Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/748

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reasons as there have been writers. Among the many causes that were more or less instrumental in producing this melancholy page of history, have been noticed the decay of religious faith; the loss of the love of freedom, produced by a system which made half of the population slaves; accumulation of wealth, and destruction of the middle class, the society consisting only of the very rich and the very poor; disinclination to marriage of the Roman citizens, which became so general that the government was led to offer a premium for marriages; and the decimation of the Roman youths by constant wars. In so complicated a problem, in which so many causes have led to the same result, it is necessary, in order to discover the primary and fundamental cause, to rise above those more transitory and local elements which confuse rather than aid the observer. So, if we look above all these, there will appear a further cause—the cause, indeed, of these causes—in the conflict of societies, of different races, or of different civilizations.

In the middle of the second century b. c., the arms of the Roman Republic encompassed the Mediterranean from Carthage to Cadiz; the world obeyed the mandates and bowed to the authority of the Senate and the Roman people. The acquisition, however, of this great power and wealth became the cause of her subsequent weakness and poverty. The victorious arms of the legions were the plowshares which prepared the soil to receive the seed of final dissolution. Of the century following we read, that "the vast admixture of foreign elements produced boundless self-indulgence, and general faithlessness and corruption. New vices were imported, mainly from Greece and Asia, new creeds from all parts of the world."[1] Prisoners of war were retained as slaves by their conquerors, and to these so many had been added by purchase that, when it was proposed to discriminate the slaves by a peculiar habit, it was justly apprehended that there would be too much danger in acquainting them with their numbers. The slave population in the first century has been estimated to have been sixty million, "and at least equal in numbers to the free inhabitants of the Roman world."[2] These, by their services, aided the degeneration and hastened the mortality of their masters; they became citizens, soldiers, senators, and emperors. The Romans themselves had become a fast-decreasing minority in their own empire. From the adoption of the luxurious customs of their Oriental provinces, the Roman soldier became too weak to bear the ancient armor. The deserted ranks of the legions were replenished with the hardy barbarians from the frontier provinces. The name of emperor had lost its significance, by his deserting the field for a more easy and agreeable residence in the capital; but his warlike character was redeemed by the accession to the purple of the Thracian peasant Maximin, who during his reign disdained to visit either Rome or Italy.

  1. Johnson's "Cyclopædia," vol. iii, p. 1707.
  2. Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," vol. i, p. 27.