« EelmineJätka »
opposite theory of the Democrats—that the mixed multitude of paupers and aliens into which the Comitia was fast degenerating, should supersede the senatorial oligarchy as administrators of the Empire. Complicated with this great constitutional question, as to where sovereignty should reside at Rome, were a number of social and economic questions, arising from the fact that the new commercial conditions of the Mediterranean world, which followed from the Roman conquests, were bringing about the ruin of the old farmer class which had for so many centuries formed the backbone of the state.
The details of the sporadic and never-ending wars in Spain, Macedonia, and the Hellenic East, which cover the period B.C. 200-140, hide the unwritten history of the most important changes in the social and economic conditions of Italy. In B.C. 200 Rome was still in the main a city-state of the old type, though she had already begun to acquire important transmarine domains. She was still a self-supporting agricultural community, feeding herself on home-grown corn. Moreover, she might still be described as a narrow-minded purely Italian town, little affected as yet, either in blood or in thought, by external influences. The elder Cato, with all his hard practical common sense, his stolidity, his passion for the life of the farm, and his contempt for the foreigner, was the typical Roman of that generation. By the last years of his old age he had seen a new world grow up, and complained that he was living in a city which he no longer understood.
For by B.C. 140 Rome was transformed. She was indubitably an imperial state, though she tried to shirk as long as possible the responsibilities of empire. Her population was no longer mainly a race of farmers dwelling on their own narrow acres; it was rapidly becoming divorced from the soil, and degenerating into PROVINCIAL ADMINISTRATION
a city-bred proletariate fed from abroad. Above all, Rome had to a large extent become cosmopolitan, having absorbed much Greek, or rather Græco-Asiatic, culture and philosophy, and still more of Hellenistic luxury and demoralisation. The very blood of the people was getting largely diluted with a foreign strain, owing to the wholesale manumission of slaves.
While Rome had been transformed, her constitution remained perfectly unchanged, and the rude administrative machinery which had sufficed to manage a small community of farmers living close around the walls of the city, was being applied with a rigid and stupid formalism to the government of a widely extended empire.
Down to the Second Punic War, Rome had not acquired any provinces that tried very seriously her power to govern. Sicily and Sardinia were close at hand, in ready and constant communication with the city. They were actually visible from the headlands of Italy—mere brokenoff fragments of the peninsula. An order could without much difficulty reach them in a few days: the Senate and People could make their will felt by governors and generals in districts so close to themselves.
The serious trial of the old municipal system of government, as applicable to the administration of distant dependencies, came after the acquisition of the Carthaginian dominions in Spain at the end of the Second Punic War. Separated from Italy by the still unsubdued coast-land of Southern Gaul, Spain could only be reached by a long sea voyage, which the Roman never loved, and which he rigidly eschewed at certain seasons of the year. The proconsuls in Spain got from the first a free hand such as no previous Roman governor had possessed.
It was a long time before any other provinces were added to the over-seas empire of the Senate and people. But at last they came, Macedonia and Africa both in 146, Asia in 133. It was the acquisition of these distant possessions that broke down the ancient power of the Senate to control the doings of the provincial magistrates. It was impossible to maintain a constant supervision over a governor at Gades, or Thessalonica, or Ephesus, or to get at him within any reasonable space of time. He had to be left very much to his own inspirations. It was but natural that the more ambitious proconsuls came to take advantage of this fact, and began to make or break treaties, to enter into wars, and to make conquests at their good pleasure. The Senate was sometimes provoked into disowning and annulling their doings, but not very often: when it did, the reason was not always creditable—as witness the case of Mancinus at Numantia.
Roughly, then, it may be said that by the third quarter of the second century before Christ, Rome had acquired an empire, but refused to take up any of the responsibilities of empire. The Senate still wished to control everything, but they could no moro do so efficiently, owing to the mere difficulties of geographical distance, than in the eighteenth century the East India Company's directors could control Clive or Warren Hastings. The proconsuls, on the other hand, could govern, but each only for his short year of office, and the work of each successor generally (and often deliberately) undid the work of his predecessor.
The responsibilities of empire, of which we have made mention were, in the main, threefold. The first was to provide good government within the provinces; this the Roman Republic notoriously failed to secure. The constitution imposed on each conquered region, by the senatorial commission which drew up the les provinciæ after its annexation, was often wisely designed and reasonable. But when once it was formulated, there was no proper machinery for modifying it in accordance with the necesMISGOVERNMENT OF THE PROCONSULS 7 sities of the times, or even for seeing that the proconsul did not violate its spirit by arbitrary tampering with the edictum tralaticium, the supplementary code which he could issue and vary at his own pleasure. All through the second century the control of the Senate was growing weaker, and it seemed that the wish as well as the power to check misgovernment was disappearing. The natural result was that the type of proconsul steadily deteriorated, as the probability of impunity for abuse of authority grew greater. Expedients like the establishment of the special court De Repetundis for the repression of financial maladministration were practically useless. To be effective, it would have required an active public prosecutor, ready to investigate every returning magistrate's record, and a bench of judges absolutely beyond the breath of suspicion. But Roman usage entrusted all prosecutions to private initiative, and the court which tried the accused was so much swayed by personal and party bias that from the first there were scandals in its working. When a condemnation did occur, it was generally whispered that the convicted magistrate was suffering for some old political escapade at home, rather than for mere maladministration abroad.
The second of the responsibilities of empire, which Rome seemed unable to discharge, was the duty of keeping the police of the high seas and suppressing piracy. This task had in earlier centuries been to some extent discharged by the old naval powers—Carthage in the west, Macedon and Egypt in the east. Rome had now destroyed Carthage and Macedon, and the Ptolemies had sunk into hopeless imbecility and decay. The Romans would not keep up a permanent national fleet, both because it was expensive, and because they themselves disliked the sea. Hence the Mediterranean swarmed with pirates in a way that had never before been seen. The poorer and wilder maritime races took to piracy en masse, and almost strangled commerce. The Balearic Islanders swept the western seas; the unsubdued Dalmatians, the Adriatic; the Cretans, the Ægean; the Pamphylians and Cilicians the most numerous and reckless of all these bands—had almost taken possession of the waters of the Levant. Their pirate squadrons went out a hundred vessels strong, levied blackmail on whole regions, and often made descents on cities within the boundaries of the Roman empire. The Senate only resented their outrages by fits and starts. If they grow too insolent, a squadron was sometimes sent against them, but it was seldom composed of vessels equipped and manned from Italy. The ordinary method was to requisition a fleet from the maritime allies of the state, who rendered unwilling and inefficient service. Hence it came to pass that though many Roman expeditions had been sent against the pirates, and several commanders had celebrated triumphs over them, the evil was not removed, and the Mediterranean did not become really safe for imperial commerce till the great naval campaign of Pompey in B.C. 67.
The third great responsibility which the Romans assumed, when they annexed great and remote provinces, was that of protecting the civilised world from the outer barbarian. The conquests of Spain and Macedonia made them the neighbours of scores of wild tribes, whom the Carthaginians in the one and the kings of the house of Antigonus in the other peninsula had been wont to drive back and to keep in check. The Roman, their heir by right of conquest, discharged this duty very spasmodically and inefficiently. The main reason for this was the deeprooted dislike of distant and prolonged foreign service among the inhabitants of Italy. The people had comprehended, fifty years before, the need for universal conscription and long service in such crises as the Second