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Mythical Period of Kings to beginning of Punic Wars (? 753-264 b.c.). page 2


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On the resumption of the ordinary constitution in 448 b.c. tribunes were reappointed, and a first great charter of Roman freedom came in the laws, carried by the consuls Valerius and Horatius in the Comitia Centtiriata, which made plebiscita, decrees or resolutions of the popular assembly (Comitia Tributa), binding upon patricians and plebeians alike, and compelled every official, including a Dictator, to allow appeals from his decisions. A few years later, marriage between patricians and plebeians was legalised, the children inheriting the rank of the father. In 366 the Licinian laws, so called from one of the tribunes who carried them after an obstinate struggle of ten years' duration, gave a great victory to the plebeians in enacting that one at least of the consuls must be chosen from their order. At the same time, relief was given to those who had been impoverished in the Gallic invasion to be noticed shortly, by deduction, from the principal of debts, of interest already paid. From this time the progress of the plebeian houses towards the possession of equal political rights with the old patrician families was very rapid. When the year 300 b.c. arrived, all the great civil offices - the praetorship, the censorship, the consulship, the very dictatorship - were open to all Roman citizens, and the chief posts connected with the state-religion were put within the reach of the hitherto non-privileged order by an enactment providing that four of the eight pontiffs or high-priests, and five of the nine augurs, should be taken from the plebeians. The augurs, or officials who "took the auspices" by observing the flight of birds or other signs on the right or left hand, and pretended to deduce thence the will of the gods, had a real political importance in being able to delay the progress of measures in the Comitia by deciding that no assembly could be held, as the day was unpropitious for public business. The patrician order was henceforth no longer a legally privileged caste, but merely a social order or rank. The new nobility, called optimates or nobiles, included the patrician and plebeian families which had won most distinction as holding, through different successive members, the highest public offices, and they looked down upon outsiders who won their way to any of these posts as novi hominess ("new fellows") or upstarts. The Comitia Tributa had now become the chief legislative body, and the great aim of patricians who wished to interfere there was to win over one or more of the tribunes, and get the veto exercised on proposed legislation. The constitution of the Roman republic was thus a moderate democracy, with the power of taxation and .the chief judicial authority residing in the Senate. The senators comprised the practical statesmanship and political intelligence of the nation, and won renown, at many crises, by their firmness, wisdom, energy, and patriotism.

The religion of the Romans differed widely, like their character, from that of the Greeks. It was, as the word "religion" implies, a matter of obligation, of binding power, involving a feeling of constraint. The worship was a practical business connected with expediency and profit for the worshippers. The temples were generally erected in consequence of vows offered in times of difficulty and danger, when relief had been obtained, as was believed, by the interposition of some deity. The god had done his work, and the price was duly paid. Among the old Italian deities were Saturnus, the god of sowing and tillage; Ceres, goddess of corn-crops; Pales and Faunus, protectors of the flocks. Juno, the type of queenly womanhood, and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, are attributed to a Sabine«source. Juppiter (Jov-pater) represented the Greek Zeus, originally the Aryan Dyaus, "the bright one," and he was worshipped under many surnames connected with various attributes of supreme deity, and notably as Juppiter Optimus Maximus, "the best, the greatest." Vesta was the same as the Greek Hestia, the goddess of the hearth and home. The domestic ties were very sacred with the Romans; the Lares and Penates were the special deities of that shrine, the Roman's own fireside. The cry Pro art's et facts, "For our altars and hearths," was the most stirring appeal in battle. One of the chief deities of the Italian tribes was Mars or Mavors, the god of "manliness," which was the chief virtue with the Romans, in the sense of "manly courage," combining duty, self-sacrifice for the state. Thus Mars, a deity once the god of creative power, the god of spring, after whom its first month (Martius, March) was named, became the war-god. The two-faced Janus, the god of opening and shutting, the sun-god who brings the day and shuts up the world in darkness, was brother to Diana, the moon-goddess. Venus and Neptunus need no description. The Roman deities were not, to their worshippers, living beings like the Greek, but mere abstractions, and they were worshipped in prayers, sacrifices, and games, in order to secure the goodwill or avert the anger of the gods. The college of Pontifices, or priests, the chief religious power in the state, headed by the Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, had political importance as controlling the calendar, and deciding the days which were suitable or not for the transaction of public and private business. The Vestal Virgins, six maidens vowed to chastity for life, having charge of the sacred fire of Vesta in her temple between the Palatine and Capitoline hills at Rome, are well known. To conclude, the religion had little or no influence on private or public morality beyond the production of a sense of living under obligations, the development of the idea of duty, and the strengthening of the habit of obedience. It was a religion of prosaic character, a legal piety, an anxious ritual by which the Roman constrained himself to meet his religious engagements; and, making him a better servant of the state, it largely aided the development of a powerful and prosperous nation. In the later times of the republic many foreign deities were imported from Greece and from the East, especially from Egypt, when the old-fashioned rites of Rome had lost their meaning, and new modes of worship, conducted by various classes of priests, aimed at arousing religious emotions which had little indeed to do with moral culture. The moral teaching which existed at Rome in later days was due to Greek philosophers of the various schools already described.

It has been well said that "at the basis of the Roman character lay the habit of obedience to authority." "Duty" was the Roman watchword: law, government, order, were the sacred things in the best days of Rome. The undue exercise of authority by officials was restrained by their liability to trial and punishment at the close of the term of office, by the influence of colleagues, and by the force of unwritten custom - the mos majorum, or "ways of ancestors," for which the Romans had a high regard. It was discipline, reverence for commands received from rightful authority, combined with stubborn and unwearied energy, patriotic zeal, steadfastness under trial and defeat, that enabled Romans to conquer the world. There is one point, especially, which distinguishes the Romans from the Ancient Greeks - the honour paid to woman as wife and mother. No nation of the olden world equals them in this respect. The Roman matron was the true mistress of the household; the spinner of wool, amongst her female slaves, for the clothing of the family; the trusted and esteemed companion and friend of her husband; the reverenced and devoted mother of her children. The Roman gravity and dignity of character, the deliberate and ripe thought employed in forming plans which were adhered to with sober resolution, are also in contrast with the levity and fickleness of which Athens showed many examples. The Roman character, on the other hand, was unsympathetic and hard. The foreigner, as such, was regarded as a foe. In their diplomatic dealings with men of other lands we find Romans constantly urging charges of bad faith, but they were themselves at least as faithless in regard to treaties and promises as any foreign peoples, Their great virtues were fortitude, temperance, veracity among themselves, spirit to resist oppression, ardent patriotism, and the respect for legitimate authority already referred to. The cruelty and the grasping nature shown in their conduct of foreign affairs prove them to have been wanting in charity and chivalrous generosity, virtues which are, indeed, mainly Christian. The Romans were, above all things, intensely practical, having the clearest utilitarian aims, to which they moved forward in a straight course which brooked no opposition. By their works they, long ages dead, speak yet to all mankind in every region where their eagles flew - by noble roads cleaving their way through modern realms; by stately aqueducts, some of which are still in use; by bridges, by excavations for draining cities, by remains of camps in earthwork, by fortresses whose solidity of construction yet defies the wind and weather. Some of the highways constructed in the British Isles for the march of legions and the conveyance of their heavy baggage at all seasons through conquered territory are still the basis of our best roads. The Roman engineering carried these roads straight to the strategical or commercial positions which it was needful to connect, with the piling-up of huge embankments, the draining of marshes, the filling-up of hollows, the spanning of valleys by viaducts, the tunnelling of hills, the bridging of streams. In Italy the great Appian Road (Via Appia, justly called Regina Viarum, "Queen of Roads") was a causeway built with large square stones on a raised platform, and ran direct from the capital to the city of Capua, in Campania, afterwards extending to Brundusium (Brindisi), the port of embarkation for Greece. The Via Aurelia ran northwards along the coast, by Genoa, into Transalpine Gaul; the Via Flaminia, through Umbria to Ariminum (Rimini) on the Adriatic Sea. The Via Aemilia, passing through Cisalpine Gaul, carried the traveller from Ariminum to Placentia. The brick and tile-work structures of Roman builders, cemented with material which is only hardened by exposure to the air, exist among us as sturdy remains. Some of the finest examples are the Pharos at Dover, on the heights where the castle frowns upon the silver strop of sea the cavalry-camp called Burgh Castle, m east Suffolk, near Yarmouth; the noble strongholds at Pevensey in Sussex and Richborough in Kent, standing with bitter reproach to the infamous "jerry-builders" of 17 centuries later, the mean impostors so well known to the villa-residents of suburban London. The 50 miles; of sea-wall which these great conquerors and civilisers built along the coast of the English Fenland still remain. The Fens are yet crossed by the solid roads of Roman engineers, and many "drains" of Roman cutting are still in use.

The chief immediate instrument of Roman conquest was the excellent military organisation, one never surpassed, if equalled, in the ancient or modern world. The famous legion, in its perfected form, was a complete small army of over 6,000 men, including nfantry, cavalry, artillery (the military engines of Greek invention, already described, for sieges), and engineers for bridging rivers and other purposes. The main body consisted of infantry, partly skirmishers using light darts, slings, and archery, but chiefly armoured men employing a heavy iron-headed javelin called the pilum, six feet in length, hurled into the ranks of the foe from a few yards' distance. The slaughter and confusion caused by these missiles were at once followed up by a charge in which the short, stout, pointed, two-edged sword, equally adapted for cutting and stabbing, was used by strong-armed men with terrible effect. No soldiers of ancient times could, in the end, successfully resist the massive and flexible legion, capable at once of firm and compact array, and of speedy separation into its ten cohorts, or battalions, each divisible into three manipuli, or double companies of two centuries (hundreds) of men. The soldiers were trained by a severe course of athletics - running, jumping, swimming in armour, and rapid marching - and on a campaign the foot-soldiers each carried a stout timber stake, for planting on the top of the agger (embankment or earthwork) enclosing the entrenched camp which was made every night at the halting-place in an enemy's country. Surprise was thus made impossible, and many a Roman force owed its safety to this precaution. The stationary camp, designed to shelter an army for some time, was a masterpiece of arrangement, square in form, with a gate in each of the sides, and wide roads at right angles intersecting it. A space 200 feet wide came between the rampart and the tents, allowing free movement to any quarter that might be assailed by the foe without or fire within. A strong guard was posted in front of each gate, and pickets of infantry and cavalry were thrown out in advance of the four sides, the ramparts being also guarded all night by lines of sentinels. The night, reckoned from sunset to sunrise, was divided into four equal "watches," and the watchword for the night, inscribed on small tablets of wood, passed through the lines, and then returned to the six tribunes, or brigadiers, each commanding the legion in turns for two months. It is well known that the great stationary camps constructed in the British Isles grew, in many cases, into important towns, a fact indicated in the modern names by various corrupt forms of the Latin castra ("camp"), as in Chester (the camp), Colchester, Lancaster (the camp on the river Lune), Exeter (Exe-ceastre, the camp on the Exe). One of the finest specimens of the encampment is that at Ardoch, in Perthshire, in the grass-grown mounds and ridges of which most of the Roman camp-divisions have been clearly recognised. We have now described the civil, military, and moral equipment with which the Romans started on their unrivalled career, and shall deal briefly with the achievements by which they created a vast empire, and then proceed to the period of decline which ended in the melting-away, through the occupation of the territories by alien hosts and hordes, of the gigantic political structure erected in the course of ages by genius and valour.

The conquest of the AEquians and Volscians, neighbours of Rome, towards the end of the 5th century b.c., was followed by an attack on the Etruscans, the people who had once shared with Carthage the naval mastery of the Mediterranean. Their power had been declining of late by sea and land, the latter due to Gallic invasions from the north. A long siege of Veii by the Romans ended in the capture of the place, followed by the taking or voluntary surrender of many other towns of Etruria, and the Roman territory was much extended northwards. A blow came for the conquerors in their severe defeat by the Gauls in 390 b.c. at the battle of the Allia, a brook falling into the Tiber n miles north of the city. The enemy advanced on Rome, which was taken, plundered, and burnt, with the exception of the buildings on the Capitoline Hill. A seven-months' blockade of the fortress ended in the retirement of the enemy for a heavy payment in gold. It has been already shown how the uncertainty of events in early Roman history is due to the burning of the annals kept by the priests in the temples. The Romans soon recovered from the shock of this disaster. The city was rebuilt; the AEquians, Volscians, and Etruscans, who had taken up vengeful arms, were beaten; successful war was waged with various Latin states, and other Gallic invasions were so repelled that, after the year 350 b.c., we hear of them in this way no more. About 343 began a struggle of half a century's duration, with intervals of truce, against the hardy Samnites dwelling among the Apennines. After much fighting, of uncertain result, peace was made for a time, and then came (340-338) a great three-years' war with the Latins, who were striving to throw off the leadership of Rome. Two great victories for the Romans caused the dissolution of the Latin League, and most of the cities received the Roman citizenship without the suffrage, thereby becoming subjects, with Rome as their capital city, and having hopes of the full citizenship in case of fidelity. Some of the towns lost lands, which were divided among Roman citizens; others received colonies of citizens from Rome. The same system was adopted for strengthening Roman power in the Volscian territories and in Campania. The conquest of Italy had now fairly begun, and Rome had gained a position for the desperate struggle of 22 years (327-305) called the second Samnite war. It was a contest for death or victory, the conqueror in which was sure to become the foremost Italian state. Pontius, the brave and skilful Samnite general, in an early year of the war, captured a Roman army in the famous Caudine Forks, a mountain-pass, and compelled them to pass under the yoke, like slaves, stooping as they walked beneath a spear resting on two others. Two years later the Romans retorted this humiliation on a Samnite garrison. The war went on with varied fortune, and the Samnites, towards the end, were aided by the Etruscans, Umbrians, Marsi, and other peoples. Nothing could resist the relentless energy and stubborn perseverance of the Roman commanders and troops. In 310 a great victory at the Vadimonian Lake shook the coalition, and the Samnites were again defeated in the following year. A Roman war-fleet made its first appearance. Nuceria, in Campania, succumbed to attack by sea and land. Samnium was invaded from the Adriatic, while a Roman army marched north from Campania. A decisive victory led to the capture of Bovianum, the capital of the Samnite League, in 305, and the gallant foes of Rome then made peace on honourable terms, remaining independent allies of the rising state. The Romans then established more colonies in the conquered territory of Samnite allies, and constructed military roads for future operations. The peace was a mere truce. All the peoples of Italy were by this time in dread of Rome, and they soon combined in an effort to avert what seemed to be the coming doom. The third Samnite war, beginning in 300, saw the Samnites assisted by the Etruscans, Umbrians, and Senonian Gauls. In 296 the Samnites, by immense exertions, placed three armies in the field, one to defend their own country, one for Campania, and one which was, in a fine strategical movement, led by Gellius Egnatius northwards to join the confederates in Etruria. The Romans raised 60,000 men, and in 295 fought a decisive battle, under the consul Decius Mus, at Sentinum in Umbria. The army of the coalition was scattered to the winds. Two years later the gallant Pontius of Samnium, who had spared the lives of the Romans taken at the Caudine Forks nearly 30 years before, was defeated and taken prisoner. Conducted to Rome, he was put to death at the general's "triumph" - a national crime clearly proving that, in their dealings with foreigners, the Romans knew naught of justice, magnanimity, or humanity. In 290 b.c. the war ended with the exhaustion of Samnium, and the Romans were complete masters of central Italy. They strengthened their position, as usual, by the foundation of colonies in conquered territory. In 285 another coalition was formed, and Rome had to face the people of Lucania, Bruttii, Etruria, and Umbria, aided by Gallic mercenaries from northern Italy. A Roman force was utterly destroyed by these mercenaries at Arretium, but prompt vengeance partly slaughtered and partly drove off the Gauls, and in 283, again at the Vadimonian Lake, in Etruria, a decisive victory was gained which, with a second at Populonia in 282, gave Rome the mastery of northern Italy, a term which, we must remember, excludes the territory now Italian, then Cisalpine Gaul.

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Pictures for Mythical Period of Kings to beginning of Punic Wars (? 753-264 b.c.). page 2

Map. Ancient Italy.
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