Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. X.: GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. X.: GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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GENERAL CAUSES OF THE PROSPERITY OF ANCIENT STATES.
Such, O man, who enquirest after wisdom, have been the causes of the revolutions of those ancient states of which you contemplate the ruins! Upon whatever spot I fix my view, or to whatever period my thoughts recur, the same principles of elevation and decline, of prosperity and destruction, present themselves to the mind. If a people were powerful, if an empire flourished, it was because the laws of convention were conformable to those of nature; because the government procured to every man respectively the free use of his faculties, the equal security of his person and property. On the contrary, if an empire has fallen to ruin or disappeared, it is because the laws were vicious or imperfect, or a corrupt government has checked their operation. If laws and government, at first rational and just, have afterwards become depraved, it is because the alternative of good and evil derives from the nature of the heart of man, from the succession of his inclinations, the progress of his knowledge, the combination of events and circumstances; as the history of the human species proves.
In the infancy of nations, when men still lived in forests, all subject to the same wants, and endowed with the same faculties, they were nearly equal in strength; and this equality was a circumstance highly advantageous to the formation of society. Each individual finding himself independent of every other, no one was the slave, and no one had the idea of being master of another. Untaught man knew neither servitude nor tyranny. Supplied with the means of providing sufficiency for his subsistence, he thought not of borrowing from strangers. Owing nothing, and exacting nothing, he judged of the rights of others by his own. Ignorant also of the art of multiplying enjoyments, he provided only what was necessary; and supersluity being unknown to him, the desire to engross of consequence remained unexcited; or if excited, as it attacked others in those possessions that were wholly indispensible, it was resisted with energy, and the very foresight of this resistance maintained a salutary and immoveable equilibrium.
Thus original equality, without the aid of convention, maintained personal liberty, secured individual property, and produced order and good manners. Each man laboured separately and for himself: and his heart being occupied, he wandered not in pursuit of unlawful desires. His enjoyments were few, but his wants were satisfied: and as nature had made these wants less extensive than his ability, the labour of his hands soon produced abundance; abundance population; the arts developed themselves, cultivation extended, and the earth, covered with numerous inhabitants, was divided into different domains.
The relations of men becoming complicated, the interior order of society was more difficult to maintain. Time and industry having created affluence, cupidity awoke from its slumber; and as equality, easy between individuals, could not subsist between families, the national balance was destroyed. It was necessary to supply the loss by means of an artificial balance; it was necessary to appoint chiefs, and establish laws; but as these were occasioned by cupidity, in the experience of primitive times they could not but partake of the origin from which they sprung. Various circumstances however concurred to temper the disorder, and make it indispensible for governments to be just.
States being at first weak, and having external enemies to fear, it was in reality of importance to the chiefs not to oppress the subject. By diminishing the interest of the citizens in their government, they would have diminished their means of resistance; they would have facilitated foreign invasion, and thus endangered their own existence for superfluous enjoyments.
Internally, the character of the people was repellent to tyranny. Men had too long contracted habits of independence; their wants were too limited, and the consciousness of their own strength too inseparable from their minds.
States being closely knit together, it was difficult to divide the citizens, in order to oppress some by means of others. Their communication with each other was too easy, and their interests too simple and evident. Beside, every man being at once proprietor and cultivator, he had no inducement to sell himself, and the despot would have been unable to find mercenaries.
If dissensions arose, it was between family and family, one faction with another; and a considerable number had still one common interest. Disputes, it is true, were in this case more warm, but the fear of foreign invasion appeased the discord. If the oppression of a party was effected, the earth being open before it, and men, still simple in their manners, finding every where the same advantages, the party migrated and carried their independence to another quarter.
Ancient states then enjoyed in themselves numerous means of prosperity and power.
As every man found his well-being in the constitution of his country, he felt a lively interest in its preservation; and if a foreign power invaded it, having his habitation and his field to defend, he carried to the combat the ardour of a personal cause, and his patriotic exertions were prompted by self-defence.
As every action useful to the public excited its esteem and gratitude, each was eager to be useful, and talents and civil virtues were multiplied by self-love.
As every citizen was called upon indiscriminately to contribute his proportion of property and personal effort, the armies and the treasuries of the state were inexhaustible.
As the earth was free, and its possession easy and secure, every man was a proprietor, and the division of property, by rendering luxury impossible, preserved the purity of manners.
As everyman ploughed his own field, cultivation was more active, provisions more abundant, and individual opulence constituted the public wealth.
As abundance of provision rendered subsistence easy, population rapidly increased, and states quickly arrived at their plenitude.
As the produce was greater than the consumption, the desire of commerce started up, and exchanges were made between different nations, which were an additional stimulus to their activity, and increased their reciprocal enjoyments.
In fine, as certain places in certain epochas combined the advantage of good government with that of being placed in the road of circulation and commerce, they became rich magazines of trade, and powerful seats of dominion. It was in this manner that the riches of India and Europe, accumulated upon the banks of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, gave successive existence to the splendour of a thousand metropolisses.
The people, become rich, applied their superfluity of means to labours of public utility; and this was, in every state, the æra of those works, the magnificence of which astonishes the mind; those wells of Tyre(i) , those artificial banks of the Euphrates, those conduits of Medea(k) , those fortresses of the Desert, those aqueducts of Palmyra, those temples, those porticos. . . . And these immense labours were little oppressive to the nations that completed them, because they were the fruit of the equal and united effort of individuals free to act and ardent to desire.
Thus ancient states prospered, because social institutions were conformable to the true laws of nature, and because the subjects of those states, enjoying liberty and the security of their persons and their property, could display all the extent of their faculties, and all the energy of self-love.
[Page 59. (i).]Those wells of Tyre. See respecting these monuments, my Travels into Syria, vol. ii. p. 214.
[Page id. (k).]Those conduits of Medca. The modern Aderbidjan, which was a part of Medea, the mountains of Kourdestan, and those of Diarbekr, abound with subterranean canals, by means of which the ancient inhabitants conveyed water to their parched soil in order to fertilize it. It was regarded as a meritorious act, and a religious duty prescribed by Zoroaster, who, instead of preaching celibacy, mortifications, and other pretended virtues of the Monkish sort, repeats continually in the passages that are preserved respecting him in the Sad-der and the Zend-avesta, “That the action most pleasing to God is to plough and cultivate the earth, to water it with running streams, to multiply vegetation and living beings, to have numerous flocks, young and fruitful virgins, a multitude of children, &c. &c.”