Considerations on the Causes of
the Greatness of the Romans
and their Decline



by David Lowenthal



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.

Allan Bloom
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 therefore authoritative.

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 text.

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 original.

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.































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 breaks down.

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 (400 A.D.).


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 approval.

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 Machiavelli.

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 imperialistic Rome.

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 greatness.

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 teaching?


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 its senate.


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 life.

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 republic.

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 express unguardedly.

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 later innovations.

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 immobile.


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 page.



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 this practice.

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 general.

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 republics.

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 subjected.

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 contemptible man.

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 survives him!

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 every day.

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 Little Tartary.d

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 military discipline.

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 Caucasus.

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 Greeks.

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.



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 legion.

They judged it necessary to give the soldiers of the legion offensive and defensive arms stronger and heavier2 than those of any other people.

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 missiles.

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 from

b Aulus Gellius was a Latin author and grammarian (c. 130-180 A.D.).

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 be Romans.

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 follows victory.

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 ardor.

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 exercise.

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 (II, 16).

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 Viriathus.

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 ma/xaira.

18. The Jewish War, II (III, 5, 6).




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 soldiers.

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 kings.

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.

5. Ibid.

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).







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 the latter.

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 everything themselves.

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 it.

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 despair.

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 ship.

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 Rome.

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. A.D.

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 Vices.

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 them.

16. Louis XIV.

17. Spain and Muscovy.

18. Roman Antiquities, VIII.

19. History of His Life, Paris, 1742, p. 402.






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 alive.

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 sense.

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 great wars.

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 invincible.

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 Turkish empire.

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 actions.

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 their

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 moderating it.

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 begun.

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 Egypt.

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 Vices.

3. They had no alliance with the other peoples of Greece. Polybius, VIII (V, 106).

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.





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 useful vengeance.

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 inland.

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 revolts.

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 moment.

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 future.

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 Egypt.

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 barbarians.8

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 common authority.

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 submission.

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 tombs.

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 another.

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 they

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 preserve everything.

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 Romans.


1. One example of this is the war against the Dalmatians. See Polybius (XXXII, 19).

2. See especially their treaty with the Jews, in the first book of the Maccabees, 8.

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 feudalism.

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.



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 troops.1

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 them.

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 the Romans.2

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 endangered.4


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 (7).

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, 5).




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 honors.2

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 road

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 magistracy whatsoever.

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 scheme.8

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 its privileges.10

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 magistrates.

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 over themselves.

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.


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 all.

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, IX (45).

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 were exterminated.

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.




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 Polybius.

"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 contract!

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 (56).

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).




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 its liberty.

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 captains.

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 few.7

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 Pompey.

"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 beyond measure.

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 tyranny.

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 citizens.

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 Gaul.

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 defender.

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 Augustus' reign.

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, I, 3.

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 atrocious.

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 Sulla's.

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 Vices.

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 ff).

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, 16).




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 remained.

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 divinities.4

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 country.

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 never distrustful.

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 legitimate.6

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 we consent

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 (64).

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 (18, 19).

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 power."



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 assemblies.

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 b.

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 one-man government.

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 of his

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 services.

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. (Jullian).

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 historians conjectured.

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 colonies.

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; XL, 12).

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.


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 sustain it.

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.



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 extermination.

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 wealth.3

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 themselves!

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.