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The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 2.
This is volume 2 from the Complete Works. The Spirit of Laws is Montesquieu’s best known work in which he reflects on the influence of climate on society, the separation of political powers, and the need for checks on a powerful executive office.
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THE following subjects deserve to be treated in a more extensive manner than the nature of this work will permit. Fain would I glide down a gentle river; but I am carried away by a torrent.
Commerce is a cure for the most destructive prejudices; for it is almost a general rule, that whereever we find agreeable manners, there commerce flourishes; and that wherever there is commerce, there we meet with agreeable manners.
Let us not be astonished, then, if our manners are now less savage than formerly. Commerce has every where diffused a knowledge of the manners of all nations; these are compared one with another, and from this comparison arise the greatest advantages.
Commercial laws, it may be said, improve manners, for the same reason as they destroy them. They corrupt the purest morals ; this was the subject of Plato’s complaints: and we every day see, that they polish and refine the most barbarous.
PEACE is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling; and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.
But if the spirit of commerce unites nations, it does not in the same manner unite individuals. We see, that in countries where the people move only by the spirit of commerce, they make a traffic of all the humane, all the moral virtues: the most trifling things, those which humanity would demand, are there done, or there given, only for money.
The spirit of trade produces in the mind of man a certain sense of exact justice, opposite on the one hand to robbery, and on the other to those moral virtues which forbid our always adhering rigidly to the rules of private interest, and suffer us to neglect this for the advantage of others.
The total privation of trade, on the contrary, produces robbery, which Aristotle ranks in the number of means of acquiring: yet it is not at all inconsistent with certain moral virtues Hospitality, for instance, is most rare in trading countries, while it is found in the most admirable perfection among nations of vagabonds.
It is a sacrilege, says Tacitus, for a German to shut his door against any man whomsoever, whether known or unknown. He who has behaved with hospitality to a stranger, goes to shew him another house where this hospitality is also practised; and he is there received with the same humanity. But when the Germans had founded kingdoms, hospitality was become burthensome. This appears by two laws of the code of the Burgundians; one of which inslicted a penalty on every barbarian, who presumed to shew a stranger the house of a Roman; and the other decreed, that whoever received a stranger should be indemnified by the inhabitants, every one being obliged to pay his proper proportion.
THERE are two sorts of poor; those who are rendered such by the severity of the government; these are indeed incapable of performing almost any great action, because their indigence is a consequence of their slavery. Others are poor, only because they either despise, or know not the conveniencies of life; and these are capable of accomplishing great things, because their poverty constitutes a part of their liberty.
TRADE has some relation to forms of government. In a monarchy it is generally founded on luxury; and though it be also founded on real wants, yet the principal view with which it is carried on, is to procure every thing that can contribute to the pride, the pleasure, and the capricious whimsies of the nation. In republics, it is commonly founded on œconomy. Their merchants having an eye to all the nations of the earth, bring from one what is wanted by another. It is thus that the republics of Tyre, Carthage, Athens, Marseilles, Florence, Venice, and Holland, engaged in commerce.
This kind of traffic has a natural relation to a republican government; to monarchies it is only occasional. For as it is founded on the practice of gaining little, and even less than other nations, and of remedying this by gaining incessantly; it can hardly be carried on by a people swallowed up in luxury; who spend much, and see nothing but objects of grandeur.
Cicero was of this opinion, when he so justly said , “that he did not like that the same people should be at once both the lords and factors of the whole earth.” For this would indeed be to suppose, that every individual in the state, and the whole state collectively, had their heads constantly filled with grand views, and at the same time with small ones; which is a contradiction.
Not but that the most noble enterprises are compleated also in those states which subsist by œconomical commerce: they have even an intrepidity not to be found in monarchies. And the reason is this:
One branch of commerce leads to another; the small to the moderate, the moderate to the great; thus he who has gratified his desire of gaining a little, raises himself to a situation in which he is not less desirous of gaining a great deal.
Besides, the grand enterprises of merchants are always necessarily connected with the affairs of the public. But in monarchies, these public affairs give as much distrust to the merchants, as in free states they appear to give safety. Great enterprises therefore, in commerce, are not for monarchical, but for republican governments.
In short, an opinion of greater certainty, as to the possession of property in these states, makes them undertake every thing. They flatter themselves with the hopes of receiving great advantages from the smiles of fortune, and thinking themselves sure of what they have already acquired, they boldly expose it, in order to acquire more; risking nothing but as the means of obtaining.
I do not pretend to say that any monarchy is entirely excluded from an œconomical commerce; but of its own nature it has less tendency towards it: neither do I mean that the republics, with which we are acquainted, are absolutely deprived of the commerce of luxury; but it is less connected with their constitution.
With regard to a despotic state, there is no occasion to mention it. A general Rule: A nation in slavery labours more to preserve than to acquire; a free nation, more to acquire than to preserve.
MARSEILLES, a necessary retreat in the midst of a tempestuous sea; Marseilles, a harbour which all the winds, the shelves of the sea, the disposition of the coasts, point out for a landing-place, became frequented by mariners! while the sterility of the adjacent country determined the citizens to an œconomical commerce. It was necessary that they should be laborious, to supply what nature had refused; that they should be just, in order to live among barbarous nations, from whom they were to derive their prosperity; that they should be moderate, to the end that they might always taste the sweets of a tranquil government; in fine, that they should be frugal in their manners, to enable them to subsist by trade, a trade the more certain, as it was less advantageous.
We every where see violence and oppression give birth to a commerce founded on œconomy, while men are constrained to take refuge in marshes, in isles, in the shallows of the sea, and even on rocks themselves. Thus it was, that Tyre, Venice, and the cities of Holland, were founded. Fugitives found there a place of safety. It was necessary that they should subsist; they drew therefore their subsistence from all parts of the world.
IT sometimes happens that a nation, when engaged in an œconomical commerce, having need of the merchandizes of one country, which serve as a capital or stock for procuring the commodities of another, is satisfied with making very little profits, and frequently none at all, in trading with the former, in expectation of gaining greatly by the latter. Thus, when the Dutch were almost the only nation that carried on the trade from the South to the North of Europe; the French wines, which they imported to the North, were in some measure only a capital or stock for conducting their commerce in that part of the world.
It is a known fact, that there are some kinds of merchandize in Holland, which, though imported from afar, sell for very little more than they cost upon the spot. They account for it thus: a captain who has occasion to ballast his ship, will load it with marble; if he wants wood for stowage, he will buy it; and provided he loses nothing by the bargain, he will think himself a gainer. Thus it is that Holland has its quarries and its forests.
Further, it may happen so, that not only a commerce which brings in nothing, shall be useful; but even a losing trade shall be beneficial. I have heard it affirmed in Holland, that the whale-fishery in general does not answer the expence: but it must be observed, that the persons employed in building the ships, as also those who furnish the rigging and provisions, are jointly concerned in the fishery. Should they happen to lose in the voyage, they have had a profit in fitting out the vessel. This commerce, in short, is a kind of lottery, and every one is allured with the hopes of a prize. Mankind are generally fond of gaming; and even the most prudent have no aversion to it, when the disagreeable circumstances attending it, such as dissipation, anxiety, passion, loss of time, and even of life and fortune, are concealed from their view.
THE tariff, or customs of England, are very unsettled, with respect to other nations; they are changed, in some measure, with every parliament, either by taking off particular duties, or by imposing new ones. They endeavour by these means still to preserve their independence. Supremely jealous with respect to trade, they bind themselves but little by treaties, and depend only on their own laws.
Other nations have made the interests of commerce yield to those of politics; the English, on the contrary, have ever made their political interests give way to those of commerce.
They know better than any other people upon earth, how to value at the same time these three great advantages, religion, commerce and liberty.
IN several kingdoms laws have been made, extremely proper to humble the states that have entered into the œconomical commerce. They have forbid their importing any merchandises, except the product of their respective countries; and have permitted them to traffic only in vessels built in the kingdom to which they brought their commodities.
It is necessary that the kingdom which imposes these laws should itself be able easily to engage in commerce; otherwise it will, at least, be an equal sufferer. It is much more advantageous to trade with a commercial nation, whose profits are moderate, and who are rendered in some sort dependent by the affairs of commerce; with a nation, whose larger views, and whose extended trade enables them to dispose of their superfluous merchandises; with a wealthy nation, who can take off many of their commodities, and make them a quicker return in specie; with a nation under a kind of necessity to be faithful, pacific from principle, and that seeks to gain, and not to conquer; it is much better, I say, to trade with such a nation, than with others, their constant rivals, who will never grant such great advantages.
IT is a true maxim, that one nation should never exclude another from trading with it, except for very great reasons. The Japanese trade only with two nations, the Chinese and the Dutch. The Chinese gain a thousand per cent. upon sugars, and sometimes as much by the goods they take in exchange. The Dutch make nearly the same profits. Every nation that acts upon Japanese principles must necessarily be deceived; for it is competition which sets a just value on merchandises, and establishes the relation between them.
Much less ought a state to lay itself under an obligation of selling its manufactures only to a single nation, under a pretence of their taking all at a certain price. The Poles, in this manner, dispose of their corn to the city of Dantzic; and several Indian princes have made a like contract for their spices with the Dutch . These argreements are proper only for a poor nation, whose inhabitants are satisfied to forego the hopes of enriching themselves provided they can be secure of a certain subsistence; or for nations, whose slavery consists either in renouncing the use of those things which nature has given them, or in being obliged to submit to a disadvantageous commerce.
IN states that carry on an œconomical commerce, they have luckily established banks, which by their credit have formed a new species of wealth; but it would be quite wrong to introduce them into governments, whose commerce is founded only in luxury. The erecting of banks in countries governed by an absolute monarch, supposes money on the one side, and on the other power; that is, on the one hand, the means of procuring every thing without any power, and on the other the power, without any means of procuring at all. In a government of this kind, none but the prince ever had, or can have a treasure; and wherever there is one, it no sooner becomes great, than it becoms the treasure of the prince.
For the same reason, all associations of merchants, in order to carry on a particular commerce, are seldom proper in absolute governments. The design of these companies is to give to the wealth of private persons the weight of public riches. But, in those governments, this weight can be found only in the prince. Nay, they are not even always proper in states engaged in œconomical commerce; for, if the trade be not so great as to surpass the management of particular persons, it is much better to leave it open, than by exclusive privileges, to restrain the liberty of commerce.
A FREE port may be established in the dominions of states whose commerce is œconomical. That œconomy in the government, which always attends the frugality of individuals, is, if I may so express myself, the soul of its œconomical commerce. The loss it sustains with respect to customs, it can repair by drawing from the wealth and industry of the republic. But in a monarchy, a step of this kind must be opposite to reason; for it could have no other effect, than to ease luxury of the weight of taxes. This would be depriving itself of the only advantage that luxury can procure, and of the only curb which, in a constitution like this, it is capable of receiving.
THE freedom of commerce is not a power granted to the merchants to do what they please: This would be more properly its slavery. The constraint of the merchant is not the constraint of commerce. It is in the freest countries that the merchant finds innumerable obstacles; and he is never less crossed by laws, than in a country of slaves.
England prohibits the exportation of her wool; coals must be brought by sea to the capital; no horses, except geldings, are allowed to be exported; and the vessels of her colonies, trading to Europe, must take in water in England. The English constrain the merchant, but it is in favour of commerce.
WHEREVER commerce subsists, customs are established. Commerce is the exportation and importation of merchandises, with a view to the advantage of the state: Customs are a certain right over this same exportation and importation, founded also on the advantage of the state. From hence it becomes necessary, that the state should be neuter between its customs and its commerce, that neither of these two interfere with each other; and then the inhabitants enjoy a free commerce.
The farming of the customs destroys commerce by its injustice and vexations, as well as by the excess of the imposts; but, independent of this, it destroys it even more by the difficulties that arise from it, and by the formalities it exacts. In England, where the customs are managed by the king’s officers, business is negotiated with a singular dexterity: one word of writing accomplishes the greatest affairs. The merchant need not lose an infinite deal of time; he has no occasion for a particular commissioner, either to obviate all the difficulties of the farmers, or to submit to them.
THE Magna Charta of England forbids the seizing and confiscating, in case of war, the effects of foreign merchants, except by way of reprisals. It is an honour to the English nation, they have made this one of the articles of their liberty.
In the late war between Spain and England, the former made a law, which punished with death those who brought English merchandises into the dominions of Spain; and the same penalty on those who carried Spanish merchandises into England. An ordinance like this cannot, I believe, find a precedent in any laws but those of Japan. It equally shocks humanity, the spirit of commerce, and the harmony which ought to subsist in the proportion of penalties; it confounds all our ideas, making that a crime against the state, which is only a violation of civil polity.
SOLON made a law, that the Athenians should no longer seize the body for civil debts. This law he received from Egypt. It had been made by Boccoris, and renewed by Sesostris.
This law is extremely good, with respect to the generality of civil affairs; but there is sufficient reason for its not being observed in those of commerce. For, as merchants are obliged to entrust large sums, frequently for a very short time, and to pay money as well as to receive it, there is a necessity, that the debtor should constantly fulfil his engagements at the time prefixed; and hence it becomes necessary to lay a constraint on his person.
In affairs relating to common civil contracts, the law ought not to permit the seizure of the person; because the liberty of one citizen is of greater importance to the public, than the ease or prosperity of another. But in conventions derived from commerce, the law ought to consider the public prosperity as of greater importance than the liberty of a citizen; which, however, does not hinder the restrictions and limitations that humanity and good policy demand.
ADMIRABLE is that law of Geneva, which excludes from the magistracy, and even from the admittance into the great council, the children of those who have lived or died insolvent, except they have discharged their father’s debts. It has this effect; it gives a confidence in the merchants, in the magistrates, and in the city itself. There the credit of the individual has still all the weight of public credit.
THE inhabitants of Rhodes went further. Sextus Empiricus observes, that among those people, a son could not be excused from paying his father’s debts, by renouncing the succession. This law of Rhodes was calculated for a republic, founded on commerce. Now I am inclined to think, that reasons drawn from commerce itself should make this limitation, that the debts contracted by the father, since the son’s entering into commerce, should not affect the estate or property acquired by the latter. A merchant ought always to know his obligations, and to square his conduct by his circumstances and present fortune.
XENOPHON, in his book of revenues, would have rewards given to those overseers of commerce, who dispatched the causes brought before them with the greatest expedition. He was sensible of the need of our modern jurisdiction of a consul.
The affairs of commerce are but little susceptible of formalities. They are the actions of a day, and are every day followed by others of the same nature. Hence it becomes necessary, that every day they should be decided. It is otherwise with those actions of life which have a principal influence on futurity, but rarely happen. We seldom marry more than once; deeds and wills are not the work of every day: we are but once of age.
Plato says, that in a city where there is no maritime commerce, there ought not to be above half the number of civil laws: This is very true. Commerce brings into the same country different kinds of people; it introduces also a great number of contracts, and of species of wealth, with various ways of acquiring it.
Thus in a trading city, there are fewer judges, and more laws.
THEOPHILUS seeing a vessel laden with merchandises for his wife Theodora, ordered it to be burnt. “I am Emperor,” said he, “and you make me the master of a galley: By what means shall these poor men gain a livelihood, if we take their trade out of their hands?” He might have added, Who shall set bounds to us, if we monopolize all to ourselves? Who shall oblige us to fulfil our engagements? Our courtiers will follow our example; they will be more greedy, and more unjust than we: The people have some confidence in our justice; they will have none in our opulence: All these numerous duties, which are the cause of their wants, are certain proofs of ours.
WHEN the Portuguese and Castilians bore sway in the East Indies, commerce had such opulent branches, that their princes did not fail to seize them. This ruined their settlements in those parts of the world.
The viceroy of Goa granted exclusive privileges to particular persons. The people had no confidence in these men, and the commerce declined, by the perpetual change of those to whom it was entrusted; nobody took care to improve it, or to leave it entire to his successor. In short, the profit centered in a few hands, and was not sufficiently extended.
IN a monarchical government, it is contrary to the spirit of commerce, that any of the nobility should be merchants. “This,” said the Emperors Honorius and Theodosius, “would be pernicious to cities; and would remove the facility of buying and selling between the merchants and the plebeians.”
It is contrary to the spirit of monarchy, to admit the nobility into commerce. The custom of suffering the nobility of England to trade, is one of those things which has there mostly contributed to weaken the monarchical government.
PERSONS, struck with the practice of some states, imagine, that in France they ought to make laws to engage the nobility to enter into commerce. But these laws would be the means of destroying the nobility, without being of any advantage to trade. The practice of this country is extremely wise; merchants are not nobles, though they may become so: they have the hopes of obtaining a degree of nobility, unattended with its actual inconveniencies. There is no surer way of being advanced above their profession, than to manage it well, or with success; the consequence of which is generally an affluent fortune.
Laws which oblige every one to continue in his profession, and to devolve it to his children, neither are nor can be of use in any but despotic kingdoms, where no body either can, or ought to have, emulation.
Let none say, that every one will succeed better in his profession, when he cannot change it for another. I say, that a person will succeed best, when those who have excelled hope to arise to another.
The possibility of purchasing honour with gold, encourages many merchants to put themselves in circumstances by which they may attain it. I do not take upon me to examine the justice of thus bartering for money the price of virtue. There are governments where this may be very useful.
In France, the dignity of the long robe, which places those who wear it between the great nobility and the people, and without having such shining honours as the former, has all their privileges; a dignity which, while this body, the depositary of the laws, is encircled with glory, leaves the private members in a mediocrity of fortune; a dignity, in which there are no other means of distinction, but by a superior capacity and virtue, yet which still leaves in view one much more illustrious: The warlike nobility likewise, who conceive that, whatever degree of wealth they are possessed of, they may still increase their fortunes; who are ashamed of augmenting, if they begin not with dissipating their estates; who always serve their prince with their whole capital stock, and, when that is sunk, make room for others who follow their example; who take the field that they may never be reproached with not having been there; who, when they can no longer hope for riches, live in expectation of honours, and, when they have not obtained the latter, enjoy the consolation of having acquired glory: all these things together have necessarily contributed to augment the grandeur of this kingdom; and, if for two or three centuries it has been incessantly increasing in power, this must be attributed not to fortune, who was never famed for constancy, but to the goodness of its laws.
RICHES consist either in lands, or in moveable effects. The soil of every country is commonly possessed by the natives. The laws of most states render foreigners unwilling to purchase their lands; and nothing but the presence of the owner improves them: this kind of riches therefore belongs to every state in particular. But moveable effects, as money, notes, bills of exchange, stocks in companies, vessels, and in fine all merchandises, belong to the whole world in general; in this respect it is composed of but one single state, of which all the societies upon earth are members. The people who possess more of these moveable effects than any other on the globe, are the most opulent. Some states have an immense quantity, acquired by their commodities, by the labour of their mechanics, by their industry, by their discoveries, and even by chance. The avarice of nations makes them quarrel for the moveables of the whole universe. If we could find a state so unhappy, as to be deprived of the effects of other countries, and at the same time of almost all its own, the proprietors of the lands would be only planters to foreigners. This state, wanting all, could acquire nothing; therefore it would be much better for the inhabitants not to have the least commerce with any nation upon earth; for commerce, in these circumstances, must necessarily lead them to poverty.
A country, that constantly exports fewer manufactures or commodities than it receives, will soon find the balance sinking; it will receive less and less, until, falling into extreme poverty, it will receive nothing at all.
In trading countries, the specie which suddenly vanishes quickly returns, because those nations that have received it are its debtors; but it never returns into those states of which we have just been speaking, because those who have received it owe them nothing.
Poland will serve us for an example. It has scarcely any of those things which we call the moveable effects of the universe, except corn, the produce of its lands. Some of the lords possess entire provinces; they oppress the husbandmen, in order to have greater quantities of corn, which they send to strangers, to procure the superfluous demands of luxury. If Poland had no foreign trade, its inhabitants would be more happy. The grandees, who would have only their corn, would give it to their peasants for subsistence; as their too extensive estates would become burthensome, they would divide them amongst their peasants; every one would find skins or wool in their herds or flocks, so that they would no longer be at an immense expence in providing cloaths; the great, who are ever fond of luxury, not being able to find it but in their own country, would encourage the labour of the poor. This nation, I affirm, would then become more flourishing, at least, if it did not become barbarous; and this the laws might easily prevent.
Let us next consider Japan. The vast quantity of what they receive, is the cause of the vast quantity of merchandises they send abroad. Things are thus in as nice an equilibrium, as if the importation and exportation were but small. Besides, this kind of exuberance in the state is productive of a thousand advantages: there is a greater consumption, a greater quantity of those things on which the arts are exercised; more men employed, and more numerous means of acquiring power: exigencies may also happen, that require a speedy assistance, which so opulent a state can better afford than any other. It is difficult for a country to avoid having superfluities: but it is the nature of commerce to render the superfluous useful, and the useful necessary. The state will be therefore able to afford necessaries to a much greater number of subjects.
Let us say then, that it is not those nations who have need of nothing, that must lose by trade; it is those who have need of every thing. It is not such people as have a sufficiency within themselves, but those who are most in want, that will find an advantage in putting a stop to all commercial intercourse.
THOUGH commerce be subject to great revolutions, yet it is possible that certain physical causes, as the quality of the soil or the climate, may fix its nature for ever.
We at present carry on the trade of the Indies merely by means of the silver which we send thither. The Romans carried annually thither about fifty millions of sesterces; and this silver, as ours is at present, was exchanged for merchandises which were brought to the west. Every nation, that ever traded to the Indies, has constantly carried bullion, and brought merchandises in return.
It is Nature itself that produces this effect. The Indians have their arts adapted to their manner of living. Our luxury cannot be theirs, nor theirs our wants Their climate neither demands nor permits hardly any thing which comes from us. They go in a great measure naked: such cloaths as they have the country itself furnishes; and their religion, which is deeply rooted, gives them an aversion for those things that serve for our nourishment. They want, therefore, nothing but our bullion, to serve as the medium of value, and for this they give us merchandises in return, with which the frugality of the people, and the nature of the country, furnishes them in great abundance. Those ancient authors, who have mentioned the Indies, describe them just as we now find them, as to their policy, customs, and manners. The Indies have ever been the same Indies they are at present; and, in every period of time, those who traded to that country must carry specie thither, and brought none in return.
THE greatest part of the people on the coast of Africa are savages and barbarians. The principal reason, I believe, of this is, because the small countries capable of being inhabited, are separated from each other by large and almost uninhabitable tracts of land. They are without industry or arts. They have gold in abundance, which they receive immediately from the hand of nature. Every civilized state is therefore in a condition to traffic with them to advantage, by raising their esteem for things of no value, and receiving a very high price in return.
In Europe, there is a kind of balance between the southern and northern nations. The first have every convenience of life, and few of its wants: the last have many wants, and few conveniencies. To one, nature has given much, and demands but little; to the other, she has given but little, and demands a great deal. The equilibrium is maintained by the laziness of the southern nations, and by the industry and activity which she has given to those in the north. The latter are obliged to undergo excessive labour, without which, they would want every thing, and degenerate into barbarians. This has naturalized slavery to the people of the south: as they can easily dispense with riches, they can more easily dispense with liberty. But the people of the north have need of liberty, for this can best procure them the means of satisfying all those wants which they have received from nature. The people of the north, then, are in a forced state, if they are not either free or barbarians. Almost all the people of the south are, in some measure, in a state of violence, if they are not slaves.
The world has found itself, from time to time, in different situations; by which the face of commerce has been altered. The trade of Europe is, at present, carried on principally from the north to the south; and the difference of climate is the cause that the several nations have great occasion for the merchandizes of each other. For example, the liquors of the south, which are carried to the north, form a commerce little known to the ancients. Thus the burthen of vessels, which was formerly computed by measures of corn, is at present determined by tons of liquor.
The ancient commerce, so far as it is known to us, was carred on from one port in the Mediterranean to another: and was almost wholly confined to the south. Now the people of the same climate, having nearly the same things of their own, have not the same need of trading amongst themselves as with those of a different climate. The commerce of Europe was therefore formerly less extended than at present.
This does not at all contradict what I have said of our commerce to the Indies: for here the prodigious difference of climate destroys all relation between their wants and ours.
COMMERCE is sometimes destroyed by conquerors, sometimes cramped by monarchs; it traverses the earth, flies from the places where it is oppressed, and stays where it has liberty to breathe: it reigns at present where nothing was formerly to be seen but desarts, seas, and rocks; and where it once reigned, there are only desarts.
To see Colchis in its present situation, which is no more than a vast forest, where the people are every day decreasing, and only defend their liberty to sell themselves by piece-meal to the Turks and Persians; one could never imagine, that this country had ever, in the time of the Romans, been full of cities, where commerce convened all the nations of the world. We find no monument of these sacts in the country itself; there are no traces of them, except in Pliny and Strabo.
The history of commerce, is that of the communication of people. Their numerous defeats, and the flux and reflux of populations and devastations, here form the most extraordinary events.
THE immense treasures of Semiramis, which could not be acquired in a day, give us reason to believe, that the Assyrians themselves had pillaged other rich nations, as other nations afterwards pillaged them.
The effect of commerce is riches; the consequence of riches, luxury; and that of luxury, the perfection of arts. We find that the arts were carried to great perfection in the time of Semiramis which is a sufficient indication, that a considerable commerce was then established.
In the empires of Asia, there was a great commerce of luxury. The history of luxury would make a fine part of that of commerce. The luxury of the Persians was that of the Medes, as the luxury of the Medes was that of the Assyrians.
Great revolutions have happened in Asia. The north east parts of Persia, viz. Hyrcania, Margiana, Bactria, &c. were formerly full of flourishing cities which are now no more; and the north of this empire, that is, the isthmus which separates the Caspian and the Euxine seas, was covered with cities and nations, which are now destroyed.
Eratosthenes and Aristobulus learnt from Patroclus , that the merchandizes of India passed by the Oxus into the sea of Pontus. Marcus Varro tells us, that the time when Pompey commanded against Mithridates, they were informed, that people went in seven days from India to the country of the Bactrians, and to the river Icarus, which falls into the Oxus; that by this method, they were able to bring the merchandizes of India across the Caspian sea, and to enter the mouth of Cyrus; from whence it was only five days passage to the Phasis, a river that discharges itself into the Euxine sea. There is no doubt but it was by the nations inhabiting these several countries, that the great empires of the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, had a communication, with the most distant parts of the east and west.
An entire stop is now put to this communication. All these countries have been laid waste by the Tartars, and are still infested by this destructive nation. The Oxus no longer runs into the Caspian sea; the Tartars, for some private reasons, have changed its course, and it now loses itself in the barren sands.
The Jaxartes, which was formerly a barrier between the polite and barbarous nations, has had its course turned in the same manner by the Tartars, and it no longer empties itself into the sea.
Seleucus Nicator formed the project of joining the Euxine to the Caspian sea. This project, which would have greatly facilitated the commerce of those days, vanished at his death. We are not certain it could have been executed in the isthmus which separates the two seas. This country is at present very little known; it is depopulated, and full of forests: however, water is not wanting, for an infinite number of rivers roll into it from mount Caucasus; but, as this mountain forms the north of the isthmus, and extends like two arms towards the south, it would have been a grand obstacle to such an enterprise, especially in those times when they had not the art of making sluices.
It may be imagined, that Seleucus would have joined the two seas in the very place where Peter I. has since joined them, that is, in that neck of land where the Tanais approaches the Volga; but the north of the Caspian sea was not then discovered.
While the empires of Asia enjoyed the commerce of luxury, the Tyrians had the commerce of œconomy, which they extended throughout the world. Bochard has employed the first book of his Canaan, in enumerating the colonies which they sent into all the countries bordering upon the sea: they passed the Pillars of Hercules, and made establishments on the coast of the ocean.
In those times their pilots were obliged to follow the coasts, which were, if I may so express myself, their compass. Voyages were long and painful. The laborious voyage of Ulysses has been the fruitful subject of the finest poem in the world, next to that which alone has the preference.
The little knowledge, which the greatest part of the world had of those who were far distant from them, favoured the nations engaged in the œconomical commerce. They managed trade with as much obscurity as they pleased: they had all the advantages which the most intelligent nations could take over the most ignorant.
The Egyptians, a people who by their religion and their manners were averse to all communication with strangers, had scarcely at that time any foreign trade. They enjoyed a fruitful soil, and great plenty. Their country was the Japan of those times; it possessed every thing within itself.
So little jealous were those people of commerce, that they left that of the Red Sea to all the petty nations that had any harbours in it. Here they suffered the Idumeans, the Syrians, and the Jews to have fleets. Solomon employed in this navigation the Tyrians, who knew those seas.
Josephus says, that his nation, being entirely employed in agriculture, knew little of navigation: the Jews therefore traded only occasionally in the Red Sea. They took from the Idumeans, Eloth and Eziongeber, from whom they received this commerce; they lost these two cities, and with them lost this commerce.
It was not so with the Phœnicians; theirs was not a commerce of luxury; nor was their trade owing to conquest: their frugality, their abilities, their industry, their perils, and the hardships they suffered, rendered them necessary to all the nations of the world.
Before Alexander, the people bordering on the Red Sea traded only in this sea, and in that of Africa. The astonishment, which filled the globe at the discovery of the Indian Sea under that conqueror, is of this a sufficient proof. I have observed, that bullion was always carried to the Indies, and never any brought from thence; now the Jewish fleets, which brought gold and silver by the way of the Red Sea, returned from Africa, and not from the Indies.
Besides, this navigation was made on the eastern coast of Africa; for the state of navigation at that time is a convincing proof, that they did not sail to a very distant shore. I am not ignorant, that the fleet of Solomon and Jehosaphat returned only every three years; but I do not see that the time taken up in the voyage is any proof of the greatness of the distance.
Pliny and Strabo inform us, that the junks of India and the Red Sea were twenty days in performing a voyage, which a Greek or Roman vessel would accomplish in seven, In this proportion, a voyage of one year, made by the fleets of Greece or Rome, would take very near three, when performed by those of Solomon.
Two ships of unequal swiftness do not perform their voyage in a time proportionate to their swiftness. Slowness is frequently the cause of much greater slowness. When it becomes necessary to follow the coasts, and to be incessantly in a different position, when they must wait for a fair wind to get out of a gulph, and for another to proceed; a good sailor takes the advantage of every favourable moment, while the other still continues in a difficult situation, and waits many days for another change.
This slowness of the Indian vessels, which in an equal time could make but one third of the way of those of the Greeks and Romans, may be explained by what we every day see in our modern navigation. The Indian vessels, which were built with a kind of sea-rushes, drew less water than those of Greece and Rome, which were of wood and joined with iron.
We may compare these Indian vessels to those at present made use of in ports of little depth of water. Such are those of Venice, and even of all Italy in general, of the Baltic, and of the province of Holland. Their ships, which ought to be able to go in and out of port, are built round and broad at the bottom; while those of other nations, who have good harbours, are formed to sink deep into the water. This mechanism renders these last mentioned vessels able to sail much nearer to the wind; while the first can hardly sail, except the wind be nearly in the poop. A ship that sinks deep into the water, sails towards the same side with almost every wind: this proceeds from the resistance which the vessel, whilst driven by the wind, meets with from the water, from which it receives a strong support; and from the length of the vessel, which presents its side to the wind, while from the form of the helm the prow is turned to the point proposed; so that she can sail very near to the wind, or, in other words, very near the point from whence the wind blows. But when the hull is round and broad at the bottom, and consequently draws little water, it no longer finds this steady support; the wind drives the vessel, which is incapable of resistance, and can run then but with a small variation from the point opposite to the wind. From whence it follows, that broad-bottomed vessels are longer in performing voyages.
1. They lose much time in waiting for the wind, especially if they are obliged frequently to change their course. 2. They sail much slower, because, not having a proper support from a depth of water, they cannot carry so much sail. If this be the case at a time when the arts are every where known, at a time when art corrects the defects of nature, and even of art itself; if at this time, I say, we find this difference, how great must that have been, in the navigation of the antients?
I cannot yet leave this subject. The Indian vessels were small, and those of the Greeks and Romans, if we except their machines built for ostentation, much less than ours. Now, the smaller the vessel, the greater the danger it encounters from foul weather. A tempest that would swallow up a small vessel, would only make a large one roll. The more one body is surpassed by another in bigness, the more its surface is relatively small. From whence it follows, that in a small ship, there is a less proportion, that is, a greater difference, as to the surface of the vessel, and the weight or lading she can carry, than in a large one. We know that it is a pretty general practice, to make the weight of the lading equal to that of half the water the vessel is able to contain. Suppose a vessel will contain eight hundred tons, her lading then must be four hundred; and that of a vessel, which would hold but four hundred tons of water, would be two hundred tons. Thus the largeness of the first ship will be to the weight she carries, as 8 to 4; and that of the second as 4 to 2. Let us suppose then, that the surface of the greater is to the surface of the smaller, as 8 to 6: the surface of this will be to her weight as 6 to 2, while the surface of the former will be to her weight only, as 8 to 4. Therefore, as the winds and waves act only upon the surface, the large vessel will, by her weight, resist their impetuosity much more than the small.
THE first Greeks were all pirates. Minos, who enjoyed the empire of the sea, was only more successful, perhaps, than others in piracy; for his maritime dominion extended no farther than round his own isle. But when the Greeks became a great people, the Athenians obtained the real dominion of the sea; because this trading and victorious nation gave laws to the most potent monarch of that time; and humbled the maritime powers of Syria, of the isle of Cyprus, and Phœnicia.
But this Athenian lordship of the sea deserves to be more particularly mentioned. “Athens, says Xenophon, rules the sea; but as the country of Attica is joined to the continent, it is ravaged by enemies, while the Athenians are engaged in distant expeditions. Their leaders suffer their lands to be destroyed; and secure their wealth, by sending it to some island. The populace, who are not possessed of lands, have no uneasiness. But if the Athenians inhabited an island, and, besides this, enjoyed the empire of the sea, they would, so long as they were possessed of these advantages, be able to annoy others, and at the same time to be out of all danger of being annoyed.” One would imagine, that Xenophon was speaking of England.
The Athenians, a people whose heads were filled with ambitious projects; the Athenians, who augmented their jealousy, instead of increasing their influence; who were more attentive to extend their maritime empire than to enjoy it; whose political government was such, that the common people distributed the public revenues amongst themselves, while the rich were in a state of oppression; the Athenians, I say, did not carry on so extensive a commerce as might be expected from the produce of their mines, from the multitude of their slaves, from the number of their seamen, from their influence over the cities of Greece; and, above all, from the excellent institutions of Solon. Their trade was almost wholly confined to Greece, and to the Euxine sea; from whence they drew their subsistence.
Corinth was admirably situated; it separated two seas, and opened and shut the Peloponnesus: it was the key of Greece, and a city of the greatest importance, at a time when the people of Greece were a world, and the cities of Greece, nations. Its trade was more extensive than that of Athens, having a port to receive the merchandizes of Asia; and another those of Italy: for the great difficulties which attended the doubling cape Malea, where the meeting of opposite winds causes shipwrecks, induced every one to go to Corinth, and they could even convey their vessels over land from one sea to the other. Never was there a city, in which the works of art were carried to so high a degree of perfection. But here religion finished the corruption, which their opulence began. They erected a temple to Venus, in which more than a thousand courtesans were consecrated to that deity; from this seminary came the greatest part of those celebrated beauties, whose history Athenæus has presumed to commit to writing.
It seems, that in Homer’s time, the opulence of Greece centered in Rhodes, Corinth, and Orchomenus: “Jupiter, he says, loved the Rhodians, and made them a very wealthy nation.” On Corinth he bestows the epithet of rich. In like manner, when he speaks of cities that have plenty of gold, he mentions Orchomenus, to which he joins Thebes in Egypt. Rhodes and Corinth preserved their power; but Orchomenus lost hers. The situation of Orchomenus in the neighbourhood of the Hellespont, the Propontis, and the Euxine sea, makes us naturally imagine, that she was indebted for her opulence to a trade along that maritime coast, which had given rise to the fable of the golden fleece: and indeed, the name of Minyeios has been given to Orchomenus, as well as to the Argonauts. But these seas becoming afterwards more frequented, the Greeks planted along the coasts a greater number of colonies, which traded with the barbarous nations, and at the same time preserved an intercourse with their mother country: in consequence of this, Orchomenus began to decline, till at length it was lost in the croud of the other cities of Greece.
Before Homer’s time, the Greeks had scarce any trade but among themselves, and with a few barbarous nations; in proportion, however, as they formed new colonies, they extended their dominion. Greece was a large peninsula, the capes of which seemed to have kept off the seas, while its gulphs opened on all sides to receive them. If we cast an eye on Greece, we shall find, in a pretty compact country, a considerable extent of sea-coast. Her innumerable colonies formed an immense circle round her; and there she beheld, in some measure, the whole civilized world. Did she penetrate into Sicily and Italy? she formed new nations. Did she navigate towards the sea of Pontus, the coast of Asia Minor, or that of Africa? she acted in the same manner. Her cities increased in prosperity, in proportion as they happened to have new people in their neighbourhood. And what was extremely beautiful, she was surrounded on every side with a prodigious number of islands, drawn, as it were, in a line of circumvallation.
What a source of prosperity must Greece have found in those games, with which she entertained, in some measure, the whole globe; in those temples, to which all the kings of the earth sent their offerings; in those festivals, at which such a concourse of people used to assemble from all parts; in those oracles, to which the attention of all mankind was directed; and, in short, in that exquisite taste for the polite arts, which she carried to such a height, that to expect ever to surpass her, would be only betraying our ignorance.
FOUR great events happened in the reign of Alexander, which entirely changed the face of commerce: the taking of Tyre, the conquest of Egypt, that likewise of the Indies, and the discovery of the sea which lies south of that country.
The empire of Persia extended to the Indus. Darius, long before Alexander, had sent some vessels, which sailed down this river, and passed even into the Red sea. How then were the Greeks the first who traded to the Indies by the south? Had not the Persians done this before? Did they make no advantage of seas which were so near them; of the very seas that washed their coasts? Alexander, it is true, conquered the Indies; but was it necessary for him to conquer a country, in order to trade with it? This is what I shall now examine.
Ariana, which extended from the Persian gulph as far as the Indus, and from the South Sea to the mountains of Paropamisus, depended indeed in some measure on the empire of Persia; but in the southern part it was barren, scorched, rude, and uncultivated. Tradition relates, that the armies of Semiramis and Cyrus perished in these desarts; and Alexander, who caused his fleet to follow him, could not avoid losing in this place a great part of his army. The Persians left the whole coast to the Ichthyophagi, the Oritæ, and other barbarous nations. Besides, the Persians were no great sailors, and their very religion debarred them from entertaining any such notion as that of a maritime commerce. The voyage undertaken by Darius’s direction upon the Indus, and the Indian sea, proceeded rather from the capriciousness of a prince vainly ambitious of shewing his power, than from any settled regular project. It was attended with no consequence, either to the advantage of commerce, or of navigation. They emerged from their ignorance, only to plunge into it again.
Besides, it was a received opinion, before the expedition of Alexander, that the southern parts of India were uninhabitable. This proceeded from a tradition that Semiramis had brought back from thence only twenty men, and Cyrus but seven.
Alexander entered by the north. His design was to march towards the east; but having found a part of the south full of great nations, cities, and rivers, he attempted to conquer it, and succeeded.
He then formed the design of uniting the Indies to the western nations by a maritime commerce, as he had already united them by the colonies he had established by land.
He ordered a fleet to be built on the Hydaspes, then fell down that river, entered the Indus, and sailed even to its mouth. He left his army and his fleet at Patala, went himself with a few vessels to view the sea, and marked the places where he would have ports to be opened, and arsenals erected. Upon his return from Patala, he separated the fleet, and took the route by land, for the mutual support of fleet and army. The fleet followed the coast from the Indus along the banks of the country of the Oritæ, of the Ichthyophagi, of Carmania and Persia. He caused wells to be dug, built cities, and would not suffer the Ichthyophagi to live on fish, being desirous of having the borders of the sea inhabited by civilized nations. Nearchus and Onesecritus wrote a journal of this voyage, which was performed in ten months. They arrived at Susa, where they found Alexander, who gave an entertainment to his whole army.
This prince had founded Alexandria, with a view of securing his conquest of Egypt; this was a key to open it, in the very place where the kings his predecessors had a key to shut it; and he had not the least thought of a commerce, of which the discovery of the Indian sea could alone give him the idea.
It even seems, that after this discovery, he had no new design, in regard to Alexandria. He had, indeed, a general scheme of opening a trade between the East Indies and the western parts of his empire; but as for the project of conducting this commerce through Egypt, his knowledge was too imperfect to be able to form any such design. It is true, he had seen the Indus, he had seen the Nile, but he knew nothing of the Arabian seas between the two rivers. Scarce was he returned from India, when he fitted out new fleets, and navigated on the Euleus, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the ocean: he removed the cataracts, with which the Persians had encumbered those rivers; and he discovered that the Persian gulph was a branch of the main sea. But as he went to view this sea, in the same manner as he had done in regard to that of India; as he caused a port to be opened for a thousand ships, and arsenals to be erected at Babylon; as he sent five hundred talents into Phœnicia and Syria, to draw mariners into this service, whom he intended to distribute in the colonies along the coast; in fine, as he caused immense works to be erected on the Euphrates, and the other rivers of Assyria, there could be no doubt but he designed to carry on the commerce of India by the way of Babylon and the Persic gulph.
There are some who pretend that Alexander wanted to subdue Arabia, and had formed a design to make it the seat of his empire: but how could he have pitched upon a place, with which he was entirely unacquainted. Besides, of all countries, this would have been the most inconvenient to him; for it would have separated him from the rest of his empire. The Caliphs, who made distant conquests, soon withdrew from Arabia, to reside elsewhere.
AT the time when Alexander made the conquest of Egypt, they had but a very imperfect idea of the Red sea, and none at all of the ocean, which joining to this sea, on one side washes the coast of Africa, and on the other, that of Arabia; nay, they thought it impossible to sail round the peninsula of Arabia. They who attempted it on each side, had relinquished their design. “How is it possible, said they, to navigate to the southern coast of Arabia, when Cambyses’s army, which traversed it on the north side, almost entirely perished; and the forces which Ptolemy, the son of Lagus, sent to the assistance of Seleucus Nicator at Babylon, underwent incredible hardships, and, upon account of the heats, could march only in the night?”
The Persians were entire-strangers to navigation. When they had subdued Egypt, they introduced the same spirit into that country as prevailed in Persia: hence so great was the supineness of the Persians, in this respect, that the Grecian kings found them quite strangers, not only to the commerce of the Tyrians, Idumeans, and the Jews, on the ocean, but even to the navigation of the Red sea. I am apt to think, that the destruction of the first Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar, together with the subversion of several petty nations and towns bordering on the Red sea, had obliterated all their former knowledge of commerce.
Egypt, at the time of the Persian monarchy, did not front the Red sea; it contained only that long narrow neck of land which the Nile covers with its inundations, and is enclosed on both sides by a chain of mountains. They were, therefore, under the necessity of making a second discovery of the ocean and the Red sea; and this discovery engaged the curiosity of the Grecian monarchs.
They ascended the Nile, and hunted after elephants in the countries situated between that river and the sea; by this progression they traced the sea-coast; and as the discoveries were made by the Greeks, the names are all Grecian, and the temples are consecrated to Greek divinities.
The Greeks settled in Egypt were able to command a most extensive commerce; they were masters of all the harbours on the Red sea; Tyre, the rival of every trading nation, was no more; they were not constrained by the ancient superstitions of the country; in short, Egypt was become the centre of the world.
The kings of Syria left the commerce of the south to those of Egypt, and attached themselves only to the northern trade, which was carried on by means of the Oxus and the Caspian sea. They then imagined, that this sea was part of the northern ocean; and Alexander, some time before his death had fitted out a fleet, in order to discover whether it communicated with the ocean by the Euxine sea, or on some other eastern sea towards India. After him, Seleucus and Antiochus applied themselves to make discoveries in it, with a particular attention; and with this view they scoured it with their fleets. That part which Seleucus surveyed, was called the Seleucidian sea; that which Antiochus discovered, received the name of the sea of Antiochus. Attentive to the projects they might have formed on that side, they neglected the seas on the south: whether it was that the Ptolemies, by means of their fleets on the Red sea, were already become the masters of it; or that they discovered an invincible aversion in the Persians against engaging in maritime affairs. The southern coasts of Persia supplied them with no seamen; there had been none in those parts, except towards the latter end of Alexander’s reign. But the Egyptian kings being masters of the isle of Cyprus, of Phœnicia, and of a great number of towns on the coast of Asia minor, were possessed of all sorts of conveniencies for undertaking maritime expeditions. They had no occasion to force, they had only to follow the genius and bent of their subjects.
I am surprized, I confess, at the obstinacy with which the ancients believed that the Caspian sea was a part of the ocean. The expeditions of Alexander, of the kings of Syria, of the Parthians and the Romans, could not make them change their sentiments; notwithstanding these nations described the Caspian sea with a wonderful exactness; but men are generally tenacious of their errors. When only the south of this sea was known, it was at first taken for the ocean; in proportion as they advanced along the banks of the northern coast, instead of imagining it a great lake, they still believed it to be the ocean, that here made a sort of a bay: surveying the coast, their discoveries never went eastward beyond the Jaxartes, nor westward further than the extremity of Albania. The sea towards the north was shallow, and of course very unfit for navigation. Hence it was, that they always looked upon this as the ocean.
The land army of Alexander had been on the east only as far as the Hypanis, which is the last of those rivers that fall into the Indus: thus the first trade which the Greeks carried on to the Indies was confined to a very small part of the country. Seleucus Nicator penetrated as far as the Ganges, and there by discovered the sea into which this river falls, that is to say, the bay of Bengal. The moderns discover countries by voyages at sea; the ancients discovered seas by conquests at land.
Strabo, notwithstanding the testimony of Apollodorus, seems to doubt whether the Grecian kings of Bactria proceeded farther than Seleucus and Alexander. Were it even true that they went no further to the east than Seleucus, yet they went farther towards the south: they discovered Siger, and the ports on the coast of Malabar, which gave rise to the navigation I am going to mention.
Pliny informs us, that the navigation of the Indies was successively carried on by three different ways. At first they sailed from the cape of Siagre to the island of Patalena, which is at the mouth of the Indus. This we find was the course that Alexander’s fleet steered to the Indies. They took afterwards, a shorter and more certain course, by sailing from the same cape or promontory to Siger: this can be no other but the kingdom of Siger, mentioned by Strabo, and discovered by the Grecian kings of Bactria. Pliny, by saying that this way was shorter than the other, can mean only that the voyage was made in less time: for as Siger was discovered by the kings of Bactria, it must have been farther than the Indus: by this passage they must therefore have avoided the windings of certain coasts, and taken advantage of particular winds. The merchants at last took a third way; they sailed to Canes, or Ocelis, ports situated at the entrance of the Red sea; from whence by a west wind, they arrived at Muziris, the first staple town of the Indies, and from thence to the other ports. Here we see, that instead of sailing to the mouth of the Red sea as far as Siagre, by coasting Arabia Felix to the north-east, they steered directly from west to east, from one side to the other, by means of the monsoons, whose regular course they discovered by sailing in these latitudes. The ancients never lost sight of the coasts, but when they took advantage of these and the trade winds, which were to them a kind of compass.
Pliny says, that they set sail for the Indies in the middle of summer, and returned towards the end of December, or in the beginning of January. This is entirely conformable to our naval journals. In that part of the Indian sea which is between the peninsula of Africa, and that on this side the Ganges, there are two monsoons; the first, during which the winds blow from west to east, begins in the month of August or September; and the second, during which the wind is in the east, begins in January. Thus we set sail from Africa for Malabar, at the season of the year that Ptolemy’s fleet used to put to sea from thence; and we return too at the same time as they.
Alexander’s fleet was seven months in sailing from Patala to Susa. It set out in the month of July, that is, at a season when no ship dare now put to sea to return from the Indies. Between these two monsoons there is an interval of time, during which the winds vary; when a north wind meeting with the common winds, raises, especially near the coasts, the most terrible tempests. These continue during the months of June, July, and August. Alexander’s fleet, therefore, setting sail from Patala in the month of July, must have been exposed to many storms, and the voyage must have been long, because they sailed against the monsoon.
Pliny says, that they set out for the Indies at the end of summer; thus they spent the time proper for taking advantage of the monsoon, in their passage from Alexandria to the Red sea.
Observe here, I pray, how navigation has by little and little arrived at perfection. Darius’s fleet was two years and an half in falling down the Indus, and going to the Red sea. Afterwards the fleet of Alexander, descending the Indus, arrived at Susa in ten months, having sailed three months on the Indus, and seven on the Indian sea; at last, the passage from the coast of Malabar to the Red sea was made in forty days.
Strabo, who accounts for their ignorance of the countries between the Hypanis and the Ganges, says, there were very few of those who sailed from Egypt to the Indies, that ever proceeded so far as the Ganges. Their fleets, in fact, never went thither: they sailed with the western monsoons from the mouth of the Red sea to the coast of Malabar. They cast anchor in ports along that coast, and never attempted to get round the peninsula on this side the Ganges by cape Comorin and the coast of Coromandel. The plan of navigation laid down by the kings of Egypt and the Romans was, to set out and return the same year.
Thus it is demonstrable, that the commerce of the Greeks and Romans to the Indies was much less extensive than ours. We know immense countries, which to them were entirely unknown; we traffic with all the Indian nations; we even manage their trade, and in our bottoms carry on their commerce.
But this commerce of the ancients was carried on with far greater facility than ours. And if the moderns were to trade only to the coast of Guzarat and Malabar, and, without seeking for the southern isles, were satisfied with what these islanders brought them, they would certainly prefer the way of Egypt to that of the cape of Good-hope. Strabo informs us, that they traded thus with the people of Taprobane.
WE find from history, that before the discovery of the mariner’s compass, four attempts were made to sail round the coast of Africa. The Phœnicians sent by Necho, and Eudoxus flying from the wrath of Ptolomy Lathyrus, set out from the Red sea, and succeeded. Sataspes sent by Xerxes, and Hanno by the Carthaginians, set out from the Pillars of Hercules, and failed in the attempt.
The capital point in surrounding Africa was, to discover and double the cape of Good-hope. Those who set out from the Red sea, found this cape nearer by half, than it would have been in setting out from the Mediterranean. The shore from the Red sea is not so shallow as that from the cape to Hercules’s pillars. The discovery of the cape by Hercules’s pillars was owing to the invention of the compass, which permitted them to leave the coast of Africa, and to launch out into the vast ocean, in order to sail towards the island of St. Helena, or towards the coast of Brasil. It was therefore very possible for them to sail from the Red sea into the Mediterranean, but not to set out from the Mediterranean to return by the Red sea.
Thus, without making this grand circuit, after which they could hardly ever hope to return, it was most natural to trade to the east of Africa by the Red sea, and to the western coast by Hercules’s pillars.
The Grecian kings of Egypt discovered at first in the Red sea, that part of the coast of Africa, which extends from the bottom of the gulph where stands the town of Heroum, as far as Dira, that is, to the streight, now known by the name of Babelmandel. From thence to the promontory of Aromatia, situate at the entrance of the Red sea, the coast had never been surveyed by navigators: and this is evident from what Artemidorus tells us, that they were acquainted with the places on that coast, but knew not their distances: the reason of which is, they successively gained a knowledge of those ports by land, without sailing from one to the other.
Beyond this promontory, at which the coast along the ocean commenced, they knew nothing, as we learn from Eratosthenes and Artemidorus.
Such was the knowledge they had of the coasts of Africa in Strabo’s time, that is, in the reign of Augustus. But after that prince’s decease, the Romans found out the two capes Raptum and Passum, of which Strabo makes no mention, because they had not been as yet discovered. It is plain, that both those names are of Roman original.
Ptolemy the geographer flourished under Adrian and Antoninus Pius; and the author of the Periplus of the Red sea, whoever he was, lived a little after. Yet the former limits known Africa to cape Prassum, which is in about the 14th degree of south latitude; while the author of the Periplus confines it to cape Raptum, which is nearly in the 10th degree of the same latitude. In all likelihood, the latter took his limit from a place then frequented, and Ptolemy his from a place with which there was no longer any communication.
What confirms me in this notion is, that the people about cape Prassum were anthropophagi. Ptolemy takes notice of a great number of places between the port or emporium Aromatum and cape Raptum, but leaves an entire blank between the capes Raptum and Prassum. The great profits of the East-India trade must have occasioned a neglect of that of Africa. In fine, the Romans never had any settled navigation; they had discovered these several ports by land expeditions, and by means of ships driven on that coast; and, as at present, we are well acquainted with the maritime parts of Africa, but know very little of the inland country; the ancients, on the contrary, had a very good knowledge of the inland parts, but were almost strangers to the coasts.
I said, that the Phœnicians sent by Necho and Eudoxus under Ptolemy Lathryus, had made the circuit of Africa: but at the time of Ptolemy the geographer, those two voyages must have been looked upon as fabulous, since he places, after the Sinus Magnus, which I apprehend to be the gulph of Siam, an unknown country, extending from Asia to Africa, and terminating at cape Prassum, so that the Indian ocean would have been no more than a lake. The ancients, who discovered the Indies towards the north, advancing castward, placed this unknown country to the south.
THE law of nations which obtained at Carthage, was very extraordinrry: all strangers, who traded to Sardinia and towards Hercules’s pillars, this haughty republic sentenced to be drowned. Her civil polity was equally surprizing; she forbid the Sardinians to cultivate their lands, upon pain of death. She increased her power by her riches, and afterwards her riches by her power. Being mistress of the coasts of Africa, which are washed by the Mediterranean, she extended herself along the ocean. Hanno, by order of the senate of Carthage, distributed thirty thousand Carthaginians from Hercules’s pillars as far as Cerne. This place, he says, is as distant from Hercules’s pillars, as the latter from Carthage. This situation is extremely remarkable. It lets us see, that Hanno limitted his settlements to the 25th degree of north latitude, that is, to two or three degrees south of the Canaries.
Hanno being at Cerne, undertook another voyage, with a view of making further discoveries towards the South. He took but little notice of the continent. He followed the coast for twenty-six days, when he was obliged to return for want of provisions. The Carthaginians, it seems, made no use of this second enterprise. Scylax says, that the sea is not navigable beyond Cerne, because it is shallow, full of mud and sea-weeds; and in fact, there are many of these in those latitudes. The Carthaginian merchants, mentioned by Scylax, might find obstacles, which Hanno, who had sixty vessels of fifty oars each, had surmounted. Difficulties are at most but relative; besides, we ought not to confound an enterprize, in which bravery and resolution must be exerted, with things that require no extraordinary conduct.
The relation of Hanno’s voyage is a fine fragment of antiquity. It was written by the very man that performed it. His recital is not mingled with ostentation. Great commanders write their actions with simplicity; because they receive more glory from facts than from words.
The stile is agreeable to the subject: he deals not in the marvellous. All he says of the climate, of the soil, the behaviour, the manners of the inhabitants, correspond with what is every day seen on this coast of Africa; one would imagine it the journal of a modern sailor.
He observed from his fleet, that in the day-time there was a prodigious silence on the continent, that in the night he heard the sound of various musical instruments, and that fires might then be every where seen, some larger than others. Our relations are conformable to this; it has been discovered, that in the day the savages retire into the forests to avoid the heat of the sun, that they light up great fires in the night to disperse the beasts of prey, and that they are passionately fond of music and dancing.
The same writer describes a volcano with all the phænomena of Vesuvius; and relates, that he took two hairy women, who chose to die rather than follow the Carthaginians, and whose skins he carried to Carthage. This has been found not void of probability.
This narration is so much the more valuable, as it is a monument of Punic antiquity: and from hence alone it has been regarded as fabulons. For the Romans retained their hatred to the Carthaginians, even after they had destroyed them. But it was victory alone that decided whether we ought to say, The Punic or the Roman faith.
Some moderns have imbibed these prejudices. What is become, say they, of the cities described by Hanno, of which even in Pliny’s time there remained no vestiges? But it would have been a wonder indeed, if any such vestiges had remained. Was it a Corinth or Athens that Hanno built on those coasts? He left Carthaginian families in such places as were most commodious for trade, and secured them as well as his hurry would permit, against savages and wild beasts. The calamities of the Carthaginians put a period to the navigation of Africa; these families must necessarily then either perish or become savages. Besides, were the ruins of these cities even still in being, who is it that would venture into the woods and marshes to make the discovery? We find, however, in Scylax and Polybius, that the Carthaginians had considerable settlements on those coasts. These are the vestiges of the cities of Hanno; there are no other, from the same reason that there are no other of Carthage itself.
The Carthaginians were in the high road to wealth; and had they gone so far as four degrees of north latitude, and fifteen of longitude, they would have discovered the gold-coast. They would then have had a trade of much greater importance than that which is carried on at present on that coast, at a time when America seems to have degraded the riches of all other countries. They would there have found treasures, of which they could never have been deprived by the Romans.
Very suprising things have been said of the riches of Spain. If we may believe Aristotle, the Phœnicians, who arrived at Tartessus, found so much silver there, that their ships could not hold it all: and they made of this metal their meanest utensils. The Carthaginians, according to Diodorus, found so much gold and silver in the Pyrenean mountains, that they adorned the anchors of their ships with it. But no foundation can be built on such popular reports. Let us therefore examine into the facts themselves.
We find in a fragment of Polybius, cited by Strabo, that the silver mines at the source of the river Bætis, in which forty thousand men were employed, produced to the Romans twenty-five thousand drachmas a day, that is, about five millions of livres a year, at fifty livres to the mark. The mountains that contained these mines were called theSilver Mountains: which shews they were the Potosi of those times. At present, the mines of Hanover do not employ a fourth part of the workmen, and yet they yield more. But as the Romans had not many copper-mines, and but few of silver; and as the Greeks knew none but the Attic mines, which were of little value, they might well be astonished at their abundance.
In the war that broke out for the succession of Spain, a man called the marquis of Rhodes, of whom it was said that he was ruined in golden mines, and enriched in hospitals, proposed to the court of France to open the Pyrenean mines. He alledged the example of the Tyrians, the Carthaginians, and the Romans. He was permitted to search, but sought in vain; he still alledged, and found nothing.
The Carthaginians being masters of the gold and silver trade, were willing to be so of the lead and pewter. These metals were carried by land from the ports of Gaul upon the ocean to those of the Mediterranean. The Carthaginians were desirous of receiving them at the first hand: they sent Himilco to make a settlement in the isles called Cassiterides, which are imagined to be those of Scilly.
These voyages from Bætica into England have made some persons imagine that the Carthaginians knew the compass: but it is very certain that they followed the coasts. There needs no other proof than Himilco’s being four months in sailing from the mouth of the Bætis to England: besides the famous piece of history of the Carthaginian pilot, who, being followed by a Roman vessel, ran a-ground, that he might not shew her the way to England, plainly intimates, that those vessels were very near the shore, when they fell in with each other.
The ancients might have performed voyages, that would make one imagine they had the compass, though they had not. If a pilot was far from land, and during his voyage had such serene weather, that in the night he could always see a polar star, and in the day the rising and setting of the sun, it is certain he might regulate his course as well as we do now by the compass: but this must be a fortuirous case, and not a regular method of navigation.
We see in the treaty which put an end to the first Punic war, that Carthage was principally attentive to preserve the empire of the sea, and Rome that of the land. Hanno, in his negociation with the Romans, declared, that they should not be suffered even to wash their hands in the sea of Sicily; they were not permitted to sail beyond the promontorium pulchrum they were forbid to trade in Sicily, Sardinia, and Africa, except at Carthage: an exception that lets us see there was no design to favour them in their trade with that city.
In early times there had been very great wars between Carthage and Marseilles on the subject of fishing. After the peace they entered jointly into the œconomical commerce. Marseilles at length grew jealous, especially as being equal to her rival in industry, she was become inferior to her in power. This is the motive of her great fidelity to the Romans. The war between the latter and the Carthaginians in Spain was a source of riches to Marseilles, which was now become their magazine. The ruin of Carthage and Corinth still increased the glory of Marseilles; and had it not been for the civil wars, in which this republic ought on no account to have engaged, she would have been happy under the protection of the Romans, who had not the least jealousy of her commerce.
UPON the destruction of Corinth by the Romans, the merchants retired to Delos, an island, which from religious considerations was looked upon as a place of safety: besides, it was extremely well situated for the commerce of Italy and Asia, which, since the reduction of Africa, and the weakening of Greece, was grown more important.
From the earliest times, the Greeks, as we have already observed, sent colonies to Propontis, and to the Euxine sea: colonies which retained their laws and liberties under the Persians. Alexander, having undertaken his expedition against the barbarians only, did not molest these people. Neither does it appear that the kings of Pontus, who were masters of many of those colonies, ever deprived them of their own civil government.
The power of those kings increased as soon as they subdued those cities. Mithridates found himself able to hire troops on every side, to repair his frequent losses: to have a multitude of workmen, ships, and military machines; to procure himself allies; to bribe those of the Romans, and even the Romans themselves; to keep the barbarians of Asia and Europe in his pay; to continue the war for many years, and of course to discipline his troops: he found himself able to train them to arms, to instruct them in the military art of the Romans, and to form considerable bodies out of their deserters; in a word, he found himself able to sustain great losses, and to be frequently defeated, without being ruined; neither would he have been ruined, if the voluptuous and barbarous king had not destroyed, in his prosperous days, what had been done by the great prince in times of adversity.
Thus it is that when the Romans were arrived at their highest pitch of grandeur, and seemed to have nothing to apprehend but from the ambition of their own subjects, Mithridates once more ventured to contest the mighty point, which the overthrows of Philip, of Antiochus, and of Perseus, had already decided. Never was there a more destructive war: the two contending parties being possessed of great power, and receiving alternate advantages, the inhabitants of Greece and of Asia fell a sacrifice in the quarrel, either as foes, or as friends of Mithridates. Delos was involved in the general fatality; and commerce failed on every side; which was a necessary consequence, the people themselves being destroyed.
The Romans, in pursuance of a system of which I have spoken elsewhere, acting as destroyers, that they might not appear as conquerors, demolished Carthage and Corinth; a practice by which they would have ruined themselves, had they not subdued the world. When the kings of Pontus became masters of the Greek colonies on the Euxine sea, they took care not to destroy what was to be the foundation of their own grandeur.
THE Romans laid no stress on any thing but their land forces, who were disciplined to stand firm, to fight on one spot, and there bravely to die. They could not, like the practice of seamen, who first offer to fight, then fly, then return, constantly avoid danger, often make use of stratagem, and seldom of force. This was not suitable to the genius of the Greeks, much less to that of the Romans.
They destined, therefore, to the sea only those citizens who were not considerable enough to have a place in their legions. Their marines were commonly freed-men.
At this time we have neither the same esteem for land-forces, nor the same contempt for those of the sea. In the former, art is decreased; in the latter, it is augmented: now things are generally esteemed in proportion to the degree of ability requisite to discharge them.
THE Romans were never distinguished by a jealousy for trade. They attacked Carthage as a rival, not as a commercial nation. They favoured trading cities that were not subject to them. Thus they increased the power of Marseilles, by the cession of a large territory. They were vastly afraid of barbarians; but had not the least apprehension from a trading people. Their genius, their glory, their military education, and the very form of their government, estranged them from commerce.
In the city, they were employed only about war, elections, factions, and law-suits; in the country, about agriculture; and, as for the provinces, a severe and tyrannical government was incompatible with commerce.
But their political constitution was not more opposite to trade, than their law of nations. “The people, says Pomponius the civilian, with whom we have neither friendship nor hospitality, nor alliance, are not our enemies; however, if any thing belonging to us falls into their hands, they are the proprietors of it; freemen become their slaves; and they are upon the same terms with respect to us.”
Their civil law was not less oppressive. The law of Constantine, after having stigmatised as bastards the children of persons of a mean rank, who had been married to those of a superior station, confounds women, who retail merchandizes, with slaves, with the mistresses of taverns, with actresses, with the daughters of those who keep public stews, or who had been condemned to fight in the amphitheatre: this had its original in the ancient institutions of the Romans.
I am not ignorant that men prepossessed with these two ideas, that commerce is of the greatest service to a state, and that the Romans had the best-regulated government in the world, have believed that these people greatly honoured and encouraged commerce; but the truth is, they seldom troubled their heads about it.
THE Romans having erected a vast empire in Europe, Asia, and Africa; the weakness of the people and the tyranny of their laws united all the parts of this immense body. The Roman policy was then to avoid all communication with those nations whom they had not subdued: the fear of carrying to them the art of conquering, made them neglect the art of enriching themselves. They made laws to hinder all commerce with barbarians. “Let nobody, said Valens and Gratian, send wine, oil, or other liquors to the barbarians, though it be only for them to taste. Let no one carry gold to them, adds Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius: rather, if they have any, let our subjects deprive them of it by stratagem.” The exportation of iron was prohibited on pain of death.
Domitian, a prince of great timidity, ordered the vines in Gaul to be pulled up; from a fear, no doubt, lest their wines should draw thither the barbarians. Probus and Julian, who had no such fears, gave orders for their being planted again.
I am sensible, that upon the declension of the Roman Empire, the barbarians obliged the Romans to establish staple towns, and to trade with them. But even this is a proof that the minds of the Romans were averse to commerce.
THE trade to Arabia Felix, and that to the Indies, were the two branches, and almost the only ones of their foreign commerce. The Arabians were possessed of immense riches, which they found in their seas and forests; and as they sold much and purchased little, they drew to themselves the gold and silver of the Romans. Augustus being well apprised of that opulence, resolved they should be either his friends, or his enemies. With this view, he sent Elius Gallus from Egypt into Arabia. This commander found the people indolent, peaceable, and unskilled in war. He fought battles, laid sieges to towns, and lost but seven of his men by the sword; but the perfidy of his guides, long marches, the climate, want of provisions, distempers, and ill conduct, caused the ruin of his army.
He was therefore obliged to be content with trading to Arabia, in the same manner as other nations, that is, with giving them gold and silver in exchange for their commodities. The Europeans trade with them still in the same manner; the caravans of Aleppo, and the royal vessel of Suez, carry thither immense sums.
Nature had formed the Arabs for commerce, not for war: but when those quiet people came to be near neighbours to the Parthians and the Romans, they acted as auxiliaries to both nations. Elius Gallus found them a trading people; Mahomet happened to find them trained to war; he inspired them with enthusiasm, which led them to glory and conquest.
The commerce of the Romans to the Indies was very considerable. Strabo had been informed in Egypt, that they employed in this navigation one hundred and twenty vessels: this commerce was carried on entirely with bullion. They sent thither annually fifty millions of sesterces. Pliny says, that the merchandizes brought from thence, were sold at Rome at cent. per cent. profit. He speaks, I believe, too generally; if this trade had been so vastly profitable, every body would have been willing to engage in it, and then it would have been at an end.
It will admit of a question, whether the trade to Arabia and the Indies was of any advantage to the Romans? They were obliged to export their bullion thither, though they had not, like us, the resource of America, which supplies what we send away. I am persuaded, that one of the reasons of their increasing the value of their specie, by establishing base coin, was the scarcity of silver, owing to the continual exportation of it to the Indies: and though the commodities of this country were sold at Rome at the rate of cent. per cent. this profit of the Romans, being obtained from the Romans themselves, could not enrich the empire.
It may be alledged, on the other hand, that this commerce increased the Roman navigation, and of course their power; that new merchandizes augmented their inland trade, gave encouragement to the arts, and employment to the industrious; that the number of subjects multiplied in proportion to the new means of support; that this new commerce was productive of luxury, which I have proved to be as favourable to a monarchical government, as fatal to a commonwealth; that this establishment was of the same date as the fall of their republic; that the luxury of Rome was become necessary; and that it was extremely proper, that a city which had accumulated all the wealth of the universe, should refund it by its luxury.
Strabo says that the Romans carried on a far more extensive commerce to the Indies than the kings of Egypt; but it is very extraordinary, that those people who were so little acquainted with commerce, should have paid more attention to that of India, than the Egyptian kings, whose dominions lay so conveniently for it. The reason of this must be explained.
After the death of Alexander, the kings of Egypt established a maritime commerce to the Indies; while the kings of Syria, who were possessed of the more eastern provinces, and consequently of the Indies, maintained that commerce, of which we have taken notice in the sixth chapter, which was carried on partly by land, and partly by rivers, and had been farther facilitated by means of the Macedonian colonies; insomuch, that Europe had a communication with the Indies, both by Egypt and by Syria. The dismembering of the latter kingdom, from whence was formed that of Bactriana, did not prove any way prejudicial to this commerce. Marinus the Tyrian, quoted by Ptolemy, mentions the discoveries made in India by means of some Macedonian merchants, who found out new roads, which had been unknown to kings in their military expeditions. We find in Ptolemy, that they went from Peter’s tower, as far as Sera; and the discoveries made by mercantile people of so distant a mart, situated in the north-east part of China, was a kind of prodigy. Hence, under the kings of Syria and Bactriana, merchandizes were conveyed to the west from the southern parts of India, by the river Indus, the Oxus, and the Caspian sea; while those of the more eastern and northern parts were transported from Sera, Peter’s tower, and other staples, as far as the Euphrates. Those merchants directed their route, nearly by the fortieth degree of north latitude, through countries situated to the west of China, more civilized at that time than at present, because they had not as yet been infested by the Tartars.
Now while the Syrian empire was extending its trade to such a distance by land, Egypt did not greatly enlarge its maritime commerce.
The Parthians soon after appeared, and founded their empire; and when Egypt fell under the power of the Romans, this empire was at its height, and had received its whole extension.
The Romans and Parthians were two rival nations, that fought not for dominion, but for their very existence. Between the two empires deserts were formed, and armies were always stationed on the frontiers; so that instead of there being any commerce, there was not so much as a communication between them. Ambition, jealousy, religion, national antipathy, and difference of manners, compleated the separation. Thus the trade from east to west, which had formerly so many channels, was reduced to one; and Alexandria becoming the only staple, the trade to this city was immensely enlarged.
We shall say but one word on their inland trade. Its principal branch was the corn brought to Rome for the subsistence of the people; but this was rather a political affair than a point of commerce. On this account the sailors were favoured with some privileges, because the safety of the empire depended on their vigilance.
AFTER the invasion of the Roman empire, one effect of the general calamity was the destruction of commerce. The barbarous nations at first regarded it only as an opportunity for robbery; and when they had subdued the Romans, they honoured it no more than agriculture, and the other professions of a conquered people.
Soon was the commerce of Europe almost entirely lost. The nobility, who had every where the direction of affairs, were in no pain about it.
The laws of the Visigoths permitted private people to occupy half the beds of great rivers, provided the other half remained free for nets and boats. There must have been very little trade in countries conquered by these barbarians.
In those times were established the ridiculous rights of escheatage and shipwrecks. These men thought, that as strangers were not united to them by any civil law, they owed them on the one hand no kind of justice, and on the other no sort of pity.
In the narrow bounds which nature had originally prescribed to the people of the north, all were strangers to them; and in their poverty they regarded all only as contributing to their riches. Being established, before their conquest, on the coasts of a sea of very little breadth, and full of rocks from these very rocks they drew their subsistence.
But the Romans, who made laws for all the world, had established the most humane ones with regard to shipwrecks. They suppressed the rapine of those who inhabited the coasts; and what was more still, the rapaciousness of their treasuries.
THE law of the Visigoths made however one regulation in favour of commerce. It ordained, that foreign merchants should be judged, in the differences that arose amongst themselves, by the laws and by judges of their own nation. This was founded on an established custom among all mixed people, that every man should live under his own law: a custom, of which I shall speak more at large in another place.
THE Mahometans appeared, conquered, extended, and dispersed themselves. Egypt had particular sovereigns; these carried on the commerce of India, and being possessed of the merchandizes of this country, drew to themselves the riches of all other nations. The sultans of Egypt were the most powerful princes of those times. History informs us with what a constant and well-regulated force they stopped the ardor, the fire, and the impetuosity of the crusades.
ARISTOTLE’s philosophy being carried to the west, pleased the subtil geniuses, who were the virtuosi of those times of ignorance. The schoolmen were infatuated with it, and borrowed from that philosopher, a great many notions on lending upon interest, whereas its source might have been easily traced in the gospel; in short, they condemned it absolutely and in all cases. Hence commerce, which was the profession only of mean persons, became that of knaves: for whenever a thing is forbidden, which nature permits or necessity requires, those who do it are looked upon as dishonest.
Commerce was transferred to a nation covered with infamy; and soon ranked with the most shameful usury, with monopolies, with the levying of subsidies, and with all the dishonest means of acquiring wealth.
The Jews, enriched by their exactions, were pillaged by the tyranny of princes; which pleased, indeed, but did not ease the people.
What passed in England may serve to give us an idea of what was done in other countries. King John having imprisoned the Jews, in order to obtain their wealth, there were few who had not at least one of their eyes plucked out. Thus did that king administer justice. A certain Jew, who had a tooth pulled out every day for seven days successively, gave ten thousand marks of silver for the eighth. Henry III. extorted from Aaron, a Jew, at York, fourteen thousands marks of silver, and ten thousand for the queen. In those times they did by violence, what is now done in Poland with some semblance of moderation. As princes could not dive into the purses of their subjects, because of their privileges, they put the Jews to the torture, who were not considered as citizens.
At last a custom was introduced of confiscating the effects of those Jews who embraced Christianity. This ridiculous custom is known only by the law which suppressed it. The most vain and trifling reasons were given in justification of that proceeding; it was alledged, that it was proper to try them, in order to be certain, that they had entirely shaken off the slavery of the devil. But it is evident, that this confiscation was a species of the right of amortisation, to recompense the prince, or the lords, for the taxes levied on the Jews, which ceased on their embracing Christianity. In those times, men, like lands, were regarded as property; I cannot help remarking by the way, how this nation has been sported with from one age to another: at one time, their effects were confiscated when they were willing to become Christians; and at another, if they refused to turn Christians, they were ordered to be burnt.
In the mean time, commerce was seen to arise from the bosom of vexation and despair. The Jews, proscribed by turns from every country, found out the way of saving their effects. Thus they rendered their retreat for ever fixed; for though princes might have been willing to get rid of their persons, yet they did not chuse to get rid of their money.
The Jews invented letters of exchange; commerce, by this method, became capable of eluding violence, and of maintaining every where its ground; the richest merchant having none but invisible effects, which he could convey imperceptibly whereever he pleased.
The theologians were obliged to limit their principles; and commerce, which they had before connected by main force with knavery, re-entered, if I may so express myself, the bosom of probity.
Thus we owe to the speculations of the schoolmen all the misfortunes which accompanied the destruction of commerce; and to the avarice of princes, the establishment of a practice which puts it in some measure out of their power.
From this time it became necessary that princes should govern with more prudence than they themselves could ever have imagined: for great exertions of authority were, in the event, found to be impolitic; and from experience it is manifest, that nothing but the goodness and lenity of a government can make it flourish.
We begin to be cured of Machiavelism, and recover from it every day. More moderation is become necessary in the councils of princes. What would formerly have been called a master-stroke in politics, would be now, independent of the horror it might occasion, the greatest imprudence.
Happy is it for men that they are in a situation, in which, though their passions prompt them to be wicked, it is, however, their interest to be humane and virtuous.
THE compass opened, if I may so express myself, the universe. Asia and Africa were found, of which only some borders were known; and America, of which we knew nothing.
The Portuguese, sailing on the Atlantic ocean, discovered the most southern point of Africa; they saw a vast sea, which carried them to the East-Indies. Their danger upon this sea, the discovery of Mosambique, Melinda, and Calicut, have been sung by Camoens, whose poems make us feel something of the charms of the Odyssey, and the magnificence of the Æneid.
The Venetians had hitherto carried on the trade of the Indies through the Turkish dominions, and pursued it in the midst of oppressions and discouragements. By the discovery of the Cape of Good-hope, and those which were made some time after, Italy was no longer the centre of the trading world; it was, if I may be permitted the expression, only a corner of the universe, and is so still. The commerce even of the Levant depending now on that of the great trading nations to both the Indies, Italy even in that branch can no longer be considered as a principal
The Portuguese traded to the Indies in right of conquest. The constraining laws which the Dutch at present impose on the commerce of the little Indian princes, had been established before by the Portuguese.
The fortune of the house of Austria was prodigious. Charles V. succeeded to the possession of Burgundy, Castile, and Aragon; he arrived afterwards at the imperial dignity; and to procure him a new kind of grandeur, the globe extended itself, and there was seen a new world paying him obeisance.
Christopher Columbus discovered America; and though Spain sent thither only a force so small, that the least prince in Europe could have sent the same, yet it subdued two vast empires, and other great states.
While the Spaniards discovered and conquered the west, the Portuguese pushed their conquests and discoveries in the east. These two nations met each other; they had recourse to pope Alexander VI. who made the celebrated line of partition, and adjudged the great process.
But the other nations of Europe would not suffer them quietly to enjoy their shares. The Dutch chased the Portuguese from almost all their settlements in the East Indies; and several other nations planted colonies in America.
The Spaniards considered these new-discovered countries as the subject of conquest; while others, more refined in their views, found them to be the proper subjects of commerce, and upon this principle directed their proceedings. Hence several nations have conducted themselves with so much wisdom, that they have given a kind of sovereignty to companies of merchants, who governing these far-distant countries only with a view to trade, have made a great accessary power, without embarrassing the principal state.
The colonies they have formed are under a kind of dependance, of which there are but very few instances in all the colonies of the ancients: whether we consider them as holding of the state itself, or of some trading company established in the state.
The design of these colonies is to trade on more advantageous conditions than could otherwise be done with the neighbouring people, with whom all advantages are reciprocal. It has been established, that themetropolis, or mother country, alone shall trade in the colonies, and that from very good reason; because the design of the settlement was the extension of commerce, not the foundation of a city, or of a new empire.
Thus it is still a fundamental law of Europe, that all commerce with a foreign colony shall be regarded as a mere monopoly, punishable by the laws of the country; and in this case we are not to be directed by the laws and precedents of the ancients, which are not at all applicable.
It is likewise acknowledged, that a commerce established between the mother countries, does not include a permission to trade in the colonies; for these always continue in a state of prohibition.
The disadvantage of a colony that loses the liberty of commerce, is visibly compensated by the protection of the mother country, who defends it by her arms, or supports it by her laws.
From hence follows a third law of Europe, that when a foreign commerce with a colony is prohibited, it is not lawful to trade in those seas, except in such cases as are excepted by treaty.
Nations, who are, with respect to the whole globe, what individuals are in a state, like these are governed by the laws of nature, and by particular laws of their own making. One nation may resign to another the sea, as well as the land. The Carthaginians forbad the Romans to sail beyond certain limits, as the Greeks had obliged the kings of Persia to keep as far distant from the sea-coast as a horse could gallop.
The great distance of our colonies is not an inconvenience that affects their safety; for if the mother country, on whom they depend for their defence, is remote, no less remote are those nations who rival the mother country, and by whom they may be afraid of being conquered.
Besides, this distance is the cause that those who are established there cannot conform to the manner of living in a climate so different from their own: they are obliged therefore to draw from the mother country all the conveniences of life. The Carthaginians, to render the Sardinians and Corsicans more dependant, forbad their planting, sowing, or doing any thing of the like kind, under pain of death; so that they supplied them with necessaries from Africa.
The Europeans have compassed the same thing, without having recourse to such severe laws. Our colonies in the Caribbee islands are under an admirable regulation in this respect; the subject of their commerce is what we neither have, nor can produce; and they want what is the subject of ours.
A consequence of the discovery of America was the connecting Asia and Africa with Europe; it furnished materials for a trade with that vast part of Asia known by the name of the East-Indies. Silver, that metal so useful as the medium of commerce, became now, as a merchandize, the basis of the greatest commerce in the world. In fine, the navigation to Africa became necessary, in order to furnish us with men to labour in the mines, and to cultivate the lands of America.
Europe is arrived to so high a degree of power, that nothing in history can be compared to it. Whether we consider the immensity of its expences, the grandeur of its engagements, the number of its troops, and the regular payment even of those that are least serviceable, and which are kept only for ostentation.
Father Duhalde says, that the interior trade of China is much greater than that of all Europe. That might be, if our foreign trade did not augment our inland commerce. Europe carries on the trade and navigation of the other three parts of the world; as France, England, and Holland, do nearly that of Europe.
IF Europe has derived so many advantages from the American trade, it seems natural to imagine, that Spain must have derived much greater. She drew from the newly discovered world so prodigious a quantity of gold and silver, that all we had before could not be compared to it.
But (what one could never have expected) this great kingdom was every where baffled by its misfortunes. Philip II. who succeeded Charles V. was obliged to make the celebrated bankruptcy known to all the world. There never was a prince who suffered more from the murmurs, the insolence, and the revolt of troops constantly ill paid.
From that time the monarchy of Spain has been incessantly declining. This has been owing to an interior and physical defect in the nature of these riches, which renders them vain; a defect which increases every day.
Gold and silver are either a fictitious, or a representative wealth. The representative signs of wealth are extremely durable, and, in their own nature, but little subject to decay. But the more they are multiplied, the more they lose their value, because the fewer are the things which they represent.
The Spaniards, after the conquest of Mexico and Peru, abandoned their natural riches, in pursuit of a representative wealth which daily degraded itself. Gold and silver were extremely scarce in Europe, and Spain becoming all of a sudden mistress of a prodigious quantity of these metals, conceived hopes to which she had never before aspired. The wealth she found in the conquered countries, great as it was, did not however equal those of their mines. The Indians concealed part of them; and besides, these people, who made no other use of gold and silver than to give magnificence to the temples of their gods, and to the palaces of their kings, sought not for it with an avarice like ours. In short, they had not the secret of drawing these metals from every mine; but only from those in which the separation might be made with fire: they were strangers to the manner of making use of mercury, and perhaps of mercury itself.
However, it was not long before the specie of Europe was doubled; this appeared from the price of commodities which every where was doubled.
The Spaniards raked into the mines, scooped out mountains, invented machines to draw out water, to break the ore, and separate it; and, as they sported with the lives of the Indians, they forced them to labour without mercy. The specie of Europe soon doubled, and the profit of Spain diminished in the same proportion; they had every year the same quantity of metal, which was become by one-half less precious.
In double the time the specie still doubled, and the profit still diminished another half.
It diminished even more than half: let us see in what manner.
To extract the gold from the mines, to give it the requisite preparations, and to import it into Europe, must be attended with some certain expence; I will suppose this to be as 1 to 64. When the specie was once doubled, and consequently became by one-half less precious, the expence was as 2 to 64. Thus the galoons which brought to Spain the same quantity of gold, brought a thing which really was of less value by one-half, though the expences attending it had been one-half higher.
If we proceed doubling and doubling, we shall find in this progression the cause of the impotency of the wealth of Spain.
It is about two hundred years since they have worked their Indian mines. I suppose the quantity of specie at present in the trading world is to that before the discovery of the Indies, as 32 is to 1; that is, it has been doubled five times: in two hundred years more, the same quantity will be to that before the discovery, as 64 is to 1; that is, it will be doubled once more. Now at present, fifty quintals of ore yield four, five, and six ounces of gold; and when it yields only two, the miner receives no more from it than his expences. In two hundred years, when the miner will extract only four, this too will only defray his charges. There will then be but little profit to be drawn from the gold mines. The same reasoning will hold good of silver, except that the working of the silver mines is a little more advantageous than those of gold.
But, if mines should be discovered so fruitful as to give a much greater profit, the more fruitful they will be, the sooner the profit will cease.
The Portuguese in Brasil have found mines of gold so rich, that they must necessarily very soon make a considerable diminution in the profits of those of Spain, as well as in their own.
I have frequently heard people deplore the blindness of the court of France, who repulsed Christopher Columbus when he made the proposal of discovering the Indies. Indeed they did, though perhaps without design, an act of the greatest wisdom. Spain has behaved like the foolish king, who desired that every thing he touched might be converted into gold, and who was obliged to beg of the gods to put an end to his misery.
The companies and banks established in many nations, have put a finishing stroke to the lowering of gold and silver, as a sign or representation of riches; for by new fictions they have multiplied in such a manner the signs of wealth, that gold and silver having this office only in part, are become less precious.
Thus public credit serves instead of mines, and diminishes the profit which the Spaniards draw from theirs.
True it is, that the Dutch trade to the East-Indies has increased, in some measure, the value of the Spanish merchandize; for as they carry bullion, and give it in exchange for the merchandizes of the East, they ease the Spaniards of part of a commodity, which in Europe abounds too much.
And this trade, in which Spain seems to be only indirectly concerned, is as advantageous to that nation as to those who are directly employed in carrying it on.
From what has been said, we may form a judgmen of the last order of the council of Spain, which prohibits the making use of gold and silver in gildings, and other superfluities; a decree as ridiculous as it would be for the states of Holland to prohibit the consumption of spices.
My reasoning does not hold good against all mines; those of Germany and Hungary, which produce little more than the expence of working them, are extremely useful. They are found in the principal state; they employ many thousand men, who there consume their superfluous commodities; and they are properly a manufacture of the country.
The mines of Germany and Hungary promote the culture of land; the working of those of Mexico and Peru destroys it.
The Indies and Spain are two powers under the same master; but the Indies are the principal; while Spain is only an accessory. It is in vain for politics to attempt to bring back the principal to the accessory; the Indies will always draw Spain to themselves.
Of the merchandizes, to the value of about fifty millions of livres, annually sent to the Indies, Spain furnishes only two millions and a half: the Indies trade for fifty millions, the Spaniards for two and an half.
That must be a bad kind of riches which depends on accident, and not on the industry of a nation, on the number of its inhabitants, and on the cultivation of its lands. The king of Spain, who receives great sums from his custom-house at Cadiz, is in this respect only a rich individual in a state extremely poor. Every thing passes between strangers and himself, while his subjects have scarcely any share in it; this commerce is independent both of the good and bad fortune of his kingdom.
Were some provinces of Castile able to give him a sum equal to that of the custom-house of Cadiz, his power would be much greater: his riches would be the effect of the wealth of the country: these provinces would animate all the others, and they would be all together more capable of supporting their respective charges: instead of a great treasury, he would have a great people.
IT is not for me to decide the question, whether if Spain be not herself able to carry on the trade of the Indies, it would not be better to leave it open to strangers. I will only say, that it is for their advantage to load this commerce with as few obstacles as politics will permit. When the merchandizes, which several nations send to the Indies, are very dear, the inhabitants of that country give a great deal of their commodities, which is gold and silver, for very little of those of foreigners: the contrary to this happens when they are at a low price. It would perhaps be of use, that these nations should undersell each other, to the end that the merchandizes carried to the Indies might be always cheap. These are principles which deserve to be examined, without separating them, however, from other considerations; the safety of the Indies, the advantages of one only custom-house, the danger of making great alterations, and the foreseen inconveniencies, which are often less dangerous than those which cannot be foreseen.
THIS affair derives its establishment from the most distant antiquity; and to penetrate to its foundation, permit me to search among the first laws of the Romans, for what, I believe, nobody yet has been so happy as to discover.
We know that Romulus divided the land of his little kingdom among his subjects; it seems to me, that from hence the laws of Rome on successions were derived.
The law of the division of lands made it necessary, that the property of one family should not pass into another: from hence it followed, that there were but two orders of heirs established by law , the children and all the descendants that lived under the power of the father, whom they called sui hæredes, or his natural heirs; and, in their default, the nearest relations on the male side, whom they called agnati.
It followed likewise, that the relations on the female side, whom they called cognati, ought not to succeed; they would have conveyed the estate into another family, which was not allowed.
From thence also it followed, that the children ought not to succeed to the mother, nor the mother to her children; for this might carry the estate of one family into another. Thus we see them excluded by the law of the Twelve Tables; it called none to the succession but the agnati, and there was no agnation between the son and the mother.
But it was indifferent whether the suus hæres, or, in default of such, the nearest by agnation, was male or female; because, as the relations on the mother’s side could not succeed, though a woman who was an heiress should happen to marry, yet the estate always returned into the family from whence it came. On this account, the law of the Twelve Tables does not distinguish, whether the person who succeeded was male or female.
This was the cause, that though the grand-children by the son succeeded to the grandfather, the grand-children by the daughter did not succeed; for, to prevent the estate from passing into another family, the agnati were preferred before them. Hence the daughter, and not her children, succeeded to the father.
Thus amongst the primitive Romans, the women succeeded, when this was agreeable to the law of the division of lands; and they did not succeed, when this law might suffer by it.
Such were the laws of succession among the primitive Romans; and as these had a natural dependence on the constitution, and were derived from the division of lands, it is easy to perceive, that they had not a foreign original, and were not of the number of those brought into the republic by the deputies sent into the cities of Greece.
Dionysius Halicarnasseus tells us , that Servius Tullius finding the laws of Romulus and Numa on the division of lands abolished, he restored them, and made new ones, to give the old a greater weight. We cannot therefore doubt, but that the laws we have been speaking of, made in consequence of this division, were the work of these three Roman legislators.
The order of succession having been established in consequence of a political law, no citizen was allowed to break in upon it by his private will; that is, in the first ages of Rome, he had not the power of making a testament. Yet it would have been hard to deprive him, in his last moments, of the friendly commerce of kind and beneficent actions.
They therefore found a method of reconciliating, in this respect, the laws with the desires of the individual. He was permitted to dispose of his substance in an assembly of the people; and thus every testament was, in some sort, an act of the legislative power.
The law of the Twelve Tables permitted the person who made his will, to chuse which citizen he pleased for his heir. The reason that induced the Roman laws so strictly to restrain the number of those who might succeed ab intestato, was the law of the division of lands; and the reason why they extended so widely the power of the testator, was, that as the father might sell his children, he might with greater reason deprive them of his substance. These were therefore different effects, since they flowed from different principles; and such is, in this respect, the spirit of the Roman laws.
The ancient laws of Athens did not suffer a citizen to make a will. Solon permitted it, with an exception to those who had children: and the legislators of Rome, filled with the idea of paternal power, allowed the making a will even to the prejudice of their children. It must be confessed, that the ancient laws of Athens were more consistent than those of Rome. The indefinite permission of making a will, which had been granted to the Romans, ruined by little and little the political regulation on the division of lands: it was the principal thing that introduced the fatal difference between riches and poverty: many shares were united in the same person; some citizens had too much, and a multitude of others had nothing. Thus the people being continually deprived of their shares, were incessantly calling out for a new distribution of lands. They demanded it in an age when the frugality, the parsimony, and the poverty of the Romans, were their distinguishing characteristic; as well as at a time when their luxury was become still more astonishing.
Testaments being properly a law made in the assembly of the people, those who were in the army were thereby deprived of a testamentary power. The people therefore gave the soldiers the privilege of making before their companions, the dispositions which should have been made before them.
The great assembly of the people met but twice a year; besides, both the people and the affairs brought before them were increased: they therefore judged it convenient to permit all the citizens to make their will before some Roman citizens of ripe age, who were to represent the body of the people: they took five citizens, in whose presence the inheritor purchased his family, that is, his inheritance of the testastor; another citizen brought a pair of scales to weigh the value; for the Romans , as yet, had no money.
To all appearance these five citizens were to represent the five classes of the people; and they set no value on the sixth, as being composed of men who had no property.
We ought not to say, with Justinian, that these sales were merely imaginary; they became, indeed, imaginary in time, but were not so originally. Most of the laws which afterwards regulated wills, were built on the reality of these sales: we find sufficient proof of this in the fragments of Ulpian . The deaf, the dumb, the prodigal, could not make a will; the deaf, because he could not hear the words of the buyer of the inheritance; the dumb, because he could not pronounce the terms of nomination; the prodigal, because as he was excluded from the management of all affairs, he could not sell his inheritance. I omit any farther examples.
Wills being made in the assembly of the people, were rather the acts of political than of civil laws, a public rather than a private right; from whence it followed, that the father, while his son was under his authority, could not give him leave to make a will.
Amongst most nations, wills are not subject to greater formalities than ordinary contracts: because both the one and the other are only expressions of the will of him who makes the contract, and both are equally a private right. But, among the Romans, where testaments were derived from the public law, they were attended with much greater formalities , than other affairs; and this is still the case in those provinces of France, which are governed by the Roman law.
Testaments being, as I have said, a law of the people, they ought to be made with the force of a command, and in such terms as are called direct and imperative . Hence a rule was formed, that they could neither give nor transmit an inheritance, without making use of the imperative words: from whence it followed, that they might very justly in certain cases make a substitution ; and ordain, that the inheritance should pass to another heir; but that they could never make a fiduciary bequest , that is, charge any one in terms of intreaty to restore an inheritance, or a part of it, to another.
When the father neither instituted his son his heir, nor disinherited him, the will was annulled; but it was valid, though he did not disinherit his daughter, nor instituted her his heiress. The reason is plain: when he neither instituted nor disinherited his son, he did an injury to his grandson, who might have succeeded ab intestato to his father; but in neither instituting nor disinheriting his daughter, he did no injury to his daughter’s children, who could not succeed ab intestato to their mother , because they were neither sui hæredes nor agnati.
The laws of the ancient Romans concerning successions being formed with the same spirit which dictated the division of lands, did not sufficiently restrain the riches of women; thus a door was left open to luxury, which is always inseparable from this sort of opulence. Between the second and third Punic war, they began to perceive the evil, and made the Voconian law: but as they were induced to this by the most important considerations; as but few monuments have reached us that take notice of this law; and as it has hitherto been spoken of in a most confused manner, I shall endeavour to clear it up.
Cicero has preserved a fragment, which forbids the instituting a woman an heiress, whether she was married or unmarried.
The Epitome of Livy, where he speaks of this law, says no more: it appears from Cicero and St. Augustin, that the daughter, though an only child , was comprehended in the prohibition.
Cato the elder contributed all in his power to get this law passed. Aulus Gellius cites a fragment of a speech, which he made on this occasion. By preventing the succession of women, his intent was to take away the source of luxury: as by undertaking the defence of the Oppian law, he intended to put a stop to luxury itself.
In the Institutes of Justinian and Theophilus , mention is made of a chapter of the Voconian law, which limits the power of bequeathing. In reading these authors, every body would imagine, that this chapter was made to prevent the inheritance from being so exhausted by legacies, as to render it unworthy of the heir’s acceptance. But this was not the spirit of the Voconian law. We have just seen, that they had in view the hindering women from inheriting an estate. The article of this law, which set bounds to the power of bequeathing, entered into this view: for if people had been possessed of the liberty to bequeath as much as they pleased, the women might have received as legacies, what they could not receive by succession.
The Voconian law was made to hinder the women from growing too wealthy; for this end it was necessary to deprive them of large inheritances, and not of such as were incapable of supporting luxury. The law fixed a certain sum, to be given to the women whom it deprived of the succession. Cicero , from whom we have this particular, does not tell us what was the sum; but by Dio we are informed, it was a hundred thousand sesterces.
The Voconian law was made to regulate opulence, not to lay a restraint upon poverty; hence Cicero informs us, that it related only to those whose names were registered in the censors books.
This furnished a pretence for eluding the law: it is well known that the Romans were extremely fond of set forms; and we have already taken notice, that it was the spirit of the republic to follow the letter of the law. There were fathers who would not give in their names to be enrolled by the censors, because they would have it in their power to leave the succession to a daughter: and the prætors determined, that this was no violation of the Voconian law, since it was not contrary to the letter of it.
One Anius Asellus had appointed his daughter his sole heir and executrix. He had a right to make this disposition, says Cicero ; he was not restrained by the Voconian law, since he was not included in the census. Verres, during the time of his prætorship, had deprived Anius’s daughter of the succession; and Cicero maintains that Verres had been bribed, otherwise he would not have annulled a disposition which all the other prætors had confirmed.
What kind of citizens then must those have been, who were not registered in the census, in which all the freemen of Rome were included? According to the institution of Servius Tullius, mentioned by Dionysius of Halicarnassus , every citizen not enrolled in the census became a slave: even Cicero himself observes, that such a man forfeited his liberty: and the same thing is affirmed by Zonaras. There must have been therefore a difference between not being in the census according to the spirit of the Voconian law, and not being in it according to the spirit of Servius Tullius’s Institutions.
They whose names were not registered in the five first classes, in which the inhabitants ranked in proportion to their fortunes, were not comprized in the census according to the spirit of the Voconian law: they who were not enrolled in one of these six classes, or who were not ranked by the censors among such as were called ærarii, were not included in the census, according to the spirit of Servius’s Institutions. Such was the force of nature, that to elude the Voconian law, fathers submitted to the disgrace of being confounded in the sixth class with the proletarii and capite censi, or perhaps to have their names entered in the Cærites tabulæ .
We have elsewhere observed, that the Roman laws did not admit of fiduciary bequests. The hopes of evading the Voconian law were the cause of their being introduced: they instituted an heir qualified by the law, and they begged he would resign the succession to a person whom the law had excluded: this new method of disposition was productive of very different effects. Some resigned the inheritance; and the conduct of Sextus Peduceus on an occasion of this nature was very remarkable. A considerable succession was left him, and nobody living knew that he was desired to resign it to another; when he waited upon the widow of the testator, and made over to her the whole fortune belonging to her late husband.
Others kept possession of the inheritance; and here the example of P. Sextilius Rufus is also famous, having been made use of by Cicero in his disputations against the Epicureans. “In my younger days, says he, I was desired by Sextilius to accompany him to his friends, in order to know whether he ought to restore the inheritance of Quintus Fadius Gallus to his daughter Fadia. There were several young people present, with others of more maturity and judgment; and not one of them was of opinion that he should give more to Fadia, than the lady was intitled to by the Voconian law. In consequence of this, Sextilius kept possession of a fine estate, of which he would not have retained a single sestercius, had he preferred justice to utility. It is possible, added he, that you would have resigned the inheritance: nay, it is possible that Epicurus himself would have resigned it; but you would not have acted according to your own principles.” Here I shall pause a little to reflect.
It is a misfortune inherent to humanity, that legislators should be sometimes obliged to enact laws repugnant to the dictates of nature: such was the Voconian law. The reason is, the legislature considers the society rather than the citizen, and the citizen rather than the man. The law sacrificed both the citizen and the man, and directed its views to the prosperity of the republic. Suppose a person made a fiduciary bequest in favour of his daughter; the law paid no regard to the sentiments of nature in the father, nor to the filial piety of the daughter; all it had an eye to, was the person to whom the bequest was made in trust, and who on such an occasion found himself in a terrible dilemma. If he restored the estate, he was a bad citizen; if he kept it, he was a bad man. None but good-natured people thought of eluding the law; and they could pitch upon none but honest men to help them to elude it; for a trust of this kind requires a triumph over avarice and inordinate pleasure, which none but honest men are like to obtain. Perhaps in this light to look upon them as bad citizens, would have favoured too much of severity. It is not impossible but the legislator carried his point in a great measure, since his law was of such a nature, as obliged none but honest men to elude it.
At the time when the Voconian law was passed, the Romans still preserved some remains of their ancient purity of manners. Their conscience was sometimes engaged in favour of the law; and they were made to swear they would observe it : so that honesty, in some measure, was set in opposition against itself. But latterly their morals were corrupted to such a degree, that the fiduciary bequests must have had less efficacy to elude the Voconian law, than that very legislator had to enforce its observance.
The civil laws were the destruction of an infinite number of citizens. Under Augustus, Rome was almost deserted: it was necessary to repeople it. They made the Papian laws, which omitted nothing that could encourage the citizens to marry, and procreate children. One of the principal means was to increase , in favour of those who gave into the views of the law, the hopes of being heirs, and to diminish the expectations of those who refused; and as the Voconian law had rendered women incapable of succeeding, the Papian law, in certain cases, dispensed with this prohibition.
Women , especially those who had children, were rendered capable of receiving in virtue of the will of their husbands; they even might, when they had children, receive in virtue of the will of strangers. All this was in direct opposition to the regulations of the Voconian law: and yet it is remarkable, that the spirit of this law was not entirely abandoned. For example, the Papian law, which permitted a man who had one child , to receive an entire inheritance by the will of a stranger, granted the same savour to the wife only when she had three children .
It must be remarked, that the Papian law did not render the women who had three children capable of succeeding, except in virtue of the will of strangers; and that with respect to the succession of relations, it left the ancient laws, and particularly the Voconian, in all their force. But this did not long subsist.
Rome, corrupted by the riches of every nation, had changed her manners; the putting a stop to the luxury of women was no longer minded. Aulus Gellius, who lived under Adrian, tells us, that in his time the Voconian law was almost abolished; it was buried under the opulence of the city. Thus we find in the sentences of Paulus , who lived under Niger, and in the fragments of Ulpian , who was in the time of Alexander Severus, that the sisters on the father’s side might succeed, and that none but the relations of a more distant degree were in the case of those prohibited by the Voconian law.
The ancient laws of Rome began to be thought severe. The prætors were no longer moved but by reasons of equity, moderation, and decorum.
We have seen, that by the ancient laws of Rome mothers had no share in the inheritance of their children. The Voconian law afforded a new reason for their exclusion. But the emperor Claudius gave the mother the succession of her children as a consolation for her loss. The Tertullian senatus consultum, made under Adrian , gave it them when they had three children, if free women; or four, if they were freed women. It is evident, that this decree of the senate was only an extension of the Papian law, which in the same case had granted to women the inheritances left them by strangers. At length Justinian favoured them with the succession independently of the number of their children.
The same causes which had debilitated the law against the succession of women, subverted that by degrees which had limited the succession of the relations on the woman’s side. These laws were extremely conformable to the spirit of a good republic, where they ought to have such an influence, as to prevent this sex from rendering either the possession, or the expectation of wealth, an instrument of luxury. On the contrary, the luxury of a monarchy rendering marriage expensive and costly, it ought to be there encouraged, both by the riches which women may bestow, and by the hope of the inheritances it is in their power to procure. Thus when monarchy was established at Rome, the whole system of successions was changed. The prætors called the relations of the woman’s fide in default of those of the male side; though by the ancient laws, the relations of the woman’s side were never called. The Orphitian senatus consultum called children to the succession of their mother; and the emperors Valentinian , Theodosius, and Arcadius, called the grandchildren by the daughter, to the succession of the grandfather. In short, the emperor Justinian left not the least vestige of the ancient right of successions: he established three orders of heirs, the descendants, the ascendants, and the collaterals, without any distinction between the males and females; between the relations on the woman’s side, and those on the male side; and abrogated all of this kind, which were still in force: he believed, that he followed nature even in deviating from what he called the embarrassments of the ancient jurisprudence.