Page:The imperial peace; an ideal in European history.djvu/28

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The Imperial Peace

letter-carriers, were always travelling between the capital and the provinces. The travelling was, to our ideas, slow and fatiguing, and the accompaniments and equipment were rudimentary. But travelling was possible; and the eager, enterprising spirit of man, or the pursuit of the means of livelihood, or the needs of government and administration, drove many to it. But the difficulties of further development were not overcome, and the means of locomotion remained primitive.

Many scholars and historians have described the reasons for the downfall and ruin of the Roman Empire, and I have essayed the task like others: but I venture to differ from them all (including myself), and to think now that the prime first cause lay in the failure to solve the problem of intercommunication. In a detailed estimate of the degree to which the problem was solved under the Empire, I have maintained that the Roman government sought rather for certainty than for speed. It was content with a slow rate in sending out dispatches and communicating laws and regulations to the provinces. It was more desirous to know beforehand at what date a regulation would be put in force, than to have it put in force quickly; and this was wise policy. Only tidings of disaster were carried at highest speed; and the messenger reporting a danger on the frontier was marked by the ensign of a feather, which symbolized that his journey was to be like the flight of a bird. The news of victory might travel more slowly in the bearing of a laureated courier. Such was the theory, as it was put in practice by the vigorous emperors.

But all this was utterly insufficient to cope with the situation. The Empire grew weaker as it grew larger. It could not maintain its organism against the disruptive forces of nationality. The provinces overcame the Empire.