Page:Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol 1 (1897).djvu/237

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163
OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

father's side.[1] When the rights of nature and property were thus secured, it seemed reasonable that a stranger, or a distant relation, who acquired an unexpected accession of fortune, should cheerfully resign a twentieth part of it for the benefit of the state.[2]

Suited to the laws and manners Such a tax, plentiful as it must prove in every wealthy community, was most happily suited to the situation of the Romans, manners who could frame their arbitrary wills, according to the dictates of reason or caprice, without any restraint from the modern fetters of entails and settlements. From various causes, the partiality of paternal affection often lost its influence over the stern patriots of the commonwealth and the dissolute nobles of the empire; and if the father bequeathed to his son the fourth part of his estate, he removed all ground of legal complaint.[3] But a rich childless old man was a domestic tyrant, and his power increased with his years and infirmities. A servile crowd, in which he frequently reckoned prætors and consuls, courted his smiles, pampered his avarice, applauded his follies, served his passions, and waited with impatience for his death. The arts of attendance and flattery were formed into a most lucrative science; those who professed it acquired a peculiar appellation; and the whole city, according to the lively descriptions of satire, was divided between two parties, the hunters and their game.[4] Yet while so many unjust and extravagant wills were every day dictated by cunning, and subscribed by folly, a few were the result of rational esteem and virtuous gratitude. Cicero, who had so often defended the lives and fortunes of his fellow-citizens, was rewarded with legacies to the amount of an hundred and seventy thousand pounds;[5] nor do the friends of the younger Pliny seem to have been less generous to that amiable orator.[6] Whatever was the motive of the testator, the treasury claimed, without distinction, the twentieth part of his estate; and in the course of two or three generations, the whole property of the subject must have gradually passed through the coffers of the state.
  1. As the Roman law subsisted for many ages, the Cognati, or relations on the mother's side, were not called to the succession. This harsh institution was gradually undermined by humanity, and finally abolished by Justinian.
  2. Plin. Panegyric, c. 37. [The tax was known as vicesima hereditatium, = 5 per cent.]
  3. See Heineccius in the Antiquit. Juris Romani, 1. ii.
  4. Horat. 1. ii. Sat. v. Petron. c. n6, &c. Plin. 1. ii. Epist. 20.
  5. Cicero in Philipp. ii. c. 16.
  6. See his epistles. Every such Will gave him an occasion of displaying his reverence to the dead, and his justice to the living. He reconciled both, in his behaviour to a son who had been disinherited by his mother (v. 1).