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poor, was, in ancient times and in the middle age, the unavoidable consequence of their civil associations being founded upon a system which stripped the weak for the benefit of the strong; or, rather, upon the wrong direction given to the inexhaustible passion for wealth. Aware that they could not grow rich without their assistance, men used every means in their power to subdue their fellow-creatures, and to impose upon them the yoke of their caprices and vices, and the care of supplying their wants and providing for their enjoyments. Man became the property of man, and in this respect J. J. Rousseau was right when he asserted, that he who laid the first foundation of
property, was guilty of treason against humanity, and deserved the curses of mankind.
Fatal as this attempt of the passion for riches proved, every where, to the most numerous part of the people, it was yet repeated with the same ardour, and, at first, with the same success, by nations against each other. They were all anxious to appropriate to themselves the wealth of other states, and to submit them to their domination. Hostilities became permanent, and in this general struggle, a few proving victorious, subdued the others and stripped thein of their riches. But punishment followed close upon the crime. The predominating states were no sooner arrived at the summit of power, than they fell with the same rapidity, and, to use the more correct than elegant comparison of Fergusson*, they disappeared all at once, and the conflagration, which had filled
Fergusson's History of Civil Society.
" the world with its flames, subsided like a wax-taper under an extinguisher.”
The causes and effects of this political phenomenon are established beyond contradiction, by the annals of all the distinguished nations of antiquity.
The Persians, who appear first on the theatre of history, were wretchedly poor when Cyrus led them on to the conquest of the rich provinces of Asia. The hope of emerging from misery was their only motive for war. They became conquerors for the sole purpose of enriching themselves ; which they accomplished by stripping the vanquished of their wealth. The treasures of the conquered kings were distributed conquerors among
the generals and grandees, and all who, by their services, had deserved well of the country. Thus the wealth acquired by conquest contributed, at first, to the grandeur of the monarch, and the splendour of the empire : but it soon devolved to a few favourites, courtiers, and slaves ; to all, in short, who, under absolute governments, feed upon the depravity and vices of their masters. From that instant the power of the Persians declined, until it vanished before an army of thirtyfive thousand men, who issued from the barren moun. tains of Macedonia, or enlisted from among the Proletarians of Greece.*
* The Proletarians (Proletarii à prole creandâ) were those citizens among the Romans who, being possessed of no more than fifteen hundred sesterces, had nothing to contribute to the exigences of the state but their children. Asperis reipublicæ temporibus cum juventutis inopia esset, Proletarii in militiam tumultuariam legebantur. Aul. Gell. xyi. 10.-T.
The Spartans, not less celebrated for their contempt of riches than for their astonishing exploits, appear little entitled to the praises with which they have been honoured by posterity. They reduced the Helotes, or inhabitants of Laconia, to servitude, for the purpose of imposing upon them the task of supplying their wants. The laws of Lycurgus, which had grounded the happiness of the Spartaus upon disinterestedness, and obtained the approbation of the geds, could not guard them against the dangerous seduction of riches. Searcely had their illustrious Lawgiver ended his days, than, regardless of both his laws and the gods, who had, as it were, declared themselves the patrons of those laws, the Spartans conquered Messene, and exterminated, banished, or enslaved its inhabitants : and it is this very period of oppression and robbery which marks the beginning of their importance and consideration among the nations of Greece. The Spartans did not shew themselves more rigid observers of the laws of Lycurgus against riches at any other period of their history : the ransom of the prisoners of war, and the booty of Platæa, were eagerly heaped up in their publicexchequer ; and, as Plutarch justly observes, “ private in“dividuals took care not to despise the wealth which “ the public held in estimation; and the law which “ watched at the gate of their houses to keep them “shut against gold, proved less powerful than the ex
ample of the people, who opened their hearts to “ cupidity.” Their best generals, and even the chiefs of the state, were bribed by the gold of the great king, and the owls of Athens* 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, leftf.
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 Platæa, 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
* The money of Athens bore the impression of an owl.
† It has been remarked by historians, that when, after the battles of Leuctrum and Mantinæa, 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. Platarch's Lides. London, 1805. Vol. iv. Agis. p. 385.
grew 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 monarchst.
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 sufficient to pay for their burial. De Paw, sur les Grecs.
#Montesquieu, Grandeur ét Décadence des Romains, C. 4.