Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XIII.: ON THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE CAUSES OF ITS RUIN, AND THE DOUBLE CHARACTER OF THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES IN THE EAST AND WEST, A PROPOS OF THE HISTORY OF THE LOWER EMPIRE, BY M. DE SEGUR. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XIII.: ON THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE CAUSES OF ITS RUIN, AND THE DOUBLE CHARACTER OF THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES IN THE EAST AND WEST, A PROPOS OF THE HISTORY OF THE LOWER EMPIRE, BY M. DE SEGUR. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE CAUSES OF ITS RUIN, AND THE DOUBLE CHARACTER OF THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES IN THE EAST AND WEST, A PROPOS OF THE HISTORY OF THE LOWER EMPIRE, BY M. DE SEGUR.
When Cæsar’s legions passed the Rubicon, they had conquered for Cæsar all the Roman magistracies; this conquest, which the first favourite of the treacherous soldiers did not, owing to Brutus, enjoy very long, was, by fresh acts of treachery, afterwards secured to those who inherited military favour after him. It was thus that the simple title of general beloved by the troops, imperator, contained within itself all powers and rights; it was thus that in Rome the fortunate chief whom the legions of Germany or Pannonia had elevated on their bucklers, became the sole protector and revenger of all civil interests, the representative of the comitia, the elector of the consuls, and the president of the senate: whilst outside the walls, an image of entire Rome, he exercised, for his sole benefit, the collective despotism which the sovereign, formerly the people, had assumed over the nations conquered by its arms. Their tributes found their way into his fisc, their arms were at his orders. However, after this revolution, the Roman citizen, deprived of the share he had possessed in the power of Rome or the Roman empire, did not the less preserve the passive privilege of the Roman condition, the freedom of his person and property, and the exemption from all arbitrary tribute. The man of the provinces was still distinguished from the man of the city; but this distinction did not last long. Under the humane pretext of gratifying the world with a flattering title, an Antoninus, in one of his edicts, called by the name of Roman citizens the tributaries of the Roman empire, those men whom a proconsul might legally torture, flog with rods, or crush with labour and taxes. Thus the power of that formerly inviolable title, before which the most shameless tyranny stopped short, was contradicted; thus perished that ancient safety-cry which made the executioners fall back: I am a Roman citizen.
From that period Rome no longer existed; there was a court and provinces: we do not understand by that word what it now signifies in the vulgar languages, but what it signified primitively in the Roman language, a country conquered by arms; we mean to say, that the primitive distinction between conquering Rome and those it had conquered, then became established between the men in the palace and those out of the palace; that Rome itself lived only for one family, and a handful of courtiers, as formely the nations it had conquered had only lived by it. It was then that the name of subjugated, subjecti, which our language has corrupted into that of subjects, was transported from the conquered inhabitants of the East or Gaul, to the victorious inhabitants of Italy, attached in future to the yoke of a small number of men, as these had been attached to their yoke; the property of those men, as well as the others, had been their property, worthy, in a word, of the degrading title of subjects, subjecti, which must be taken literally. Such was the order of things which had been gradually forming since the time of Augustus; each emperor gloried in hastening the moment of its perfection; Constantine gave it the finishing stroke. He effaced the name of Rome from the Roman standards, and put in its place the symbol of the religion which the empire had just embraced. He degraded the revered name of the civil magistrature below the domestic offices of his house. An inspector of the wardrobe took precedence of the consuls. The aspect of Rome importuned him; he thought he saw the image of liberty still engraved on its old walls; fear drove him thence, he fled to the coasts of Byzantia, and there built Constantinople, placing the sea as a barrier between the new city of the Cæsars and the ancient city of the Brutus.
If Rome had been the home of independence, Constantinople was the home of slavery; from thence issued the dogmas of passive obedience to the church and throne; there was but one right—that of the empire; but one duty—that of obedience. The general name of citizens, which was equivalent, in language, to men living under the same law, was replaced by epithets graduated according to the credit of the powerful or the cowardice of the weak. The qualifications of Eminence, Royal Highness, and Reverence, were bestowed on what was lowest and most despicable in the world. The empire, like a private domain, was transmitted to children, wives and sons-in-law; it was given, bequeathed, substituted; the universe was exhausting itself for the establishment of a family; taxes increased immoderately; Constantinople alone was exempted; that privilege of Roman liberty was the price of its infamy. The rest of the cities and nations were treated like beasts of burden, which are used without scruple, flogged when they are restive, and killed when there is cause to fear them. Witness the population of Antioch, condemned to death by the pious Theodosius; and that of Thessalonica, entirely massacred by him for a tax refused, and an unfortunate creature secured from the justice of his provosts.
Meanwhile savage and free nations armed against the enslaved world, as if to chastise it for its baseness. Italy, oppressed by the empire, soon found pitiless revengers in its heart. Rome was menaced by the Goths. The people, weary of the imperial yoke, did not defend themselves. The men of the country, still imbued with the old Roman manners and religion, those men, the only ones whose arms were still robust and souls capable of pride, rejoiced to see among them free men and gods resembling the ancient gods of Italy. Stilico, the general to whom the empire entrusted its defence, appeared at the foot of the Alps; he called to arms, and no one arose; he promised liberty to the slave, he lavished the treasures of the fisc; and out of the immense extent of the empire, he only assembled forty thousand men, the fifth part of the warriors that Hannibal had encountered at the gates of free Rome. Rome enslaved was taken and sacked twice in the space of half a century. Italy was soon traversed in all directions by the Northmen; they settled there, and seized upon the principal portion of the lands. Gaul, Spain, Great Britain and Illyria were similarly invaded and divided; the Roman name was abolished in the west.
Thus the dominion, of which Julius Cæsar’s treacheries laid the foundation, and which Augustus Cæsar established, was banished far from its first abode, and limited to the coasts of Greece, Asia Minor and Africa. Its second limits were soon forced; other barbarians, no less feebly repulsed by the nations than the Goths and Franks had been, invaded Thrace, and attacked the empire in Asia. Belisarius, a man worthy of re-conquering the Roman world to liberty, attempted, in spite of human nature, to re-conquer it for his masters. Everywhere he found men unmoved by his voice. Italy itself became indignant at the efforts he made to place it by violence under a yoke which it did not prefer to the other, and at its territory becoming the field of battles which did not concern it. Belisarius in tears left the country which repudiated the name of Roman with as much eagerness as it formerly showed in claiming it, when that name was synonymous with independence.
The Slavonic nations occupied Thrace and Mœsia; the Persians advanced: all the tribes of Arabia, assembled under the same standard, animated by the same fanaticism, led by the same chief, at once a warrior, a priest and a demi-god, seized upon all the country between the Euphrates and the Red Sea. The nations accepted this new servitude without resistance; and as Montesquieu tells us, it was the excessive taxes, and the vexations of the empire, which made Mahomet’s fortune. The generals who succeeded him conquered Phenicia and Egypt, then Numidia and Mauritania; their fleets appeared on the coasts of Asia, in sight of Constantinople. The emperors, in the midst of their voluptuousness and the intrigues that occupied their days, were indignant that their subjects were not as brave as free men. In their despicable fits of anger they decreed tortures to those who did not devote themselves to their cause, imagining that terror would be a substitute for patriotism. But in the same way that the waves of the sea did not become more calm under the rod of Xerxes, so, at the sight of scaffolds, the slaves of the Roman empire did not become more faithful.
It was not that the sentiment of independence had then perished in the hearts of men; but those in whom it still appeared did not range themselves under the standards of any master: enemies both of the barbarians and the empire, they erected ensigns which belonged to themselves alone, and shut themselves up with liberty in some places of difficult access, and some abandoned fortresses. It was thus that the islands of Venetia became peopled, and the free city of Venice arose. Rome, an unwilling prey to its reminiscences, bore the conquest impatiently; no longer having strength to become free, it founded the hope of its freedom on imposture and cunning; it encouraged the pretensions of its bishops to an universal authority, which was to turn to its profit. It was by their mediation that it obtained the assistance of the Frank, Karl Martel, against the chief of the Lombards, its last conquerors, who were leagued for its ruin with the Greek despot. It was also in virtue of a summons of the pontiff of Rome, that the grandson of that Karl, having become king of the Franks, passed the Alps and compelled the Lombards to respect the once more menaced city. As a return, Rome proclaimed this son of its former tributaries a Roman emperor. It was in the year 800 that the name of imperator, a sad sign of Roman servitude, after having been banished during four centuries out of the western countries, was thus brought back into Gaul; from Gaul it passed into Germany; and what is still more singular, still exists there. Words also have their destiny.
The ninth century shows us Europe divided into two political zones; one comprehended the countries still remaining under the ancient dominion, founded by the conquests of Rome; the other contained the countries recently invaded by the Northmen, conquerors of the Roman subjects. The relative conditions of these men, either as masters or subjects, conquerors or conquered, differed very much in those two different regions. On one side, all the power acquired by centuries of conquest, was the property of a single person, who dispensed it around him at his own pleasure; on the other, that power was the regular share of all the families sprung from the conquerors. The Saxons in Britain, the Franks in Gaul, and the Lombards in Italy, were all singly proprietors of a portion of the territory which their ancestors had invaded, all governors and sovereign arbitrators of the men conquered by their ancestors. In Greece there was but one master, and under that master different degrees of service; in the west, there were thousands of masters free under a chief who was but the first among equals. In the empire of the Roman despot, no order went out but from the palace, no tribute was raised but for the palace, no judgment given but by the palace; whereas in the regions which submitted to the warriors of the north, the tribute of every conquered family was the patrimony of all the conquerors. The supreme chief had but his share of men and lands, which he managed and governed at his own pleasure. If he was a despot, it was within his domain; and the commonest soldier could be equally so in his. The conquered men, whom fate had not placed in the portion of the chief, of the king, as he was called in the Roman language, had no relations with him; they constituted a private domain; they formed with the trees, plants, animals, and houses, what the charters of that period called the clothing of the earth; they were under the jurisdiction of the family, and not that of society. As to the men of the victorious race, they lived under a social order and rules. None spoke to them as a master; the king, created by their choice, or confirmed by their suffrages, called them all his companions. He imposed no laws on them; he assembled them that they might make them for themselves; he did not execute against them judgments decreed by him; he lent them assistance for the maintenance of a mutual police, and for the protection of justice, which free men dispensed among themselves under security of an oath.
Victorious Rome did not spread itself over the lands of the conquered nations; these nations were not entirely separated by its conquests. Possessed in masses, worked in masses, they still preserved the name of nation. This name perished for the subjects of northern warriors; violently separated from one another by the interposition of the conquerors, possessed singly or in small groups, they exchanged the name of their race or common society, for that of their individual condition. Those who before their defeat were called Gauls, Romans, or Britons, took the name of labourers, serfs, hinds and slaves; whilst their territory, occupied by them with their conquerors, took the name of the country of the Franks, the Angles, or the Lombards. In times of war they did not fight in the manner of the auxiliaries that Rome derived from its provinces, under the standard of their nation united to that of their chief nation; they were assembled at hazard, without order, without ensigns, almost without arms, to throw them like a sort of rampart in front of the battle, or to use them for the labours of the road and encampment. The army consisted of the conquerors, subordinate to one another in different grades, and whose respective domains, marked with the military title of their first possessor, had preserved, by the maintenance of that title, which was, so to speak, consolidated with the soil, the order and regular arrangement which the dispersion of the conquerors tended naturally to dissolve or weaken. The domains having grades, the call of the domains was made in place of the call of men; the men who came from lands of an equal title, grouped themselves round those who came from superior lands; those ranged themselves under chiefs chosen from necessity, or under the sons of the first chief, if the race had not degenerated. Things passed in this way, when there was an enterprise of equal danger to all freemen, or a danger menacing to all; when a portion of territory was in peril, its defence was abandoned to those who inhabited it. Private injuries were revenged by private wars; the king himself could not bring into his own quarrels, and into wars which the community had not decreed, other men besides his own friends, or those who had bound themselves to him by engagements of fidelity independent of social duty and common discipline. In the eastern empire, on the contrary, no portion of the territory had the right of defending itself; being nothing in itself, it could not right itself, and the quarrels of the emperor were to be embraced by each inhabitant of the empire under the penalties which free Rome had ordered for traitors to their country. Such were the varieties of political organization which distinguished the eastern from the western countries of Europe, when towards the twelfth century, a great movement drew together the men of these countries, and placed in contact on the same soil their various manners and situations. This movement was produced by the Crusades.
From the moment that the incursions of the Saracens threatened Europe, the fear of their progress and the hatred of their religion armed against them from all parts those Northmen who lived idle on the territory of Gaul, Spain, and Italy. Frankish adventurers went to defeat them more than once on the coasts of Calabria and Sicily; and when a pope, seconded by the eloquence of the monk Peter, raised up against them entire Christian Europe, this great insurrection was only the complement of those partial and obscure enterprises which had so long been preparing it. The Greek emperor entreated the warriors of the west to turn towards his threatened dominions a portion of those armies which were about to inundate Asia and Africa: He obtained it, and an unrestrained and irregulated multitude spread itself over Greece; every thing was plundered for its subsistence; the exhausted empire repented having drawn these inconvenient auxiliaries upon itself; and hatreds sprung up between the Greeks and the western Christians, who were called Latins in Greece. Treaties reconciled them for a time; but their mutual aversion soon broke out with so much violence, that Constantinople was besieged and pillaged by the allies of the empire. The conquest did not stop with these commencements; and soon the greatest portion of the cities and provinces was divided between the soldiers and chiefs of the Latin army. Its general, Baldwin of Flanders, established his quarters in the imperial city, and with the consent of the troops, took the title of Greek emperor, which changed none of his power over them, nor of their independence of him. The portion of Greece occupied by this army then took the same aspect as the rest of Europe. The subordination of estates sprang there from the establishment of the army, which distributed them without dissolving itself. The warriors of every rank elected their principal chiefs under the name of emperors, as they did formerly under that of generals. The common affairs were decided by the common suffrage. The Greeks despoiled, but not driven away, became the farmers and tributaries of the conquerors; feudality passed into Greece. But the Greek empire had not entirely perished by this conquest. Intrenched at Nice, it daily strengthened itself by the hatred which was inspired by the exactions of the new masters, and their harsher because more closely felt yoke, which crushed them without distinction. Not knowing how to make themselves free, the Greeks conspired to return to their first slavery: they succeeded; and the Latins, driven out after a reign of sixty years, ascended their vessels, bearing away from Greece the love of luxury, of vain titles, and the idea of despotic unity, leaving in return some sentiments of independence of which their example had given a conception. On seeing his palace once more, the Greek emperor found, for the first time, wills in presence of his own. His courtiers separated themselves from him; his delegates pretended to a personal authority; the bonds of the empire were loosened. If independence for all had then been acquired, if social equality had succeeded the distinction between courtiers and slaves, doubtless the population of these countries would have found in that moral change a strength and resources which the empire had never possessed. But the dignitaries and courtiers who appropriated the power, took care to preserve it as it had always been, hostile and harsh towards the people; and the people had no more interest than before to expose themselves to the perils of resistance against foreign invasions. Thus these semi-liberal manners became a new cause of ruin to the empire; they disunited it as a power, without uniting it as a society. As to the West, it was thence that it derived the system of ideas which served to create the mystical scaffolding of an absolute royal power the centre of every thing, the object of every thing being its own reason, and its own end; it was with the assistance of the manners and political dogmas imported from the imperial city, that the power of a Henry the Eighth or a Louis the Eleventh succeeded under the same political denominations to the authority of the Saxon chief Hengist, or the Sicamber chief Chlodowig.
We will not relate the melancholy events which preceded the Turks to the very walls of Constantinople. What had taken place in all conquests made by the barbarians on the empire, once more took place in these last moments; the people allowed themselves to be invaded, and the sons of the Greeks were enlisted among the barbarian soldiers; the mountaineers of Albania, the only men whom Roman servitude had never found docile, were the only ones who resisted this yoke. At the siege of the city of the emperors, were seen, sword in hand, and turbans on their heads, Greek legions armed against that Roman name, which had weighed so heavily upon them for so many centuries. Constantinople was sacked; Constantine Dragoses, its last emperor, perished on the walls. Those who were called the great, the courtiers, the powerful men of the palace, acknowledged the authority of the conquerors; they preserved under other titles their employments and meanness. The rest of the nation was tributary, and like every country inhabited by its invaders, Greece lost its ancient name.
In this last struggle of the ancient against the modern world, says M. de Segur, the arms of antiquity and those of modern times seemed to unite for the attack and defence of the city of the Cæsars. The air, darkened by clouds of javelins and arrows, re-echoed at once the hollow sound of heavy rocks hurled by catapults, the whistling of bullets, and the terrible roar of the cannon.
The victorious Mussulman army enter and spread in torrents throughout the conquered city; the day before, Constantinople, a deposit of the trophies and riches of the universe, presented a living image of Rome and Greece. Cæsars, Augustus, patricians, a senate, lictors, fasces, a tribune, amphitheatres, assemblies of the people, lyceums, academies, and theatres, were to be seen there. In one instant the sword of Mahomet has destroyed every thing, and the ruins of the ancient world have disappeared.
The correct and elegant style of this history is varied with great art according to the nature of the narratives. Young people will like it, and minds already formed will often derive improvement from it. The study of liberty is almost entirely contained in the study of history; it is there that we must observe in order to recognize it, and not to pursue its shadow by mistake. Those who from the present epoch are casting fresh glances on the anterior situations of the human species, prepare for us the thread which is to guide us through the uncertain roads of the future: let us especially address ourselves to them; they do not give those vague encouragements which lead astray inexperienced activity; they offer no counsels of which they do not adduce experience; they do not lead us onward without pointing out an object to be attained.