Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/84

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10
THE DECLINE AND FALL

troops of modern Europe, were drawn from the meanest, and very frequently from the most profligate of mankind.

Discipline The public virtue of patriotism is derived from a strong sense of our own interest, in the preservation and prosperity of the free government of which we are members. Such a sentiment, which had rendered the legions of the republic almost invincible, could make but a very feeble impression on the mercenary servants of a despotic prince; and it became necessary to supply that defect by other motives, of a different, but very forcible nature; honour and religion. The peasant, or mechanic, imbibed the useful prejudice that he was advanced to the more dignified profession of arms, in which his rank and reputation would depend on his own valour: and that, although the prowess of a private soldier might escape the notice of fame, it would be in his power to confer glory or disgrace on the company, the legion, or even the army, to whose honours he was associated. On his first entrance into the service, an oath was administered to him, with every circumstance of solemnity. He promised never to desert his standard, to submit his own will to the commands of his leaders, and to sacrifice his life for the safety of the emperor and the empire[1]. The attachment of the Roman troops to their standards, was inspired by a united influence of religion and of honour. The golden eagle, which glittered in the front of the legion, was the object of their fondest devotion; nor was it esteemed less impious, than it was ignominious, to abandon that sacred ensign in the hour of danger.[2] These motives, which derived their strength from the imagination, were enforced by fears and hopes of a more substantial kind. Regular pay, occasional donatives, and a stated recompence, after the appointed term of service, alleviated the hardships of the military life,[3] whilst, on the other hand, it was impossible for cowardice

  1. The oath of service and fidelity to the emperor was annually renewed by the troops, on the first of January.
  2. Tacitus calls the Roman Eagles, Bellorum Deos. They were placed in a chapel in the camp, and with the other deities received the religious worship of the troops.
  3. See Gronovius de Pecunia vetere, I. iii. p. 120, &c. The emperor Domitian raised the annual stipend of the legionaries to twelve pieces of gold, which, in his time, was equivalent to about ten of our guineas. This pay, somewhat higher than our own, had been, and was afterwards, gradually increased, according to the progress of wealth and military government. After twenty years' service, the veteran received three thousand denarii (about one hundred pounds sterling), or a proportionable allowance of land. The pay and advantages of the guards were, in general, about double those of the legions.