Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. I.: The Infancy of Rome. The Wars it sustained. - Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters)
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CHAP. I.: The Infancy of Rome. The Wars it sustained. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire; A Dialogue between Sylla and Eucrates; Persian Letters) 
The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 3.
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The Infancy of Rome. The Wars it sustained.
WE are not to form to ourselves an idea of the city of Rome, in its infancy, from the cities which exist at this time, except we have in view those of the Crim Tartars, built for the stowing and securing of plunder, cattle, fruits, and other produce of the country. The ancient names of the chief places in Rome, are all relative to this use.
The city was even without streets, unless we will give this name to the continuation of roads which center in it. The houses were straggling, built after an irregular manner, and very small; for the inhabitants being always either at their work, or in the public square, were very seldom at home.
But the greatness of Rome soon appeared in its public edifices. Works which * have raised, and still raise the greatest idea of its power, were formed under its kings. They began already to lay the foundation of that city which was to be eternal.
Romulus, and his successors, were engaged in almost perpetual wars with their neighbours, to encrease the number of their citizens, their women, and their territories. They used to return to the city, loaded with the spoils of conquered nations; and these spoils, which consisted of wheatsheaves and flocks, used to fill them with the greatest joy. Such is the origin of triumphs, to which that city afterwards chiefly owed its grandeur.
The strength of the Romans was greatly encreased by their union with the Sabines, a stubborn, warlike people, resembling the Lacedæmonians, from whom they sprung. Romulus * copied the form of their shields, which were large, and used them ever afterwards instead of the small buckler of Argos: And it is to be observed, that the circumstance which chiefly raised the Romans to the sovereignty of the world, was, their laying aside their own customs as soon as they met with better among the people they conquered; and it is well known that they fought successively against all nations.
It was a maxim then among the republics of Italy, that treaties made with one king were not obligatory towards his successor. This was a sort of law of nations † among them. Thus every thing which had been submitted to by one king of Rome, they thought themselves disengaged from under another, and wars continually begot wars.
The reign of Numa, being long and pacific, was very well adapted to leave the Romans in their humble condition; and had their territory in that age been less confined, and their power greater, it is probable their fortune would have been fixed for ever.
One cause of the prosperity of Rome was, that all her kings were great men. No other history presents us with an uninterrupted succession of such statesmen and such captains.
In the infancy of societies, the leading men in the republic form the constitution; afterwards, the constitution forms the leading men in the republic.
Tarquin took upon him the government, without being elected by the senate * , or the people. His power became hereditary: he rendered it absolute. These two revolutions were soon followed by a third.
Sextus, the son of Tarquin, by violating the chastity of Lucretia, took such a step as has seldom failed to drive tyrants from the cities over which they presided; for when once a people are made strongly sensible, by the commission of so enormous a crime, of the slavery to which they are reduced, they immediately form a desperate resolution.
A people may suffer, without murmuring, the imposing of new tributes, since they are not certain but that some advantage may accrue to themselves from the disposal of the monies so levied; but when an insult is put upon them, they are affected with their misfortune only; and this they aggravate, by fixing to it the idea of all the calamities which can possibly happen.
It must however be confessed, that the death of Lucretia did no more than occasion, accidentally, the revolution which happened; for a haughty, enterprizing, bold people, confined within walls, must necessarily either shake off the yoke, or soften the asperity of their manners.
From the situation of things at that time, this was the result, either that Rome should change the form of its government, or continue for ever a small, poor monarchy.
Modern history furnishes us with a very remarkable example of what happened at that time in Rome; for as men have been sensible of the same passions in all ages, the occasions which give rise to great revolutions are various, but the causes are for ever the same.
As Henry VII. of England increased the power of the commons, merely to humble the nobility; so Servius Tullius enlarged the privileges of the people, in order to depress the senate: but the people growing afterwards bolder, ruined each of the monarchies under which they lived.
No flattering colours have been employed in the picture which is left us of Tarquin; his name has not escaped any of the orators who declaimed against tyranny: but his conduct, before his calamities, which it is evident he foresaw, his gentleness and humanity towards the conquered, his beneficence to the soldiers, the arts by which he engaged such numbers to endeavour at his preservation, the edifices he raised for the public use, his courage in the field, the constancy and patience with which he bore his misfortunes, a twenty years war he either carried on, or caused to be carried on against the Romans, though deprived of his kingdom, and very poor; these things, and the resources perpetually found, prove manifestly, that he was no contemptible person.
The rank or place which posterity bestows, is subject, as all others are, to the whim and caprice of fortune. Woe to the reputation of that monarch who is oppressed by a party which after becomes the prevailing one; or who has endeavoured to destroy a prepossession that survives him.
The Romans, after having banished their kings, appointed consuls annually; a circumstance which contributed to raise them to so exalted a pitch. In the lives of all princes there are certain periods of ambition, and these are afterwards succeeded by other passions, and even by indolence; but the commonwealth being governed by magistrates who were changed every year, and who endeavoured to signalize themselves in their employment, in the view of obtaining new ones, ambition had not a moment to lose. Hence it was that these magistrates were ever persuading the senate to stir up the people to war, and pointed our to them new enemies every day.
This body (the senate) was inclined enough to do this of their own accord; for, being quite tired of the complaints and demands of the people, they endeavoured to remove the occasion of their disquiet, and to employ them in foreign wars.
Now the common people were generally pleased with war, because a method had been found to make it beneficial to them, by the judicious distribution that was made of the spoils.
Rome being a city in which neither trade nor arts flourished, the several individuals had no other way of enriching themselves but by rapine.
An order and discipline was therefore established in the way and manner of pillaging, * and this was pretty near the same with that now practised among the inhabitants of Lesser Tartary.
The plunder was laid together, and afterwards distributed among the soldiers; not even the minutest article was lost, because every man, before he set out, swore not to embezzle any thing; besides that the Romans were, of all nations, the most religious observers of oaths, these being considered as the sinews of their military discipline.
In fine, those citizens who staid at home, shared also in the fruits of the victory; for part of the conquered lands was confiscated, and this was subdivided into two portions, one of which was sold for the benefit of the public, and the other divided, by the commonwealth, among such citizens as were but in poor circumstances, upon condition of their paying a small acknowledgment.
As the consuls had no other way of obtaining the honour of a triumph, than by a conquest or a victory, this made them rush into field with unparalleled impetuosity; they marched directly to the enemy, when force immediately decided the contest.
Rome was therefore engaged in an eternal, and ever obstinate war: Now, a nation that is always * at war, and that too from the very frame and essence of its government, must necessarily be destroyed, or subdue all other nations; for, these being sometimes at war, and at other times in peace, could never be so able to invade others, nor so well prepared to defend themselves.
By this means the Romans attained a perfect knowledge in the military arts: In transient wars most of the examples are lost; peace suggests different ideas, and we forget not only our faults, but even our virtues.
Another consequence of the maxim of waging perpetual war, was, that the Romans never concluded a peace but when they were victorious; and indeed, to what purpose would it be to make an ignominious peace with one nation, and afterwards go and invade another?
In this view, their pretensions rose always in proportion to their defeat; by this they surprized the conqueror, and said themselves under a greater necessity of conquering.
Being for ever obnoxious to the most severe vengeance, perseverance and valour became necessary virtues: and these could not be distinguished among them from self-love, from the love of one’s family, of one’s country, and whatever is dearest among men.
The same had happened to Italy, which besel America in late ages; the natives of the former, quite helpless and dispersed up and down, having resigned their habitations to new comers, it was afterwards peopled by three differents nations, the Tuscans * , the Gauls, and the Greeks. The Gauls had no manner of relation or affinity either with the Greeks or Tuscans; the latter formed a society which had its pecular language, customs and morals; and the Grecian colonies, who descended from different nations that were often at variance, had pretty separate interests.
The world in that age was not like the world in ours: voyages, conquest, trassick, the establishment of mighty states, the invention of post-offices, of the sea compass, and of printing; these, with a certain general polity, have made correspondence much easier, and give rise among us to an art called by the name of politics: every man sees at one glance whatever is transacted in the whole universe; and if a people discover but ever so little ambition, all the nations round them are immediately terrified.
The people of Italy had † none of those engines which were employed in sieges: and further, as the soldiers were not allowed any stipend, there was no possibility of keeping them long before a town or fortress Hence it was, that few of their wars were decisive; these fought from no other motive, but merely to plunder the enemy’s camp or his lands; after which, both the conqueror and the conquered marched back to their respective cities. This circumstance gave rise to the strong resistance which the people of Italy made, and at the same time to the inflexible resolution the Romans formed to subdue them, this favoured the latter with victories, which no way depraved their morals, and left them in their original poverty.
Had the Romans made a rapid conquest of the neighbouring cities, they would have been in a declining condition at the arrival of Pyrrhus, of the Gauls, and of Hannibal; and, by a fate common to most governments in the world, they would have made too quick a transition from poverty to riches, and from riches to depravity.
But Rome, for ever struggling, and ever meeting with obstacles, made other nations tremble at its power, and at the same time was unable to extend it; and exercised in a very narrow compass of ground, a train of virtues that were to prove of the most fatal consequence to the universe.
All the people of Italy were not equally warlike: those who inhabited the eastern part, as the Tarentines and the Capuans, all the cities of Campania, and of Græcia Major, were quite immersed in indolence and in pleasures: but the Latins, the Hernici, the Sabines, the Æqui, and the Volscians were passionately fond of war: these nations lay round Rome; the resistance they made to that city was incredible, and they surpassed them in stubborness and inflexibility.
The Latin cities sprung from Alban colonies, which were founded * by Latinus Sylvius: besides their common extraction with the Romans, there were several rites and ceremonies common to both; and Servius Tullius had † engaged them to build a temple at Rome, to serve at the center of union of the two nations. Losing a battle near the lake of Regillus, they were subjected to an alliance, and forced to associate in the ‡ wars which the Romans waged.
It was manifestly seen, during the short time that the tyranny of the decemvirs lasted, how much the aggrandizing of Rome depended on its liberty. The government seemed to have lost the * soul which animated even to the minutest part of it.
There remained at that time but two sorts of people in the city, those who submitted to slavery, and those who, for their own private interest, endeavoured to enslave the rest. The senators withdrew from Rome as from a foreign city; and the neighbouring nations did not meet with the least resistance from any quarter.
The senate having found means to give the soldiers a regular stipend, the siege of Veii was undertaken, which lasted ten years. But now a new art, and a new system of war, were seen to arise among the Romans: their successes were more signal and conspicuous; they made a better advantage of their victories; their conquests were greater they sent our more colonies; in fine, the taking of Veii proved a kind of revolution.
But all this did not lessen their toils: if, on one side, they attacked with greater vigour the Tuscans, the Æqui, and the Volscians; for this very reason they were abandoned by the Latins and the Hernici their allies, who were armed after the same manner, and observed the same discipline with themselves; this engaged the Tuscans to form new alliances; and prompted the Samnites, the most martial people of all Italy, to involve them in a furious war.
After the soldiers received pay, the senate no longer distributed to them the lands of the conquered people, upon whom other conditions were now imposed; they were obliged, for instance, to pay the army a certain quota for a time, and to send supplies of cloaths and corn.
The taking of Rome by the Gauls, did no way lessen its strength; almost the whole army, which was dispersed rather than overcome, withdrew to Veii; the people sheltered themselves in the adjacent cities; and the burning of Rome was no more than the setting fire to a few cottages of shepherds.
[* ]See the astonishment of Dionysius Halicarnassus, on the aquæducts built by Tarquin, Ant. Rom. lib. iii. They are still subsisting.
[* ]Plutarch’s life of Romulus.
[† ]This appears throughout the history of the kings of Rome.
[* ]The senate named a magistrate in the interregnum, who was to make choice of a king. This election was to be confirmed by the people. Dion. Halicarn. lib. ii. iii. iv.
[* ]See Polybius, lib. x.
[* ]The Romans considered foreigners as enemies: Hostis, according to Varro, De Lingua Lat. lib. iv. signified at first a foreigner who lived according to his own laws.
[* ]It is not known whether they were originally of that country, or only a colony; but Dion. Halicarnassus is of the former opinion, lib. i.
[† ]D. Halicarnass, declares so expresly, lib. ix. and this appears by history: they used to attempt the scalade of cities with ladders. Ephorus relates that Artemon the engineer invented large machines to batter the strongest wall. Pericles was the first who made use of them at the siege of Samos, as Piutarch tells us in the life of that general.
[* ]As appears from the treatise entitled Origo Gentis Romanæ, ascribed to Aurelius Victor.
[† ]D. Halicarnass.
[‡ ]See in D. Halicarn ss. lib. vi. one of the treaties concluded with this people.
[* ]These Decemviri, upon pretence of giving written laws to the people, seized upon the government. See D. Halicarnass. lib. xi.