Page:The Periplus of the Erythræan Sea.djvu/15

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great invasions of Asiatic peoples, had sapped the vigor of the Indian sea-trade.

But in Arabia itself there were struggles for the control of all this wealth and power, and in the days of the later Ptolemies kingdoms rose and fell and passed into oblivion with bewildering frequency. The African coast was left to its own people and to the remnants of the Indian trade, and one Arab tribe maintained itself at the Straits, while its defeated adversary, establishing itself in the old "land of Cush," was building up the kingdom of Abyssinia, whose ambitions were bitterly opposed to the state which possessed its former home in the "Frankincense Country" of Arabia.

It was at this juncture that the rule of the Ptolemies came to an end under Cleopatra, and the new ruler of the Western World, the Empire of Rome, came into possession of Egypt, and thus added to its control of the caravan-routes previously won in Asia Minor and Syria, that of a direct sea-route to the East, by way of the Ptolemies' outposts on the Red Sea.

The prize thus within reach of the Roman people was a rich one. Successive conquests and spoliation of all the Mediterranean peoples had brought to Rome treasures as yet unexampled, and a taste for the precious things of the East was developed almost over-night. The public triumphs of the conquerors of Asia Minor and Syria glittered with new treasures, for which the people clamored. Money was plentiful and merchants flocked thither from all quarters. Within a generation the center of exchanges of the Mediterranean was moved from Alexandria to Rome. But a wise decision of the Emperor Augustus, only once departed from and that disastrously, limited the Roman dominion to the bank of the Euphrates; so that all this rich trade that flowed to Rome paid its tolls to the Empire of Parthia and to the Arab kingdoms, unless Rome could develop and control a sea-borne trade to India.

Against such an enterprise all the energy and subtlety of the Arab was called into action. No information was allowed to reach the merchants in Egypt, and every device the imagination could create was directed toward discouraging the least disturbance of the channels of trade that had existed since human memory began. And in an unknown ocean, with only the vaguest ideas of the sources of the products they sought, and the routes that led to them, it might been many years before a Roman vessel, coasting along hostile shores, could reach the goal. But accidents favored Roman ambition. The new kingdom of Axum, smarting under the treatment of its former neighbors in Arabia, was courting the Roman alliance.