« ForrigeFortsett »
king, and the owls of Athens 4 crept under the roof of the covetous Spartan. But the wealth which the Spartans so anxiously coveted, could only be obtained by reducing other nations to poverty and wretchedness; and when, in spite of the laws of Lycurgus, riches had been accumulated in the hands of a few citizens, Sparta had no longer any virtue, glory, or power, left +. Attica, a dreary and barren country, could never have emerged from the state of indigence to which it was condemned by nature, had not the road to wealth and the career of ambition been opened to it, by its sharing in the booty of Plataea, and in the plunder of the cities of Asia Minor, which had declared for Xerxes. This first favour of fortune proved a powerful stimulus to fresh usurpations. The Athenians seized the chest containing the contributions which the confederate cities of Greece levied among themselves to repel the attacks of the great king. They arbitrarily raised the rate of contribution, subdued several towns and islands of Greece, stripped them of their riches, and exacted exorbitant tributes. Thus the Athenians grew
* The money of Athens bore the impression of an owl.
# It has been remarked by historians, that when, after the battles of Leuctrum and Mantinaea, the power of Sparta declined, the Lacedemonians were more attached to their gold than to their country ; and though their laws condemned the passion for riches, their avarice was carried so far, that of the nine thousand families who in the time of Lycurgus shared the whole wealth of the state, there remained not above seven-hundred in the reign of Agis, of which perhaps one-hundred had estates in lands. Plutarch's Lives. London. 1805. Vol. iv. Agis, p. 385.
rich by plundering, oppressing, and impoverishing other nations; and as their wealth got into the hands of a few citizens, it caused the ruin of the state *.
A few huts, built by strangers and fugitives on the sea-shore, were the slender foundations on which arose the magnificent towers of proud Carthage. Though at first indebted for her wealth to commerce, it was the plunder of the small nations by which she was surrounded, and the conquest and spoliation of the principal islands of the Mediterranean and of a large portion of Africa, which gave Carthage so considerable a mass of riches, that many of her private citizens were said to have been as wealthy as monarchs -.
The history of Carthage does not inform us what became of her riches, and whether they fell exclusively into the hands of a few citizens, as they did among the other nations of antiquity : but it positively acquaints us with the inordinate passion of the Carthagenians for wealth. The citizens were obliged to pay for whatever the state might or ought to have given them, and were paid for every service rendered to the state f. This mutual avarice of the citizens and of the state caused the misfortunes and ruin of Carthage, and produced precisely the same effects which wealth, exclusively possessed by a small portion of the people, had produced in other countries.
* There were citizens at Athens, whose landed estates were three miles in extent ; while others had not suslicient to pay for their burial. De Paw, sur les Grecs. + Montesquieu, Grandeur et Décadence des Romains, c. 4. i Ibid.
It was the fear of having their treasures diminished by extraordinary expences, which, in the first Punic war, induced that celebrated people to submit to the laws of the conqueror.
During the second Punic war, the interested policy of Carthage confined her attention to the preservation of her wealth. She did not extend her views to futurity, nor did she appreciate the genius of Hannibal. The Carthaginians were alarmed at the expences to which they were driven by the illustrious exploits of that great man ; while they ought to have sacrificed the whole of their riches to his glory. And it may be asserted of this extraordinary people, that if the passion for riches was the principal cause of their greatness and power, it was the dread of poverty which occasioned their decline and ruin.
Rome, founded by robbers and fugitive slaves who were seeking an asylum against the justice of the laws, had for a long time nothing to subsist upon but what the Romans seized from the harvest of their neighbours. Romulus was almost constantly at war to procure citizens, women, or lands. “ The Romans used to return loaded with the spoils of the vanquished, which consisted in sheaves of corn and droves of cattle. This proved the occa“sion of great rejoicings. “ Rome being without commerce, and almost with
“ out arts, pillage was the only road to wealth. There
“ was, nevertheless, a kind of order and regularity
“ observed in plundering. The booty was collected
“ into one heap, and distributed amongst the soldiers,
“ The citizens, who had been left at home, shared “ likewise in the fruits of victory. Part of the “ conquered lands was confiscated and divided into “ two lots; one was sold for the benefit of the pub* lic, and the other given to the poor citizens, at an * annual rent paid to the state. “As the glory of a general rose in proportion to “ the quantity of gold and silver that graced his “ triumph, none was left to the vanquished. “ Rome continued enriching herself, and every “ successive war enabled her to undertake a new one. “ Her allies, or friends, ruined themselves by the “ astonishing quantity of presents which they trade “ to obtain a greater degree of favour, or to secure “ that which they enjoyed : half of the sums sent to “ Rome for this purpose, would have been sufficient * for her overthrow. “ Masters of the world, the Romans arrog, ted to “ themselves all its treasures. Their rapacity as “ conquerors was less unjust, than as legisletors. “Having heard of the immerse weaití, of Ptolemy, “ king of Egypt, they passed a law by wbich they “ constituted themselves heirs of a living nonarch, “ and confiscated the dominions of an ally.* “ The cupidity of private individuals was not “ backward in seizing whatever had escaped public “ avarice. Magistrates and governors made a traffic “ of their injustice to princes. Competitors vied in “ rushing to their ruin to purchase a doubtful
* Montesquieu. Grandeur et Décadence des Romains, c. 6. The example has not been lost. The conduct of France towards
Spain is the exact copy.—T.
“ protection against a rival whose means were not “ yet completely exhausted ; and the grandees of “ Rome shewed themselves devoid of that kind of “ probity which even robbers observe in their crimes. “No right, in short, lawful or usurped, could be “ kept safe but by means of bribes. To obtain “ money, princes robbed the temples of their gods, “ and confiscated the property of their richest sub“jects: they perpetrated a thousand crimes, to throw “ all the money of the world into the lap of the Romans.”* This eloquent sketch of the passion for wealth among the Romans, sufficiently explains the motive of their wars and the cause of their victories, conquests, domination, and power ; and it is with as much justice as truth that the immortal Montesquieu has ranked their passion for wealth among the causes of their grandeur. The riches accumulated at Rome by the pillage of Italy, Gaul, Spain, Africa, and the opulent countries of Asia, became the exclusive patrimony of the Patricians, and caused those perpetual complaints of the Plebeians against them. They gave birth to the dissentions which convulsed the republic, and repeatedly threatened its dissolution. They furnished
* The nations by which the empire was surrounded in Europe, absorbed, by degrees, the wealth of the Romans; and as they had grown powerful because the neighbouring monarchs had sent them their gold and silver, they grew weak, because their treasures were carried to other nations. Montesquieu. Grandcur et Decadence des Romains.