himself at the end of the tragedy; these
began it, in a sense, by their death.
Several reasons can be given for this practice of committing suicide
that was so common among the Romans: the advances of the Stoic sect, which
encouraged it; the establishment of triumphs and slavery, which made many great
men think they must not survive a defeat; the advantage those accused of some
crime gained by bringing death upon themselves, rather than submitting to a
judgment whereby their memory would be tarnished and their property
confiscated;8 a kind of point of honor, more reasonable, perhaps,
than that which today leads us to slaughter our friend for a gesture or word;
finally, a great opportunity for heroism, each man putting an end to the part
he played in the world wherever he wished.
We could add to these a great facility in executing the deed. When the
soul is completely occupied with the action it is about to perform, with the
motive determining it, with the peril it is going to avoid, it does not really
see death, for passion makes us feel but never see.
Self-love, the love of our own preservation, is transformed in so many
ways, and acts by such contrary principles, that it leads us to sacrifice our
being for the love of our being. And such is the value we set on ourselves that
and fundamental element of man's nature best described as self-love, of
which vanity is but one derivative. It is this latter use that Rousseau chose
to distinguish by the name amour de soi, or "love of oneself." See
Rousseau's First and Second Discourses, edited by Roger Masters (New
York, 1964), pp. 130, 221-2, 236.
to cease living because of a natural and obscure instinct that makes us
love ourselves more than our very life.e
1. This would not have been without precedent. After Tiberius Gracchus
had been killed, Lucretius, an aedile, who thereafter was called Vespillo,
threw his body into the Tiber. Aurelius Victor, Illustrious Men of Rome
2. Letters to Atticus, XIV, letter 16.
3. See the Letters of Cicero to Atticus, V (21), on this point,
and the remark of the Abbé de Montgault.
4. Dio says that the triumvirs, who all hoped to take Caesar's place
some day, did everything they could to increase the honors accorded him. XLVII
5. Esse quam videri bonus malebat; itaque quominus gloriam petebat,
eo magis illam assequebatur (He preferred to be rather than to appear
virtuous; and thus, the less he sought glory, the more it pursued him).
Sallust, The Conspiracy of Cataline (54).
6. He was Caesar's heir and his son by adoption.
7. Their cruelty was so irrational that they ordered everyone to rejoice
in the proscriptions, on pain of death. See Dio (XLVII, 14).
8. Eorum qui de se statuebant humabantur corpora, manebant
testamenta, pretium festinandi (Those who passed sentence on themselves
were rewarded for their dispatch by being allowed burial and having their wills
respected). Tacitus, Annals, VI (29).
e The following passage appeared in the original edition of
1734 but was dropped from the edition of 1748, presumably by Montesquieu
himself, only to reappear in the collected works of 1758 recently reprinted by
Nagel. It reads: "It is certain that men have become less free, less
courageous, less disposed to great enterprises than they were when, by means of
this power which one assumed, one could at any moment escape from every other
Sextus Pompey held Sicily and Sardinia. He was master of the sea, and
had with him countless fugitives and exiles who were fighting with their last
remaining hopes at stake. Octavius waged two quite laborious wars against him,
and, after many failures, vanquished him through the skill of Agrippa.
The lives of the conspirators had almost all come to an unhappy
end.1 And it was quite natural that men at the head of a party which
was beaten so many times, in wars where no quarter was given, should have died
violent deaths. People drew the conclusion, however, that a heavenly vengeance
was punishing Caesar's murderers and condemning their cause.
Octavius won over Lepidus' soldiers and stripped him of the power of the
triumvirate. He even begrudged him the consolation of leading an obscure life,
and forced him to be present, as a private individual, in the popular
It is satisfying to see this Lepidus humiliated. He was the most wicked
citizen in the republic — always the first to begin disturbances,
constantly forming evil projects in which he was forced to associate with
cleverer men than himself. A modern author has amused himself by eulogizing
him,2 and cites Antony, who, in one of his letters, calls him a
gentleman. But a gentleman for Antony ought hardly to be one for others.
I believe Octavius to be the only one of all the Roman
captains who won his soldiers' affection even while repeatedly giving
them signs of his natural cowardice. In those days the soldiers valued the
liberality of a general more than his courage. Perhaps it was even lucky for
him not to have had the valor that can win dominion, and perhaps this itself
helped him win it, since people feared him less. It is not impossible that the
things which dishonored him most were those that served him best. If from the
first he had displayed a great soul, everyone would have distrusted him. And if
he had been bold he would not have given Antony the time to engage in all the
extravagances that caused his downfall.
Preparing himself against Octavius, Antony swore to his soldiers that he
would reestablish the republic two months after his victory. This shows that
even the soldiers were anxious for the liberty of their country, although they
continually destroyed it — there being nothing so blind as an army.
The battle of Actium took place; Cleopatra fled, carrying Antony away
with her. It is certain that she betrayed him afterwards.3 Perhaps,
with a woman's unbelievable spirit of coquetry, she had formed the design of
bringing to her feet still a third master of the world.
A woman for whom Antony had sacrificed the whole world betrayed him. So
many captains and kings whose power he had extended or established failed him.
And, as if generosity had been linked to servitude, a troop of gladiators
maintained an heroic fidelity to him. Cover a man with benefits and the first
idea you inspire in him is to seek the means of preserving them; they are so
many new interests you give him to defend.
A surprising feature of these wars is that a single battle almost always
decided the matter, and a single defeat was irreparable.
Roman soldiers did not really have party spirit. They did not fight for
a certain thing, but for a certain person; they knew only their leader, who
bound them to him by immense
hopes. But since a defeated leader was no longer in a position to
fulfill his promises, they turned to someone else. The provinces did not enter
into the quarrel with any greater interest because it was of little importance
to them whether the senate or the people had the upper hand. Thus, no sooner
was one of the leaders defeated than they gave themselves to the
other;4 for each city had to think of justifying itself to the
victor, who had immense promises to keep to his soldiers and had to sacrifice
to them the most culpable communities.
In France we have had two sorts of civil wars. Some had religion as a
pretext, and they endured because their motive continued after victory. The
others did not really have any motive, but were instigated by the levity or
ambition of some powerful men, and were stifled at once.
Augustus (this is the name flattery gave Octavius) established order
— that is, a durable servitude. For in a free state in which sovereignty
has just been usurped, whatever can establish the unlimited authority of one
man is called good order, and whatever can maintain the honest liberty of the
subjects is called commotion, dissension, or bad government.
All the men with ambitious projects had labored to inject a kind of
anarchy into the republic. Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar succeeded marvelously at
this. They established an impunity for all public crimes; they abolished
whatever could stop the corruption of morals or make for effective public
order.a And as good legislators attempt to make their citizens
better, so these labored to make them worse. They therefore introduced the
practice of corrupting the people with money; and if someone was accused of
intrigues, he also corrupted the judges. They disturbed elections with all
kinds of violence; and if someone was brought to justice, he intimidated the
judges as well.5 The very authority of the people was destroyed
— witness Gabinius, who after reestablishing Ptol-
a Public order: police; see above, Chapter V, footnote
emy b by armed might in spite of the people, coldly came to
claim a triumph.6
These foremost men of the republic sought to make the people weary of
their own power and to become necessary by exacerbating the inconveniences of
republican government. But once Augustus was master, policy required his
working to reestablish order so that everyone would experience the blessings of
When Augustus was armed for war, he feared the revolts of soldiers and
not the conspiracies of citizens; that is why he treated the soldiers with care
and was so cruel to others. When he was at peace, he feared conspiracies; and
always having Caesar's destiny before his eyes, he meant to follow a different
line of conduct in order to avoid the same fate. This is the key to Augustus'
whole life. He wore a breastplate under his robe in the senate; he refused the
title of dictator. Whereas Caesar insolently stated that the republic was
nothing and that his own word was law, Augustus spoke only of the senate's
dignity and of his respect for the republic. His intention, therefore, was to
establish that government which was most capable of pleasing without damaging
his interests; and he made it aristocratic with respect to civil affairs, and
monarchical with respect to military affairs. But since it was not supported by
its own strength, this ambiguous government could subsist only so long as it
pleased the monarch, and consequently was entirely monarchical.
The question has been asked whether Augustus really had planned to
resign his power. But who does not see that if he wanted to it was impossible
for him not to succeed? The fact that every ten years he asked to be relieved
b Gabinius had remained governor of Syria even after the
senate ordered his return to Rome, and he violated the Roman law against making
war outside of his own province when he fought Ptolemy's rebellious subjects in
Egypt (c. 56 B.C.).
burden and yet kept carrying it proves that he was only acting. These
were little artifices for the purpose of being granted again what he did not
think he had sufficiently acquired. I am being guided by Augustus' whole life;
and, although men are extremely queer, it very rarely happens that they
renounce in a moment what they have sought throughout their life. All Augustus'
actions, all his regulations, tended visibly toward the establishment of
monarchy. Sulla relinquished the dictatorship; but in Sulla's whole life, even
in the midst of his acts of violence, a republican spirit was revealed. All his
regulations, although tyrannically executed, always tended toward a certain
form of republic. Sulla, a man of passion, violently led the Romans to liberty;
Augustus, a scheming tyrant,7 conducted them gently to servitude.
Under Sulla, while the republic regained its strength, everyone cried out
against the tyranny; and while tyranny fortified itself under Augustus, people
spoke of nothing but liberty.
The custom of triumphs, which had contributed so much to Rome's
greatness, disappeared under Augustus; or, rather, this honor became a
privilege of sovereignty.8 Most of the things that happened under
the emperors had their origin in the republic,9 and it is necessary
to make comparisons. Only the man under whose auspices a war was undertaken
10 had the right to claim a triumph; but war was always undertaken
under the auspices of the supreme commander and thus of the emperor, who was
the supreme commander of all the armies.
In the days of the republic, the principle was to make war continually;
under the emperors, the maxim was to maintain peace. Victories were regarded as
occasions for worry, involving armies that could set too high a price on their
Those in positions of command feared undertaking things that were too
great. One's glory had to be kept moderate in order to arouse the attention but
not the jealousy of the
prince and to refrain from appearing before him with a brilliance his
eyes could not tolerate.
Augustus was quite cautious in granting the right of Roman citizenship;
11 he made laws 12 to prevent the excessive manumission
of slaves.13 In his will he recommended that these two policies be
adhered to, and that no attempt be made to extend the empire by new wars.
These three things were clearly linked together: once there were no more
wars, new citizens and manumissions were no longer necessary.
When Rome was continually engaged in war, it had to replenish its
inhabitants continually. In the beginning, a segment of the people of each
conquered city was led to Rome. Later, many citizens of neighboring cities came
there to share in the right of voting, and they established themselves in such
large numbers that, on the complaints of the allies, Rome was often forced to
send them back. Finally, crowds came flocking in from the provinces. In
addition, the laws favored marriages, and even required them.c In
all its wars, Rome also took a prodigious number of slaves, and when its
citizens were loaded with wealth, they bought slaves everywhere. But
slaveowners were moved by generosity, avarice and weakness of character to free
countless numbers of them,14 some wanting to recompense faithful
slaves, others to receive, in their name, the grain the republic distributed to
poor citizens, and still others, finally, to have in their funeral procession
many attendants crowned with flowers. Almost all of the people were
freedmen,15 so that these masters of the world not only in the
beginning but in every age were mainly of servile origin.
Since the number of common people — almost all freed-
c This was done by the action of censors (in 403 and 151
B.C.) against bachelors, and under Augustus by the law Papia Poppaea.
men or sons of freedmen — had become inconvenient, they were formed
into colonies and in this way helped assure the loyalty of the provinces. This
made for a circulation of the men of all nations: Rome received them as slaves
and sent them out as Romans.
On the pretext of some rioting at elections, Augustus placed a governor
and garrison in the city. He made the legions permanent, stationed them along
the frontiers, and established special funds to pay them. Finally, he decreed
that veterans should receive compensation in money, not lands.16
Many bad effects resulted from the distribution of lands carried on
since Sulla's time. The ownership of property by citizens was rendered
insecure. If the soldiers of a cohort were not located in the same place, they
wearied of their situation, left the lands uncultivated, and became dangerous
citizens.17 But if the lands were distributed by legions, ambitious
men could raise armies against the republic at a moment's notice.
Augustus made fixed provisions for the navy. Just as, before him, the
Romans had lacked permanent land forces, so too had they lacked permanent sea
forces. The main purpose of Augustus' fleets was to provide for the security of
convoys and the communication of the various parts of the empire with each
other. For otherwise the Romans were masters of the whole Mediterranean, which
was the only sea navigated in those times, and they had no enemy to fear.
Dio quite aptly remarks d that under the emperors it was more
difficult to write history. Everything became secret. All dispatches from the
provinces were carried into the emperors' cabinet. Nothing more was known than
what the folly and boldness of tyrants did not wish to conceal, or what
d (Dio, LIII, 19.)
1. In our day, almost all those who condemned Charles I came to a tragic
end. This is because such actions can scarcely be performed without making
mortal enemies on all sides and thus without risking endless danger.
2. The Abbé de Saint-Real.
3. See Dio, LI (9).
4. There were no garrisons in the cities to restrain them, and the
Romans had not needed to secure their empire by anything but armies or
5. This is quite obvious in the Letters of Cicero to Atticus.
6. Caesar made war on the Gauls, and Crassus on the Parthians, without
any deliberation by the senate or decree by the people. See Dio (XXXVIII, 31;
7. I use this word here as it was used by the Greeks and Romans, who
gave the name to everyone who had overthrown a democracy.
8. Only the triumphal ornaments were now given to individuals. Dio,
Augustus (LIV, 24).
9. Since the Romans had changed their government without being invaded,
their customs remained the same, and even the form of their government remained
much the same.
10. Dio, Augustus, LIV (11, 24), says that Agrippa's modesty kept
him from giving the senate an account of his expedition against the peoples of
the Bosporus, that he even refused a triumph, and that no general triumphed
thereafter. But this was a favor Augustus wanted to grant Agrippa and which
Antony did not grant Ventidius the first time he conquered the Parthians.
11. Suetonius, Augustus (40).
12. Ibid. See the Institutes, I (5, 6).
13. Dio, Augustus (LV, 13).
14. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, IV (28).
15. See Tacitus, Annals, XIII (27): Late fusum id corpus,
etc. (The freedmen were a large and extensive body.)
16. He determined that the praetorian soldiers would receive five
thousand drachmas: two thousand after sixteen years of service, and the other
three after twenty years of service. Dio, Augustus (LV, 23).
17. See Tacitus, Annals, XIV (27), regarding the soldiers taken
to Tarentum and Antium.
CHAPTER XIV TIBERIUS
As a river slowly and silently undermines the dikes erected against it
and finally overthrows them in a moment, flooding the countryside they
protected, so in the same way the sovereign power that acted insensibly under
Augustus overthrew things violently under Tiberius.
There was a law of majesty a against those who
committed some crime against the Roman people. Tiberius seized upon this law
and applied it, not to the cases for which it had been made, but to anything
that could serve his hatred or suspicion. Not only did actions fall within the
scope of this law, but words, signs and even thoughts — for what is said
in those outpourings of the heart occasioned by the conversation of two friends
can only be regarded as thoughts. Consequently, there no longer was any liberty
at banquets, any confidence among kindred, any fidelity in slaves. With the
dissimulation and melancholy of the prince spreading everywhere, friendship was
regarded as a danger, frankness as impudence, virtue as an affectation that
could recall the happiness of earlier times to the mind of the peoples.
a This was an old law of the republic directed against
military treason, sedition, bad administration and all things involving injury
to the majesty of the Roman people. The crime of lese-majesty, after
Tiberius, involved accusations of treason against the emperor.
No tyranny is more cruel than the one practiced in the shadow of the
laws and under color of justice — when, so to speak, one proceeds to drown
the unfortunate on the very plank by which they had saved themselves.
And since a tyrant never lacks instruments for his tyranny, Tiberius
always found judges ready to condemn as many people as he might suspect. In the
days of the republic, the senate, which as a body did not judge the cases of
individuals, was informed by a delegation of the people of the crimes imputed
to allies. In the same way Tiberius referred to it the judgment of everything
he called a crime of lese-majesty against himself. This body fell into a
state of unspeakable baseness. The senators actually sought servitude, and
under the patronage of Sejanus, the most illustrious among them practiced the
trade of informer.
It seems to me that I see several reasons for the spirit of servitude
which then reigned in the senate. After Caesar had vanquished the party of the
republic, both his friends and his enemies in the senate agreed to remove all
the limits the laws had set to his power and to confer excessive honors upon
him. The former sought to please him, the latter to make him odious. Dio tells
us b that some went so far as to propose that he be permitted to
enjoy all the women he pleased. This was the cause of his not distrusting the
senate, and brought about his assassination. But it was also the reason, in the
following reigns, why there was no act of flattery lacking a precedent or
capable of revolting the mind.
Before Rome was governed by one man, the riches of the leading Romans
were immense, whatever the means employed to acquire them. Almost all these
riches were taken away under the emperors. The senators no longer had great
clients who heaped wealth upon them, and in the provinces little could be taken
except for Caesar, especially once his
b (Dio, XLIV, 7.)
procurators, who were almost like our intendants today, were established
there. But even though the source of riches was cut off, expenses remained
constant; the course of life was set, and only the emperor's favor could now
Augustus had taken the power of making laws and judging public crimes
away from the people, but he had left them, or at least had seemed to leave
them, the power of electing the magistrates. Tiberius, who feared the
assemblies of so numerous a people, took away even this privilege and gave it
to the senate — that is, to himself.1 Now it is hardly credible
to what extent this decline of the people's power debased the souls of the
great. When the people disposed of dignities, the magistrates who solicited
them did many base things. But these were joined to, and hidden by, a certain
magnificence displayed in the games or meals they gave the people, or the money
or grain they distributed. Although the motive was base, the means had
something noble about them because it is always fitting for a great man to
obtain the favor of the people by his liberality. But when the people no longer
had anything to give, and the prince, in the name of the senate, disposed of
all offices, the latter were sought and obtained by contemptible means.
Flattery, infamy, and crime were the arts necessary for success.
It does not appear, however, that Tiberius wanted to degrade the senate.
He complained of nothing so much as the inclination of this body to servitude;
all his life he expressed disgust with it. But like most men he wanted
contradictory things; his general policy was not in accord with his personal
passions. He would have desired a senate that was free and capable of winning
respect for his government, but he also wanted a senate which at every moment
satisfied his fears, jealousies, and hatreds. In short, the statesman yielded
continually to the man.
We have said that the people had formerly gotten the patricians to
concede them plebeian magistrates who would
defend them against the insults and injustices they might receive. In
order that these magistrates might be in a position to exercise this power,
they were declared sacred and inviolable, and it was decreed that whoever
mistreated a tribune by deed or word would immediately be punished by death.
Now once the emperors were vested with the power of the tribunes, they obtained
their privileges. And it is on this basis that so many men were put to death,
that informers could ply their trade with complete ease, and that the charge of
lese-majesty — the crime of those to whom no crime can be imputed, as
Pliny saysc — was extended to cover whatever
I believe, however, that some of these grounds of accusation were not as
ridiculous as they appear to us today. I cannot think that Tiberius would have
indicted a man for having sold a statue of the emperor with his house, that
Domitian would have condemned a woman to death for having disrobed before his
image, and a citizen because he had a picture of the whole earth painted on the
walls of his room, if these actions had only aroused in the mind of the Romans
the idea they convey to us at present. I believe this is partly explained by
Rome's having changed government, so that what does not appear to us to be of
any consequence may have been so then. I judge by what we see today in a nation
that cannot be suspected of tyranny, where it is forbidden to drink to the
health of a certain person.d
I cannot overlook anything that serves to reveal the genius of the Roman
people. So thoroughly accustomed were they to obeying and to making their
happiness depend completely on the difference between one master and another,
that after the death of Germanicus they gave evidence of mourning,
c Pliny the Younger, Panegyric, XLII). one wished.
d This is an allusion to the prohibition in England after
1688 against drinking to the health of the Stuart pretenders.
regret, and despair such as could never be found among us. It is
necessary to see how the historians describe so great, so long, and so
immoderate a public desolation.2 Nor was it feigned, for the whole
body of the people does not pretend, flatter or dissimulate.
Since the Roman people no longer took part in the government, and were
almost all freedmen, or men without an occupation who lived at the expense of
the public treasury, they were conscious of nothing but their impotence. They
grieved like children and women, who are distressed by their feeling of
weakness. They were ill. They set their fears and hopes on the person of
Germanicus, and when this was snatched from them they fell into despair.
No people fear unhappiness so much as those who ought to be reassured by
the wretchedness of their condition, and who should say, with
Andromachee: May God let me fear! In Naples today there are
fifty thousand men who live on herbs alone, and have as their sole possession
only half a cotton garment. These people, the most unhappy on earth, fall into
frightful despondency at the slightest smoke from Vesuvius. They are foolish
enough to fear becoming unhappy.
1. Tacitus, Annals, I (15); Dio, LIV (6).
2. See Tacitus (Annals, II, 82).
e See Seneca's Troades, Act III, 630 ff.
THE EMPERORS FROM GAIUS CALIGULA TO ANTONINUS
Caligula succeeded Tiberius. It was said of him that there had never
been a better slave, nor a more wicked master. These two things are closely
connected, for the same turn of mind causing a man to be strongly impressed by
the unlimited power of the person in command, causes him to be no less
impressed when he is in command himself.
Caligula reestablished the comitia1 which Tiberius had done
away with and abolished the arbitrary crime of lese-majesty which he had
established. From this we may judge that the beginning of the reign of bad
princes is often like the end of the reign of good ones. What good princes do
from virtue, bad ones can do from a desire to run counter to the conduct of
their predecessor. And to this spirit of contrariety we owe many good
regulations, and many bad ones as well.
What was gained thereby? Caligula did away with accusations for crimes
of lese-majesty, but he used his military powers to put to death all those who
displeased him. And he was not ill-disposed toward just a few senators; he held
a sword suspended over the whole senate, which he threatened with complete
This frightful tyranny of the emperors derived from the
general spirit of the Romans. Since the Romans fell under an arbitrary
government suddenly, with almost no interval between their commanding and their
serving, they were not at all prepared for the change by a moderation of their
manners. Their fierce humor remained; the citizens were treated as they
themselves had treated conquered enemies, and were governed according to the
same plan. The Sulla who entered Rome was no different from the Sulla who
entered Athens: he applied the same law of nations. As for states that have
been brought under subjection only by imperceptible degrees, when the laws fail
them they are still governed by their manners.
The constant sight of gladiators in combat made the Romans extremely
fierce. It was observed that Claudius became more inclined to shed blood by
seeing spectacles of this kind. The example of this emperor, who was of a
gentle nature yet committed so many cruelties, makes it obvious that the
education of his time was different from ours.
Since the Romans were accustomed to making sport of human nature in the
person of their children and their slaves,2 they could scarcely know
the virtue we call humanity. Can the ferocity we find in the inhabitants of our
colonies come from anything but the punishments constantly inflicted on this
unhappy portion of the human race? When we are cruel in the civil
state,a what can we expect from natural gentleness and justice?
It is wearying, in the history of the emperors, to see the infinite
number of men they put to death for the purpose of confiscating their wealth.
We find nothing similar in our modern histories. This, as we have just said,
must be attrib-
a The term "civil state" means civil or political society as
distinguished from man's natural condition or the "state of nature." The
distinction is adopted from Hobbes and Locke: see Montesquieu's The Spirit
of the Laws, I, 2, 3.
uted to gentler manners, and to a more repressive religion. Moreover, we
do not have for despoiling the families of senators who had ravaged the world.
The advantages we draw from the moderate size of our fortunes is that they are
more secure: it is not worth anyone's trouble to plunder our
The people of Rome, who were called plebs, did not hate the worst
emperors. After they had lost their power, and were no longer occupied with
war, they had become the vilest of all peoples. They regarded commerce and the
arts as things fit for slaves, and the distributions of grain that they
received made them neglect the land. They had been accustomed to games and
spectacles. When they no longer had tribunes to listen to or magistrates to
elect, these useless things became necessities, and idleness increased their
taste for them. Thus Caligula, Nero, Commodus, and Caracalla were lamented by
the people because of their very madness, for they wildly loved what the people
loved, and contributed with all their power and even their persons to the
people's pleasures. For them these rulers were prodigal of all the riches of
the empire, and when these were exhausted, the people — looking on
untroubled while all the great families were being despoiled — enjoyed the
fruits of the tyranny. And their joy was pure, for they found security in their
own baseness. Such princes naturally hated good men: they knew they were not
approved of by them.4 Indignant at meeting contradiction or silence
from an austere citizen, intoxicated by the plaudits of the populace, they
succeeded in imagining that their government produced public felicity, and that
only ill-intentioned men could censure it.
Caligula was a true sophist in his cruelty. Since he was descended from
both Antony and Augustus, he said he would punish the consuls both if they
celebrated the day of rejoicing established in memory of the victory of Actium,
and if they did not celebrate it. And when Drusilla, to whom he accorded
divine honors, died, it was both a crime to mourn her, because she was a
goddess, and not to mourn her, because she was his sister.
This is the place to set before ourselves the spectacle of things human.
How many wars do we see undertaken in the history of Rome, how much blood shed,
how many peoples destroyed, how many great actions, how many triumphs, how much
statecraft, how much sobriety, prudence, constancy, and courage! But how did
this project for invading all nations end — a project so well planned,
carried out and completed — except by satiating the happiness of five or
six monsters? What! This senate had brought about the extinction of so many
kings only to fall into the meanest enslavement to some of its most
contemptible citizens, and to exterminate itself by its own decrees! We build
up our power only to see it the better overturned! Men labor to increase their
power only to see it fall into more fortunate hands and turned against
After Caligula had been killed, the senate assembled to establish a form
of government. While it was deliberating, some soldiers entered the palace to
pillage it. In an obscure place they found a man trembling with fear. It was
Claudius: they acclaimed him emperor.
Claudius completed the ruin of the old orders by giving his officers the
right to dispense justice.5 The wars of Marius and Sulla were
principally waged to determine just who would have this right, the senators or
the knights.6 An imbecile's fancy took it away from both —
strange outcome of a dispute that had set the whole world aflame!
No authority is more absolute than that of a prince who succeeds a
republic, for he finds himself with all the power of the people, who had not
been able to impose limitations on themselves. Thus we see the kings of Denmark
today exercising the most arbitrary power in Europe.
The people were no less debased than the senate and
knights. We have seen that, until the time of the emperors, they had
been so warlike that the armies raised in the city were disciplined on the spot
and went straight to the enemy. In the civil wars of Vitellius and Vespasian,
Rome became a prey to every ambitious man, and, full of timid bourgeois,
trembled before the first band of soldiers to approach it.
The condition of the emperors was no better. Since the right or the
daring to elect an emperor was not confined to a single army, it was enough for
someone to be elected by one army for him to be displeasing to the others, who
at once named a competitor.
Thus, just as the greatness of the republic was fatal to its republican
government, so the greatness of the empire was fatal to the lives of the
emperors. If they had had a country of only moderate size to defend, they would
have had only one main army, which, having once elected them, would have
respected its own handiwork.
The soldiers had been attached to the family of Caesar, who was the
guarantee of all the advantages the revolution had procured for them. The time
came when the great families of Rome were all exterminated by Caesar's family,
and when, in the person of Nero, it too perished. The civil power, which had
been steadily beaten down, was in no position to counterbalance the military;
each army wanted to create an emperor.
At this point let us compare different periods. When Tiberius began to
reign, he made most advantageous use of the senate.7 He learned that
the Roman armies in Illyria and Germany had revolted. He granted some of their
demands, maintained that it was for the senate to judge the others,8
and sent them deputies from this body. Those who no longer fear power can still
respect authority. When the rebellious soldiers were shown that, within a Roman
army, the lives of the emperor's children and the senate's envoys were in
danger,9 they were capable of repenting and went so far as to punish
themselves.10 But when the senate was completely
downtrodden, its example moved no one. Otho harangued his soldiers in
vain to tell them of the senate's dignity; 11 in vain did Vitellius
send the principal senators to make peace with Vespasian for him.12
The respect which has been taken away from the orders of the state for so long
cannot be restored at a moment's notice. The armies only regarded these
deputies as the most cowardly slaves of a master they had already condemned.
It was an old custom of the Romans that whoever enjoyed a triumph
distributed a few denariib to each soldier; it was very
little.13 In the civil wars these gifts were increased.14
Formerly they consisted of money taken from the enemy; in these unhappy
times it was the money of citizens, and the soldiers wanted a share even where
there had been no booty. These distributions had taken place only after war;
Nero used them during peace. The soldiers grew accustomed to them; and they
were enraged at Galba, who courageously told them that he knew how to choose
soldiers but not how to buy them.
Galba, Otho,15 and Vitellius were only briefly in power. Like
them, Vespasian was elected by the soldiers. In the course of his whole reign
he thought only of reestablishing the empire, which had been successively
occupied by six tyrants equally cruel, almost all wild, often imbecile, and, to
make matters worse, prodigal to the point of madness.
Titus, who succeeded him, was the delight of the Roman people. Domitian
revealed himself a new monster who was more cruel or at least more implacable
than his predecessors because he was more timorous.
Seeing that he was as dangerous in his friendships as in his hatreds,
and that he placed no limits on either his suspicions or his accusations, his
favorite freedmen and — as some
b The denarius was a silver coin valued at ten asses. See the
discussion of the soldiers' regular pay in Chapter XVI.
have said — his wife herself, got rid of him. Before striking the
blow they looked around for a successor, and chose Nerva, a venerable old man.
Nerva adopted Trajan, the most accomplished prince in the annals of
history. It was a blessing to be born in his reign; nothing was so fortunate or
so glorious for the great Roman people. He was a great statesman and a great
general. He had a good heart, which inclined him toward the good, an
enlightened mind which taught him what was best, and a soul that was noble,
great, and beautiful. He possessed all the virtues without being extreme in
any, and was, in short, the man most suitable for honoring human nature and
representing the divine.
He executed Caesar's project and warred against the Parthians
successfully. Any other man would have succumbed in an enterprise where the
dangers were immediate and the resources distant, where it was absolutely
necessary to conquer, and where there was no assurance of survival after
The difficulty consisted both in the situation of the two empires and in
the style of warfare of the two peoples. What if one took the road through
Armenia, toward the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates? One found a
mountainous and difficult country where convoys could not be led, so that the
army would be half ruined before arriving in Media.16 What if one
entered at a lower point, toward the south, through Nisibis? c One
found a dreadful desert that separated the two empires. What if one wished to
pass lower still, and go through Mesopotamia? One traversed a country that was
partly uncultivated, partly submerged. And with the Tigris and Euphrates going
from north to south, one could not penetrate into the country without leaving
the rivers, and could hardly leave the rivers without perishing.
c Nisibis: a city in northern Mesopotamia.
As to the style of warfare of the two nations, the strength of the
Romans consisted in their infantry — the strongest, most steadfast and
best disciplined in the world.
The Parthians had no infantry but an admirable cavalry. They fought from
afar, and beyond the range of Roman arms. The javelin could rarely reach them.
Their arms were bows and fearful arrows, and they rather besieged an army than
engaged it in combat. They were pursued in vain because, for them, to flee was
to fight. They made their peoples withdraw as the enemy approached, leaving
only garrisons in the strongholds; and when these were taken, they had to be
destroyed. They skillfully burned the whole countryside around the enemy army,
and deprived it of the very grass. In short, they made war in much the same way
it is still made today along the same frontiers.
Moreover, the legions of Illyria and Germany, which were transferred
into this war, were not suitable for it.17 Accustomed in their own
country to eating heavily, the soldiers perished almost to the last man.
Thus, the Parthians did what no nation had yet done and avoided the
Roman yoke — not by being invincible, but by being inaccessible.
Hadrian abandoned Trajan's conquests,18 and set the bounds of
the empire at the Euphrates. And it is admirable that after so many wars the
Romans should have lost only what they had wanted to give up — like the
sea, which diminishes only when it withdraws by itself.
Hadrian's conduct caused many murmurs. In the sacred books of the
Romans, people read that when Tarquin wanted to build the Capitol he found the
most suitable place already occupied by the statues of many other divinities.
With his knowledge of augury he inquired if they would be willing to cede their
place to Jupiter. All consented, with the exception of Mars, Youth, and the god
Terminus.19 This gave rise to three religious opinions: that the
people of Mars would cede
the area they occupied to no one; that the Roman youth would never be
overcome; and, finally, that the Roman god Terminus would never move back
— all of which did happen, however, under Hadrian.
1. He abolished t