Front Page Titles (by Subject) 9.: Rome and Its Mission in World History - Judgments on History and Historians
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9.: Rome and Its Mission in World History - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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Rome and Its Mission in World History
Rome, which had emerged from obscure Hellenic-Trojan-Italic beginnings, became the mistress of the Mediterranean and thus realized the historic moment of Italy.
The Orient with its attempts at world monarchies, Greece with its colonial world, Carthage with its location and its commerce, and the entire great barbaric West are fused into one Empire and one civilization; then this whole, close to collapse, is entrusted to a great new world movement, Christianity, under whose protective wing enough of it lives on to make possible a revival in the culture of the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.
Since then our horizon has been overshadowed by it. Rome is everywhere the conscious or tacit premise of our views and thought; if in the essential intellectual points we are now no longer part of a specific people and country but belong to Western civilization, this is a consequence of the fact that at one time the world was Roman, universal, and that this ancient common culture has passed over into ours.
That East and West belong together, that they constitute a humanity, the world owes to Rome and its Imperium.
The history of Rome is in the highest sense the second part of ancient history. The currents issuing from everywhere flowed together, not merely into serfdom, but into one transmissible civilization.
That is why we are concerned with the ῥώμαική ἀρχριολογíα (antiquities of Rome—Dionysius of Halicarnassus) only to the extent necessary for an understanding of what was needful for the growth and development of Rome as mistress of the world; moreover, we shall gladly do without the true secret.
Among the individual peoples this is the mightiest; its individuality, to be sure, can be described and circumscribed like that of a person, but its remote causalities remain concealed. Verum haec tantum alias inter caput extulit urbes, Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.
After a semi-mythical, typical period of monarchy there begins a century and a half of struggle between two strata of the population in which a brand of politics and virtue is developed that differs from that in any Greek republic, and immediately after the end of this struggle Rome rises to the conquest of Italy as the property naturally due it. Its earlier political perseverance now reveals itself as greatness on a world scale, i.e., through a natural process Rome grows into all tasks of the management of power; it seems to have an innate talent for the proper handling of all matters concerning power, and it is equal to the greatest task. “Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento, Haec tibi erunt artes, pacisque imponere morem, Parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.” [Remember, O Roman, to rule the peoples with power. These will be your arts: to impose the habit of peace, to spare the conquered and to cast down the proud. Anchises, Virgil, Aeneid, vi, 851–853.]
Rome shook the Gauls and the Etruscans, subdued the Samnites, and made its presence felt in lower Italy. Then the highest representative of the Diadochian war lords appears, Pyrrhus, and Rome is victorious and loses its fear of elephants.
Then Rome wages its first war with Carthage for hegemony over Sicily, in grand style and with the clear understanding that world dominion was at stake. Japhet and Ham test their strength and pay each other calls; Rome forces itself to become a naval power and gains victories at enormous cost.
From that point on, world history becomes σώματοεéδές (systematic— Polybius). The inner weakness of Carthage, as contrasted with Rome’s strength, is strikingly revealed in the war fought with mercenaries.
But a kindly fate lets worthy opponents for the Romans arise. Just after the Romans have subdued the Upper Italic Celts, it appears that one Carthaginian family (a branch of the Barcas—father, sons, and a brother-in-law) has been able to rid itself of any Hamitic acquisitive spirit and devote itself to the one goal of saving their homeland and destroying Rome. It is superior to anything else that we know about Ham and Shem. And as for Hannibal, in a certain sense he ranks above all Greeks, even Alexander. Rome could have reckoned with anything but such an adversary. And this adversary it overcame, confined Carthage to a strip of Africa, and surrounded it with the envious, like Massinissa.
After that, the Greeks and Diadochi are just a light morning snack; Philip comes closest to being a worthy opponent. But here Rome displays its initial veneration of Hellenism, considering itself the preserver and protector of the Greek tradition; the age-old Greek spirit stirs within the Romans. Rome Hellenizes itself, primarily under the leadership of Titus Quinctius Flamininus and the Scipios, who, for their part, had enforced Rome’s political and military power in Greece.
However, with the enormous gains that were to be had from the Diadochi system, Rome grows brutish. It begins to take its percentage when it gives away whole empires, when whole flocks of kings and royal emissaries appear before the Senate, and when Egypt derives its internal peace from Roman protection.
There is a marked change in Rome after the destruction of Carthage and Corinth. Maltreatment of subjects, exploitation of the semi-freemen, and frequently wicked warmaking go hand in hand with growing ferment in Italy, even while Spain and the Gallic provincia are being acquired.
The City of Rome is demoralized by the optimates who have waxed rich in the provinces or want to do so. The Roman citizenry shrinks as compared to the world empire, even though nominally it is spread over all of Italy. Could all the agrarian laws in the world have helped? Or the wholesale addition of the Italici to the ruling people?
During the incipient civil wars military personalities become decisive—individually distinguished ones, but also wicked ones who stand out from the inadequate conduct of the war by the Senate, such as Marius in the war against Jugurtha and the Cimbri. The Italici are vanquished in the Social Wars. All popular excitement is now merely urban demagoguery, designed to exploit people for the benefit of the mighty. There is no hurry about the monarchy, however. Sulla’s proscriptions restore the rule of the optimates; the dictator himself abdicates.
On the outside, power is preserved and extended from Spain to Asia, around the entire Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and victories are gained over Mithridates, Tigranes, and the pirates, while in Rome the republic cannot die and yet must be in dread of becoming at any moment the prey of an optimate, a democrat, or of the Catilinarians. The pseudo-rule of the Senate actually leans on a succession of strong men.
At length the First Triumvirate is formed.
It includes Caesar, the greatest of mortals. First he saves the Empire by conquering Gaul and securing it against the Germani, then he takes possession of it through his victories at Pharsalus, Thapsus, and Munda, and gives the tormented provinces a foretaste of government instead of mere desultory plundering by optimates.
The republicans find it a simple matter to remove him from the scene, but do not stop to consider that his veterans will still be mightier than themselves; then they console themselves with the dissension among his actual heirs, until the latter in the Second Triumvirate join in proscriptions and separate into East and West. Finally, after another terrible exhaustion of the available strength Augustus becomes sole ruler. Now it is realized that monarchy can no longer be swept away through mere attempts at assassination.
The optimates and their mentality are eradicated by the Augustan house. Lust for the principate quickly manifests itself; the transmission of power becomes extremely uncertain. The good governments of Vespasian and Trajan and up to Marcus Aurelius seem like extraordinary gifts of the gods.
But this is a great period in world history, independent of individuals, through the sway of practical realities. For, in the first and second centuries , there occurred the most important consequences of the world empire: the uniform organization and administration of the provinces; the catching up on things neglected (Britannia, Dacia, Mesopotamia are conquered); the smooth adjustment of Greco-Roman culture and its extension to the westernmost regions. Only now is there full intellectual intercourse in the entire ancient world. And at the same time the religions are denationalized. While Rome Romanizes the Gallic gods, it is itself orientalized.
Then, with renewed unsteadiness of power and appalling individual governments, the deathly force begins to rise: Neo-Persians and Germani appear and make frightful incursions into the Empire. The multiplicity of imperators, such as the Thirty Tyrants, can be explained by local defense needs alone. But once more the Empire is saved and united by great generals (the Illyrians); the Illyrian triangle, now so passive, becomes the nucleus at that time. To assure the transmission of power, Diocletian tries his system of adoptions. This is overthrown by Constantine, who allies himself with the great new world religion.
Just as Rome had once made Hellenistic culture its own and thus enabled Hellenism to live on for all time (and on this depended all knowledge and understanding of the Orient), Christianity now took over the Greco-Roman heritage, to salvage it beyond the time of the Germanic invasion.
After a dreadful period of decline, Romanism lives on partly as the Byzantine state, partly as the Western church; gradually it gathers all heathen and Arian Germani into its fold, and from night springs the new day of the Middle Ages which finds its spiritual unity in Rome. “His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono, imperium sine fine dedi” [For them I set no limits in space or time, I have given them power without end—Virgil, Aeneid], says Jupiter to Venus.
What would we know of the ancient world if the Germani had taken by surprise a pagan Rome and therefore had established no other relationship with it but that of crudest possession?
Our intellect, however, no matter how independent of the past it may behave in science and technology, is ever renewed and consecrated by the consciousness of its connection with the mind of the remotest times and civilization. Indeed, it gets to know itself and value its lofty nature only through comparison with that which it, the eternally unchanging, has been in all times.