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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 s 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 made “ 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 arrogated to " themselves all its treasures. Their rapacity as “ conquerors was less unjust, than as legislators. " Having heard of the immense wealth of Ptolemy, “ king of Egypt, they passed a law by which they “constituted themselves heirs of a living monarch, * and confiscated the dominions of an ally. *
“The cupidity of private individuals was not “ backward in seizing whatever had escaped publie "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 showed 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 mo"ney, princes robbed the temples of their gods, and "confiscated the property of their richest subjects; " they perpetrated a thousand crimes, to throw all "the money of the world into the lap of the Ro"mans. "* · 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, abysorbed, 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, Grandeur et Decadence des Romains,
Julius Cæsar with the means of destroying public liberty, and enslaving his country. It was the prodigious wealth which the proscriptions of the richest citizens of Rome had placed at his disposal, that enabled Octavius to raise the Roman empire on the wrecks of the republic. It was, also, merely by lavishing upon the legions, Prætorian bands, and Barbarians, (by whose seditions and continual incursions their power was constantly menaced,) the produce of the proscriptions, murder and spoliation of the richest individuals of Rome and the empire, that his successors maintained themselves on the imperial throne. As long as mere private persons, whom their riches assimilated to kings, were smarting under the extortion of the emperors, the people felt no abhorrence for their execrable crimes : but as soon as the increasing load of taxes began to fall heavy upon themselves, the nation revolted against their oppressors; and from that instant the empire rapidly declined, and shortly became the prey of the Barbarians.*
Lastly, it was with the sole view to possess themselves of the wealth of which the Romans had stripped the then known world, that the barbarous nations which surrounded the empire from the north to the east, commenced their harassing incursions, and contended for its wrecks.
Thus wealth, among the nations of antiquity, was alike the object of individual and public ambition, and the principal cause of the elevation and grandeur, and of the decline and utter ruin of states.
* See the preceding note.
The people of the middle age exhibited the same spectacle, and experienced the same fate.
"The country of the Scythians being almost un
cultivated,” says Montesquieu, “its inhabitants s were subject to frequent famines : they partly " subsisted upon their trade with the Romans, who “used to bring them provisions from the provinces
bordering on the Danube; the Barbarians gave them “in return the commodities they had gained by pil"lage, the prisoners they had made, and the gold and “ silver they had been paid to keep the peace : but 2 when the Romans became unable to grant them “ tributes sufficient for their maintenance, the Scy"thians were forced to seek for settlements."*
Wherever they settled, they possessed themselves of a more or less considerable portion of land, of slaves, and moveable wealth; and although these riches must have appeared immense comparatively to their former poverty, they yet failed to produce upon them any of the effects which they had produced upon the nations of antiquity. The Barbarians underwent none of the vicissitudes which those nations had experienced. They preserved their spirit, their manners, their character, and their propensity to robbery and devastation. “To have no one to rob was to " them a state of slavery.”|
When they had no more enemies to fight, no more booty to share, no more wealth to wrest by conquest
* Montesquieu, Grandeur et Decadence des Romains.
+ Etenim hoc illis servitus est nullos habere quos deprædantus, Libanius.