Characters and Events of Roman History/Social Development of the Roman Empire
Social Development of the Roman Empire
Augustus died the twenty-third of August of the year 14 A.D., saying to Livia, as she embraced him: "Adieu, Livia, remember our long life." Suetonius adds that, before dying, he had asked the friends who had come to salute him, if he seemed to them "mimum vitae commode transegisse"--to have acted well his life's comedy. In this famous phrase many historians have seen a confession, an acknowledgment of the long role of deceit that the unsurpassable actor had played to his public. What a mistake! If Augustus did pronounce that famous sentence, he meant to say quite another thing. An erudite German has demonstrated with the help of many texts that the ancient writers, and especially the stoic philosophers, commonly compared life to a theatrical representation, divided into different acts and with an inevitable epilogue, death, without intending to say that it was a thing little serious or not true. They only meant that life is an action, which has a natural sequence from beginning to end, like a theatrical representation. There is then no need to translate the expression of Augustus "the play"--that is, the deceit--"is ended," but rather "the drama"--the work committed by destiny--"is finished."
The drama was ended, and what a drama! It is difficult to find in history a longer and more troubled career than that known by Augustus for nearly sixty years, from the far-away days when, young, handsome, full of ambition and daring, he had come to Rome, throwing himself head first into the frightful turmoil let loose by the murder of Caesar, to that tranquil death, the death of a great wise man, in the midst of the pax Romana, now spread from end to end of the Empire! After so many tragic catastrophies had struck his class and his family, Euthanasia--the death of the happy--descended for the first time since the passing of Lucullus, to close the eyes of a great Roman.
There is no better means of giving an idea of the mission of the Roman Empire in the world than to summarise the life and work of this famous personage. Augustus has been in our century somewhat the victim of Napoleon I. The extraordinary course of events at the beginning of the nineteenth century made so vivid an impression on succeeding generations, that for the whole of the century people have been able to admire only the great agitators, men whose lives are filled with storm and clamorous action. Compared with that of Napoleon or of Caesar, the figure of Augustus is simple and colourless. The Roman peace, in the midst of which he died, was his work only very indirectly. Augustus had wearied his whole life in reorganising the finances and the army, in crushing the revolts of the European provinces, in defending the boundaries of the Rhine and the Danube, in making effective in Rome, as far as he could, the old aristocratic constitution. All intent on this service, a serious and difficult one, he never dreamed of regenerating the Empire by a powerful administration. Even if he had wished it, he would not have had the means--men and money.
For the past century, the vastness and power of the administration that governed the Empire has been greatly admired. Without discussing many things possible on this point, it must be observed that this judgment does not apply to the times of Augustus and Tiberius, because then this administration did not exist. During the first fifty years of the Empire, the provinces were all governed, as under the Republic, by proconsuls or propraetors, each accompanied by a quaestor, a few subordinate officials, freedmen, friends, and slaves. A few dozen of men governed the provinces, as vast as states. Augustus added to this rudimentary administration but one organ, the procurator, chosen from freedmen or knights, charged with overseeing the collection of tribute and expenses; that is, caring for the interests, not of the provinces, but of Rome. Consequently, the government was weak and inactive in all the provinces.
Whoever fancies the government of Rome modelled after the type of modern governments, invading, omnipotent, omnipresent, deceives himself. There were sent into the provinces nobles belonging to rich and noted families, who had therefore no need to rob the subjects too much; and these men ruled, making use of the laws, customs, institutions, families of nobles, of each place, exactly as England now does in many parts of its Empire. As in general these governors were not possessed of any great activity, they did not meddle much in the internal affairs of the subject peoples. To preserve the unity of the Empire and the supremacy of Italy against all enemies, within and without; to exploit reasonably this supremacy; for the rest, to let every people live as best pleased it: such was the policy of Augustus and of Tiberius, the policy of the first century A.D. In short, this was but the idea of the old aristocratic party, adapted to the new times.
So the Roman Government gave itself little concern at this time for the provinces, nor did it build in them any considerable public work. It did not construct roads, nor canals, nor harbours, except when they were necessary to the metropolis; for example, Agrippa made the network of Gallic roads; Augustus opened the first three great highways that crossed the Alps. It would be a mistake to suppose that these important constructions were designed to favour the progress of Gallic commerce; they were strategic highways made to defend the Rhine. As gradually Gaul grew rich, Rome had to recognise that the weak garrisons, set apart in the year 27 for the defence of the Rhine and the Danube, were insufficient. It would have been necessary to increase the army, but the finances were in bad condition. Augustus then thought to base defence on the principle that the immense frontiers could not all be assailed at the same time, and therefore he constructed some great military roads across the Alps and Gaul, to be able to collect the soldiery rapidly from all parts of the Empire at any point menaced, on the Rhine or on the Danube.
The imperial policy of Augustus and that of Tiberius, who applied the same principles with still greater vigour, was above all a negative policy. Accordingly, it could please only those denying as useful to progress another kind of men, the great agitators of the masses. Shall we therefore conclude that Augustus and Tiberius were useless? So doing, we should run the risk of misunderstanding all the history of the Roman conquest. By merely comprehending the value of the apparent inactivity of Augustus and Tiberius, one can understand the essence of the policy of world expansion initiated by the Roman aristocracy after the Second Punic War. At the beginning, this policy was pre-eminently destructive. Everywhere Rome either destroyed or weakened, not nations or peoples, but republics, monarchies, theocracies, principalities--that is, the political superstructures that framed the different states, great or small; everywhere it put in place of these superstructures the weak authority of its governors, of the Senate, of its own prestige; everywhere it left intact or gave greater freedom to the elementary forms of human association, the family, the tribe, the city.
So for two centuries Rome continued in Orient and Occident to suppress bureaucracies, to dismiss or reduce armies, to close royal palaces, to limit the power of priestly castes or republican oligarchies, substituting for all these complicated organisations a proconsul with some dozens of vicegerent secretaries and attendants. The last enterprise of this policy, which I should be tempted to call "state-devouring," was the destruction of the dynasty of the Ptolemies, in Egypt. Without doubt, the suppression of so many states, continued for two centuries, could not be accomplished without terrible upheavals. It would be useless to repaint here the grim picture of the last century of the Republic; sufficient to say, the grandiosity of this convulsion has hindered most people from seeing that the state-devouring policy of Rome included in itself, by the side of the forces of dissolution, beneficent, creative forces, able to bring about a new birth. If this policy had not degenerated into an unbridled sacking, it could have effectuated everywhere notable economies in the expenses of government that were borne by the poorer classes, suppressing as it did so many armies, courts, bureaucracies, wars. It is clear that Rome would have been able to gather in on all sides, especially in the Orient, considerable tribute, merely by taking from the various peoples much less than the cost of their preceding monarchies and continuous wars. Moreover, Rome established with the conquests throughout the immense Empire what we would call a regime of free exchange; made neighbours of territories formerly separated by constant wars, unsafe communication, and international anarchy; and rendered possible the opening up of mines and forests hitherto inaccessible.
The apparent inactivity of Augustus and Tiberius was simply the ultimate and most beneficent phase of the state-devouring policy of Rome, that in which, the destructive forces exhausted, the creative forces began to act. Augustus and Tiberius only prolonged indefinitely by means of expedients that mediocre order and that partial tranquillity re-established after Actium by the general weariness; but exactly for this reason were they so useful to the world. In this peace, in this mediocre order, the policy of expansion of Rome, finally rid of all the destructive forces, matured all the benefits inherent within it. Finally, after a frightful crisis, the world was able to enjoy a liberty and an autonomy such as it had never previously enjoyed and which perhaps it will never again in an equal degree of civilisation and in so great an extension.
The Empire then covered Spain, France, Belgium, a part of Germany and Austria, Switzerland and Italy, the Balkanic countries, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, a part of Arabia, Egypt, and all northern Africa. I do not believe that the political personnel that made up the central government of this enormous Empire ever comprised more than 2000 men. The army charged with defending so many territories numbered about 200,000 men—fewer than the present army of Italy alone. The effects of this order of things were soon to be seen; in all the Mediterranean basin there began a rapid and universal economic expansion, which, on a smaller scale, might remind one of what Europe and America have seen in the nineteenth century. New lands were cultivated, new mines opened, new wares manufactured, exports sent into regions formerly closed or unknown; and every new source of wealth, creating new riches, made labour and commerce progress.
Foremost among all nations of the Empire, at the centre, Italy rapidly consolidated its fortune and its domination. After the mad plundering of the times of Caesar, followed methodical exploiting. Italy attracted to itself by the power of political leadership the precious metals and wares of luxury from every part of the Empire; the largest quantity of these things passed through Rome, before being scattered throughout the peninsula in exchange for the agricultural and industrial products of Italy, consumed in the capital. Consequently the middle classes and many cities grew rich, especially the cities of the Campania, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Naples, Pozzuoli, through which passed all the trade between Italy and Egypt. In addition, Italy found an abundant source of income in the exportation of wine and oil.
In short, having at last emerged from revolution, the peoples of Italy rallied around Rome and the imperial power, united and relatively content. At the same time, the provinces began among themselves, about Italy, a great interchange of merchandise, men, ideas, customs, across the Mediterranean. Rome and Italy were invaded by a crowd of Orientals, slaves, freedmen, merchants, artisans, litterati, artists, acrobats, poets, adventurers; and contemporaneously with Rome and Italy, the agricultural provinces of the West, especially those along the Danube. Rome did not conquer the barbarous provinces of Europe for itself alone; it conquered them also for the East, which, in Mesia, Dalmatia, Pannonia, among those barbarians growing civilised and eager to live in cities, found customers for their industries in articles of luxury, for their artists, teachers of literature, and propagandists of religion.
We are therefore able to explain to ourselves why, beginning from the time of Augustus, all the industrial cities of the Orient--Pergamon, Laodicea, Ephesus, Ierapolis, Tyre, Sidon, Alexandria--entered upon an era of new and refulgent prosperity. Finally, we add the singular enriching of two nations, whose names return anew united for the last time, Egypt and Gaul. To all the numerous sources of Gallic wealth there is to be added yet another, the importance of which is easier to understand after what I have said on the development of the Empire. Pliny tells us that all Gaul wove linen sails. The progress of navigation, a consequence of the progress of commerce, much increased the demand for linen sail-cloth, something that explains the spread of flax cultivation in Gaul and the profit derived from it.
As to Egypt, it not only found in the pacified empire new outlets for its old industries, but also succeeded in engaging a large part of the new commerce with the extreme Orient, which was at this time greatly on the increase. From India and China were imported pearls, diamonds, silk fabrics; for the use of these wares gained largely during this century, as it has done in recent times in Europe and America; perfumes were also imported, and rice, which served as a medicament and to prepare dishes of luxury.
The unity of the Empire was due far more to this great economic development that began under Augustus than to the political action of the early emperors. Little by little, imperial interests became so numerous and so considerable that Rome saw the effort necessary to keep up the unity diminish. Everywhere, even in the most distant regions, powerful minorities formed that worked for Rome and against old separating, anti-uniting forces, against old traditions and local patriotism alike. The wealthy classes everywhere became in a special way wholly favourable to Rome. Therefore there is no more serious mistake than regarding the Roman Empire as the exclusive work of a government: it was in truth created by two diverse forces, operating one after the other--each in its own time, for both were necessary: a force of destruction-the state-devouring policy of Rome; a force of reconstruction--the economic unification. The annihilation of states, without which there would have been no economic unification, was the work of the government and the armies. It was the politicians of the Senate that destroyed so many states by wars and diplomatic intrigues; but the economic unification was made chiefly by the infinitely little--the peasant, the artisan, the educated man--the nameless many, that lived and worked and passed away, leaving hardly trace or record. These unknown that laboured, each seeking his own personal happiness, contributed to create the Empire as much as did the great statesmen and generals. For this reason I can never regard without a certain emotion the mutilated inscriptions in the museums, chance salvage from the great shipwreck of the ancient world, that have preserved the name of some land-owner, or merchant, or physician, or freedman. Lo! what remains of these generations of obscure workers, who were the indispensable collaborators of the great statesmen and diplomatists of Rome, and without whom the political world of Rome would have been but a gigantic enterprise of military brigandage!
The great historic merit of Augustus and of Tiberius is that they presided over the passage from the destructive to the reorganising phase with their wise, prudent, apparently inactive policy. The transition, like all transitions, was difficult; the disintegrating forces were not yet exhausted; the upbuilding forces were still very weak; the world of the time was in unstable equilibrium, violent perturbations certainly yet possible. Without doubt, it is hard to say what would have happened if, instead of being governed by the policy of Augustus, the world had fallen into the hands of an adventurous oligarchy like that which gathered around Alexander the Great; but we can at least affirm that the sagacity and prudence of Augustus, which twenty centuries afterward appear as inactivity, did much to avoid such disturbances, the consequences of which, in a world so exhausted, would have been grave.
Nor is it correct to believe that this policy was easy. Moderation and passivity, even when good for the governed, rust and waste away governments, which must always be doing something, even if it be only making mistakes. In fact, while supreme power usually brings return and much return to him who exercises it, especially in monarchies, it cost instead, and unjustly, to Augustus and Tiberius. Augustus had to offer to the monster, as Tiberius called the Empire, almost all his family, beginning with the beloved Julia, and had to spend for the state almost all his fortune. We know that although in the last twenty years of his life he received by many bequests a sum amounting to a billion and four hundred million sesterces, he left his heirs only one hundred and fifty million sesterces, all the rest having been spent by him for the Republic: this was the singular civil list of this curious monarch, who, instead of fleecing his subjects, spent for them almost all he had. It is vain to speak of Tiberius: the Empire cost him the only thing that perhaps he held dear, his fame. A philosophic history would be wrong in not recognising the grandeur of these sacrifices, which are the last glory of the Roman nobility. The old political spirit of the Roman nobility gave to Augustus and Tiberius the strength to make these sacrifices, and they probably saved ancient civilisation from a most difficult crisis.
It may be observed that Augustus and Tiberius worked for the Empire and the future without realising it. Far from understanding that the economic progress of their time would unify the Empire better than could their laws and their legions, they feared it; they believed that it would everywhere diffuse "corruption," even in the armies, and therefore weaken the imperial power of resistance against the barbarians on the Rhine and the Danube. The German peril--the future had luminously to demonstrate it--was much less than Augustus and Tiberius believed. In other words, the first two emperors thought that the unity of the Empire would be maintained by a vigorous, solid army, while the economic progress, which spread "corruption," appeared to them to put it to risk.
Exactly the opposite happened; the army continued to decay, notwithstanding the desperate efforts of Tiberius, while the inner force of economic interests held the countries well bound together. It is impossible to oppose this course of reasoning, in itself most accurate; but what conclusion is to be drawn from it? In the chaotic conflict of passions and interests that make up the world, the deeds of a man or a party are not useful in proportion to the objective truth of the ideas acted out, or to the success attained. Their usefulness depends upon the direction of the effort, on the ends it proposes, on the results it obtains. There are men and parties of whom one might say, they were right to be wrong, when chimerical ideas and mistakes have sustained their courage to carry out an effective effort; there are others, instead, of whom it might be said that they were wrong to be right, when their clear vision of present and past kept them from accomplishing some painful but necessary duty.
Certainly the old Roman traditions were destined to be overwhelmed by the invasion of Oriental ideas and habits; but what might not have happened if every one had understood this from the very times of Augustus; if then no one had opposed the invasion of Orientalism; if mysticism and the monarchy of divine right had transformed Italy or the Empire within fifty years instead of three centuries? I should not at all hesitate to affirm that certain errors are in certain conjunctions much wiser than the corresponding verities. There is nothing more useful in life than resistance, though apparently futile, against social forces fated to perish, because these, struggling on to the very end, always succeed in imposing a part of themselves on the victorious power, and the result is always better than a complete and unantagonised victory of the opposing force. To the obstinate resistance with which republican principles combated Asiatic monarchy in Rome, we must even to-day render thanks for the fact that Europe was not condemned, like Asia, to carry the eternal yoke of semidivine absolutism, even in dynastic regimes. What social force destined to perish would still have power to struggle if it clearly foresaw its inevitable future dissolution; if it did not fortify itself a little with some deluding vision of its own future?
Augustus and Tiberius were deceived. They wished to reanimate what was doomed; they feared what for the moment was not dangerous. They are the last representatives of the policy initiated by the Scipios and not the initiators of the policy that created the bureaucratic Empire of Diocletian: yet this is exactly their glory. They were right to be wrong; and they rendered to the Empire an immense service, for the very reason that the definite outcome of their efforts was diametrically opposed to the idea that animated them. But we need not dwell on this point. Such were the ideas of the two emperors and the results of their work; the true Empire, known to all, the monarchic, Asiaticised, bureaucratic Empire, grew out of this little-governed beginning that Augustus and Tiberius allowed to live in the freedom of the largest autonomy. How was it formed? This is the great problem that I shall try to solve in the sequence of my work. Naturally, I cannot now resume all the ideas I mean to develop: I confine myself here to some of the simplest considerations, which seem to me surest.
The picture of the Empire, so brilliant from the economic stand-point, is much less so from the intellectual: here we touch its great weakness. Destroying so many governments, especially in the Orient, Rome had at the same time decapitated the intellectual elites of the ancient world; for the courts of the monarchies were the great firesides of mental activity. Rome had therefore, together with states and governments, destroyed scientific and literary institutions, centres of art, traditions of refinement, of taste, of aesthetic elegance. So everywhere, with the Roman domination, the practical spirit won above the philosophical and scientific, commerce over arts and letters, the middle classes over historic aristocracies. Already weakened by the overthrow of the most powerful Asiatic monarchies, these elites received the final blow on the disappearance of their last protection, the dynasty of the Ptolemies in Egypt.
When Augustus began to govern the Empire, the classes that represent tradition, culture the elevated and disinterested activities of the spirit, were everywhere extensive in number in wealth, in energy. It was not long before these ultimate remainders vanished under the alluvial overflow of the middle classes, swollen by the big economic gains of the first century. In this respect, the first and second centuries of the Christian era resemble our own time. In the whole Empire, alike in Rome, in Gaul, in Asia, there were old aristocratic families, rich and illustrious, but they were not the class of greatest power. Under them stood a middle class of merchants, land-owners, orators, jurists, professors, and other intellectual men, and this was so numerous, comfortable, and so potent as to cause all the great social forces, from government to industry, to abandon the old aristocracy and court it like a new mistress. Art, industry, literature, were vulgarised in those two centuries, as to-day in Europe and America, because they had to work mainly for this middle class which was much more numerous, and yet cruder than the ancient elites. It was the first era of the cheap, of vulgarisations, I was about to say of the made in Germany, that enters into history. There was invented the art of silverplating, to give the bourgeoisie at moderate prices the sweet illusion of possessing objects of silver; great thinkers disappeared; instead were multiplied manuals, treatises, encyclopaedias, professors that summarised and vulgarised. Philosophy gradually gave out, like all the higher forms of literature, and there began the reign of the declaimers and the sophists; that is, the lecture-givers, the lawyers, the journalists. In painting and sculpture, original schools were no more to be found, nor great names, but the number of statues and bas-reliefs increased infinitely. The paintings of Pompeii and many statues and marbles that are now admired in European museums are examples of this industrialised art, inexpensive, creating nothing original, but furnishing to families in comfortable circumstances passable copies of works of art--once a privilege only of kings.
The imperial bureaucracy that was formed mainly in the second century was another effect of this enlargement of the middle classes. In the second century there came into vogue many humanitarian ideas, which have a certain resemblance to modern ones. There increased solicitude for the general well-being, for order, for justice, and this augmented the number of functionaries charged with insuring universal felicity by administrative means. The movement was supported by intellectual men of the middle classes, especially by jurists, who sought to put their studies to profit, getting from the government employments in which they might make use, well or ill, of their somewhat artificial aptitudes. If the aristocratic idea, personified by Augustus and Tiberius, delayed, it could not stop, the invasion of these bureaucratic locusts; the government showed itself constantly weaker with the intellectual classes. Little by little the whole Empire was bureaucratised; founded by an aristocracy exclusively Roman in statesmen and soldiers, it was finally governed by a cosmopolitan bureaucracy of men of brains: orators, litterati, lawyers. Therefore, to my thinking, they are wrong who believe that the imperial bureaucracy created the unity of the Empire; whereas, the formation of the imperial bureaucracy was one of the consequences of that natural unification, the chief reason for which should be sought in the great economic movement. The economic unification was first and was entire; then came the political unity, made by the imperial bureaucracy, which was less complete than the unifying of material interests.
After the material unity, after the political, there should have been formed the moral and intellectual; but at this point, the forces of Rome gave way. Rome had gathered under its sceptre too many races, too many kinds of culture, religions too diverse; its spirit was too exclusively political, administrative, and judicial; it could not therefore conciliate the ideas, assimilate the customs, weld the sentiments, unify the religions, by its laws and decrees. To this end was necessary the power of ideas, of doctrines, of beliefs that officials of administration could neither create nor propagate. The work was to be accomplished outside of, and in part against, the government. It is the work of Christianity.
Many have asked me how I shall consider Christianity in the sequence of my work. In brief, I may say that I shall follow a different method from that which its historians have taken up to this time: they have studied especially how there was formed that part of Christianity which yet lives and is the soul of it, namely, the religious doctrine. On this account, they generally separate its history from the history of the Empire, making of it the principal argument, considering the history of Roman society as subordinate to it and therefore only an appendix. I propose to reverse the study, taking Christianity as a chapter, important but separate, in the history of the Empire. If for three centuries Christianity has been gradually returning to its origin, that is, becoming purely a religion and a moral teaching, for some centuries in the ancient world it was a thing much more complicated; a government and an administration that willed not only to regulate the relations between man and God, but to govern the intellectual, social, moral, political, and economic life of the people! The historian ought to explain how this new Empire--for it was indeed a new Empire--was formed in Rome and upon its ruins: this is a problem much more intricate than at first appears.
It has been said and often repeated that the Church was in the Middle Ages in Europe the continuation of the Roman Empire, that the Pope is yet the real successor of the Emperor in Rome. In fact he carries one of the Emperor's titles, Pontifex maximus. The observation is just, but it should not make us forget that the Christian Empire, so to call it, and the Roman Empire, were between themselves as radically opposed as two forces that created the one and the other; politics and intellectuality. The diplomatists, the generals, the legislators of Rome created by political means, by wars, treaties, laws, a grand economic and political unity, which they consolidated, quite giving up the formation of a large intellectual and moral unity. The intellectual men, who formed the most powerful nucleus of the Church after the fourth century, took up again the Roman idea of unity and of empire; but they transferred it from matter to mind, from the concrete world of economic and political interests, to the world of ideas and beliefs. They tried to re-do, by pen and word, the work of the Scipios, of Lucullus, and of Caesar, to conquer the world, not indeed invading it with armies, but spreading a new faith, creating a new morality, a new metaphysics which must gather up within themselves the intellectual activities of Graeco-Latin culture, from history to science, from law to philosophy.
The Church of the Middle Ages was therefore the most splendid edifice that the intellectual classes have so far created. The power of this empire of men of letters increased, as little by little the other empire, that of the generals and diplomats, declined. Christianity saw with indifference the Roman Empire decay; indeed, when it could, it helped on the disintegration and was one of the causes of that political and economic pulverising which everywhere succeeded the great Roman unity. Political and economic unity on the one hand, moral and intellectual on the other, seem in the history of European civilisation things opposite and irreconcilable; when one is formed, the other is undone. As the Roman Empire had found in intellectual and moral disunion a means of preserving more easily the economic and political unity, the Church broke to pieces the political and economic unity of the ancient world to make, and for a long time preserve, its own moral and intellectual oneness.
I shall make an effort, above all, to explain the origin, the development, and the consequences of this contradiction, because I believe that explaining this clears one of the weightiest and most important points in all the history of our civilisation; in truth, this contradiction seems to be the immortal soul of it. For instance: in time, Augustus is twenty centuries away from us, but mentally and morally he is, instead, much nearer, because for the last four centuries Europe has been returning to Rome--that is, striving to remake a great political and economic unity at the expense of the intellectual and moral. In this fact particularly, lies the immense historic importance of what is called the classic renaissance. It indicates the beginning of an historic reversion that corresponds in the opposite direction to what occurred in the third and fourth centuries of the Christian era. The classic renaissance freed anew the scientific spirit of the ancients from mediaeval metaphysics and therefore created the sciences; rediscovered some basic political and juridical ideas of the ancient world, among them that of the indivisibility of the State, which destroyed the foundations of feudalism and of all the political orders of the Middle Ages; and gave a great impetus to the struggle against the political domination of the Church and toward the formation of the great states. France and England have been in the lead, and for two centuries Europe has been wearying itself imitating them. After the movement of political unification followed the economic. Look about you: what do you see? A world that looks more like the Roman Empire than it does the Middle Ages; it is a world of great states whose dominating classes have almost all the essential ideas of Graeco-Latin civilisation; each, seeking to better its own conditions, is forced to establish between itself and the others the strictest economic relations and to bind into the system of common interests also barbarous countries and those of differing civilisation. But how? By scrupulously respecting all the intellectual and moral diversities of men. What matters it if a people be Roman Catholic or Protestant, Mohammedan or Buddhist, monarchic or republican, provided it buys, sells, takes part in the economic unity of the modern world? This is the policy of contemporary states and was the policy of the Roman Empire. It has often been observed that in the modern world, so well administered, there is an intellectual and moral diversity greater than that during the fearful anarchy of the Middle Ages, when all the lettered classes had a single language, the Latin, and the lower classes held, on certain fundamental questions, the same ideas--those taught by the Church. A correct observation, this, but one from which there is no need to draw too many conclusions; since in our history the material unity and the ideal are naturally exclusive.
We are returning, in a vaster world, to the condition of the Roman Empire at its beginning; to an immense economic unity, which, notwithstanding the aberrations of protectionism, is grander and firmer than all its predecessors; to a political unity not so great, yet considerable, because even if peace be not eternal, it is at least the normal condition of the European states; to an indifference for every effort put forth to establish moral and ideal uniformity among the nations, great and small, that share in this political and economic unity. This is why we understand Augustus and his times much more readily than we do the times of Charlemagne, even though from the latter we possess a greater number of documents; this is why we can write a history of Augustus and rectify so many mistakes made about him by preceding generations. It has often happened to me to find, a propos of the volumes written on Augustus, that my contradiction of tradition creates a kind of instinctive diffidence. Many say: "Yes, this book is interesting; but is it possible that for twenty centuries everybody has been mistaken?--that it was necessary to wait till 1908 to understand what occurred in the year 8?" But those twenty centuries reduce themselves, as far as regards the possibility of understanding Augustus, to little more than a hundred years. Since Augustus was the last representative of a world that was disappearing, his figure soon became obscure and enigmatic. Tacitus and Suetonius saw him already enveloped in the mist of that new spirit which for so many centuries was to conceal from human eyes the wonderful spectacle of the pagan world. Then the mist became a fog and grew denser, until Augustus disappeared, or was but a formless shadow. Centuries passed by; the fog began to withdraw before the returning sun of the ancient culture; his figure reappeared. Fifty years ago, the obscurity cleared quite away; the figure stands in plain view with outlines well defined. I believe that the history I have written is more like the truth than those preceding it, but I do not consider myself on that account a wonder-worker. I know I have been able to correct many preceding errors, because I was the first to look attentively when the moment to see and understand arrived.