Faith and Manners

Roman Austerity and Roman Pride

Life in the case of the Roman was spent under conditions of austere restraint, and, the nobler he was, the less he was a free man. All-powerful custom restricted him to a narrow range of thought and action; and to have led a serious and strict or, to use the characteristic Latin expressions, a sad and severe life, was his glory. No one had more and no one had less to do than to keep his household in good order and manfully bear his part of counsel and action in public affairs. But, while the individual had neither the wish nor the power to be aught else than a member of the community, the glory and the might of that community were felt by every individual burgess as a personal possession to be transmitted along with his name and his homestead to his posterity; and thus, as one generation after another was laid in the tomb and each in succession added its fresh contribution to the stock of ancient honours, the collective sense of dignity in the noble families of Rome swelled into that mighty civic pride, the like of which the earth has never seen again, and the traces of which, as strange as they are grand, seem to us, wherever we meet them, to belong as it were to another world. It was one of the characteristic peculiarities of this powerful sense of citizenship, that it was, while not suppressed, yet compelled by the rigid simplicity and equality that prevailed among the citizens to remain locked up within the breast during life, and was only allowed to find expression after death; but then it was displayed in the funeral rites of the man of distinction so conspicuously and intensely, that this ceremonial is better fitted than any other phenomenon of Roman life to give to us who live in later times a glimpse of that wonderful spirit of the Romans.

A Roman Funeral

It was a singular procession, at which the burgesses were invited to be present by the summons of the public crier: "Yonder warrior is dead; whoever can, let him come to escort Lucius Aemilius; he is borne forth from his house." It was opened by bands of wailing women, musicians, and dancers; one of the latter was dressed out and furnished with a mask after the likeness of the deceased, and by gesture doubtless and action recalled once more to the multitude the appearance of the well-known man. Then followed the grandest and most peculiar part of the solemnity—the procession of ancestors—before which all the rest of the pageant so faded in comparison, that men of rank of the true Roman type enjoined their heirs to restrict the funeral ceremony to that procession alone. We have already mentioned that the face-masks of those ancestors who had filled the curule aedileship or any higher ordinary magistracy, wrought in wax and painted—modelled as far as possible after life, but not wanting even for the earlier ages up to and beyond the time of the kings—were wont to be placed in wooden niches along the walls of the family hall, and were regarded as the chief ornament of the house. When a death occurred in the family, suitable persons, chiefly actors, were dressed up with these face-masks and the corresponding official costume to take part in the funeral ceremony, so that the ancestors—each in the principal dress worn by him in his lifetime, the triumphator in his gold-embroidered, the censor in his purple, and the consul in his purple-bordered, robe, with their lictors and the other insignia of office—all in chariots gave the final escort to the dead. On the bier overspread with massive purple and gold-embroidered coverlets and fine linen cloths lay the deceased himself, likewise in the full costume of the highest office which he had filled, and surrounded by the armour of the enemies whom he had slain and by the chaplets which in jest or earnest he had won. Behind the bier came the mourners, all dressed in black and without ornament, the sons of the deceased with their heads veiled, the daughters without veil, the relatives and clansmen, the friends, the clients and freedmen. Thus the procession passed on to the Forum. There the corpse was placed in an erect position; the ancestors descended from their chariots and seated themselves in the curule chairs; and the son or nearest gentile kinsman of the deceased ascended the rostra, in order to announce to the assembled multitude in simple recital the names and deeds of each of the men sitting in a circle around him and, last of all, those of him who had recently died.

This may be called a barbarous custom, and a nation of artistic feelings would certainly not have tolerated the continuance of this odd resurrection of the dead down to an epoch of fully-developed civilization; but even Greeks who were very dispassionate and but little disposed to reverence, such as Polybius, were greatly impressed by the naive pomp of this funeral ceremony. It was a conception essentially in keeping with the grave solemnity, the uniform movement, and the proud dignity of Roman life, that departed generations should continue to walk, as it were, corporeally among the living, and that, when a burgess weary of labours and of honours was gathered to his fathers, these fathers themselves should appear in the Forum to receive him among their number.

The New Hellenism

But the Romans had now reached a crisis of transition. Now that the power of Rome was no longer confined to Italy but had spread far and wide to the east and to the west, the days of the old home life of Italy were over, and a Hellenizing civilization came in its room. It is true that Italy had been subject to the influence of Greece, ever since it had a history at all. We have formerly shown how the youthful Greece and the youthful Italy—both of them with a certain measure of simplicity and originality—gave and received intellectual impulses; and how at a later period Rome endeavoured after a more external manner to appropriate to practical use the language and inventions of the Greeks. But the Hellenism of the Romans of the present period was, in its causes as well as its consequences, something essentially new. The Romans began to feel the need of a richer intellectual life, and to be startled as it were at their own utter want of mental culture; and, if even nations of artistic gifts, such as the English and Germans, have not disdained in the pauses of their own productiveness to avail themselves of the miserable French culture for filling up the gap, it need excite no surprise that the Italian nation now flung itself with fervid zeal on the glorious treasures as well as on the dissolute filth of the intellectual development of Hellas. But it was an impulse still more profound and deep-rooted, which carried the Romans irresistibly into the Hellenic vortex. Hellenic civilization still doubtless called itself by that name, but it was Hellenic no longer; it was, in fact, humanistic and cosmopolitan. It had solved the problem of moulding a mass of different nations into one whole completely in the field of intellect, and to a certain extent also in that of politics; and, now when the same task on a wider scale devolved on Rome, she took over Hellenism along with the rest of the inheritance of Alexander the Great. Hellenism therefore was no longer a mere stimulus or accessory influence; it penetrated the Italian nation to the very core. Of course, the vigorous home life of Italy strove against the foreign element. It was only after a most vehement struggle that the Italian farmer abandoned the field to the cosmopolite of the capital; and, as in Germany the French coat called forth the national Germanic frock, so the reaction against Hellenism aroused in Rome a tendency which opposed the influence of Greece on principle, in a fashion altogether foreign to the earlier centuries, and in doing so fell pretty frequently into downright follies and absurdities.

Hellenism in Politics

No department of human action or thought remained unaffected by this struggle between the old fashion and the new. Even political relations were largely influenced by it The whimsical project of emancipating the Hellenes, the well deserved failure of which has already been described, the kindred, likewise Hellenic, idea of a common interest of republics in opposition to kings, and the desire of propagating Hellenic polity at the expense of eastern despotism—the two principles that helped to regulate, for instance, the treatment of Macedonia—were fixed ideas of the new school, just as dread of the Carthaginians was the fixed idea of the old; and, if Cato pushed the latter to a ridiculous excess, Philhellenism now and then indulged in extravagances at least quite as foolish. For example, the conqueror of king Antiochus not only had a statue of him self in Greek costume erected on the Capitol, but also, instead of calling himself in good Latin -Asiaticus-, assumed the unmeaning and anomalous, but yet magnificent and almost Greek, surname of —Asiagenus—.(1) A more important consequence of this attitude of the ruling nation towards Hellenism was, that the process of Latinizing gained ground everywhere in Italy except where it encountered the Hellenes. The cities of the Greeks in Italy, so far as the war had not destroyed them, remained Greek. Apulia, about which, it is true, the Romans gave themselves little concern, appears at this very epoch to have been thoroughly pervaded by Hellenism, and the local civilization there seems to have attained the level of the decaying Hellenic culture by its side. Tradition is silent on the matter; but the numerous coins of cities, uniformly furnished with Greek inscriptions, and the manufacture of painted clay-vases after the Greek style, which was carried on in that part of Italy alone with more ambition and gaudiness than taste, show that Apulia had completely adopted Greek habits and Greek art.

But the real struggle between Hellenism and its national antagonists during the present period was carried on in the field of faith, of manners, and of art and literature; and we must not omit to attempt some delineation of this great strife of principles, however difficult it may be to present a summary view of the myriad forms and aspects which the conflict assumed.

The National Religion and Unbelief

The extent to which the old simple faith still retained a living hold on the Italians is shown very clearly by the admiration or astonishment which this problem of Italian piety excited among the contemporary Greeks. On occasion of the quarrel with the Aetolians it was reported of the Roman commander-in-chief that during battle he was solely occupied in praying and sacrificing like a priest; whereas Polybius with his somewhat stale moralizing calls the attention of his countrymen to the political usefulness of this piety, and admonishes them that a state cannot consist of wise men alone, and that such ceremonies are very convenient for the sake of the multitude.

Religious Economy

But if Italy still possessed—what had long been a mere antiquarian curiosity in Hellas—a national religion, it was already visibly beginning to be ossified into theology. The torpor creeping over faith is nowhere perhaps so distinctly apparent as in the alterations in the economy of divine service and of the priesthood. The public service of the gods became not only more tedious, but above all more and more costly. In 558 there was added to the three old colleges of the augurs, pontifices, and keepers of oracles, a fourth consisting of three "banquet-masters" (-tres viri epulones-), solely for the important purpose of superintending the banquets of the gods. The priests, as well as the gods, were in fairness entitled to feast; new institutions, however, were not needed with that view, as every college applied itself with zeal and devotion to its convivial affairs. The clerical banquets were accompanied by the claim of clerical immunities. The priests even in times of grave embarrassment claimed the right of exemption from public burdens, and only after very troublesome controversy submitted to make payment of the taxes in arrear (558). To the individual, as well as to the community, piety became a more and more costly article. The custom of instituting endowments, and generally of undertaking permanent pecuniary obligations, for religious objects prevailed among the Romans in a manner similar to that of its prevalence in Roman Catholic countries at the present day. These endowments—particularly after they came to be regarded by the supreme spiritual and at the same time the supreme juristic authority in the state, the pontifices, as a real burden devolving -de jure- on every heir or other person acquiring the estate—began to form an extremely oppressive charge on property; "inheritance without sacrificial obligation" was a proverbial saying among the Romans somewhat similar to our "rose without a thorn." The dedication of a tenth of their substance became so common, that twice every month a public entertainment was given from the proceeds in the Forum Boarium at Rome. With the Oriental worship of the Mother of the Gods there was imported to Rome among other pious nuisances the practice, annually recurring on certain fixed days, of demanding penny-collections from house to house (-stipem cogere-). Lastly, the subordinate class of priests and soothsayers, as was reasonable, rendered no service without being paid for it; and beyond doubt the Roman dramatist sketched from life, when in the curtain-conversation between husband and wife he represents the account for pious services as ranking with the accounts for the cook, the nurse, and other customary presents:—

-Da mihi, vir,—quod dem Quinquatribus
Praecantrici, conjectrici, hariolae atquc haruspicae;
Tum piatricem clementer non potest quin munerem.
Flagitium est, si nil mittetur, quo supercilio spicit.-

The Romans did not create a "God of gold," as they had formerly created a "God of silver";(2) nevertheless he reigned in reality alike over the highest and lowest spheres of religious life. The old pride of the Latin national religion—the moderation of its economic demands—was irrevocably gone.


At the same time its ancient simplicity also departed. Theology, the spurious offspring of reason and faith, was already occupied in introducing its own tedious prolixity and solemn inanity into the old homely national faith, and thereby expelling the true spirit of that faith. The catalogue of the duties and privileges of the priest of Jupiter, for instance, might well have a place in the Talmud. They pushed the natural rule—that no religious service can be acceptable to the gods unless it is free from flaw—to such an extent in practice, that a single sacrifice had to be repeated thirty times in succession on account of mistakes again and again committed, and that the games, which also formed a part of divine service, were regarded as undone if the presiding magistrate had committed any slip in word or deed or if the music even had paused at a wrong time, and so had to be begun afresh, frequently for several, even as many as seven, times in succession.

Irreligious Spirit

This exaggeration of conscientiousness was already a symptom of its incipient torpor; and the reaction against it—indifference and unbelief—failed not soon to appear. Even in the first Punic war (505) an instance occurred in which the consul himself made an open jest of consulting the auspices before battle—a consul, it is true, belonging to the peculiar clan of the Claudii, which alike in good and evil was ahead of its age. Towards the end of this epoch complaints were loudly made that the lore of the augurs was neglected, and that, to use the language of Cato, a number of ancient auguries and auspices were falling into oblivion through the indolence of the college. An augur like Lucius Paullus, who saw in the priesthood a science and not a mere title, was already a rare exception, and could not but be so, when the government more and more openly and unhesitatingly employed the auspices for the accomplishment of its political designs, or, in other words, treated the national religion in accordance with the view of Polybius as a superstition useful for imposing on the public at large. Where the way was thus paved, the Hellenistic irreligious spirit found free course. In connection with the incipient taste for art the sacred images of the gods began as early as the time of Cato to be employed, like other furniture, in adorning the chambers of the rich. More dangerous wounds were inflicted on religion by the rising literature. It could not indeed venture on open attacks, and such direct additions as were made by its means to religious conceptions —e.g. the Pater Caelus formed by Ennius from the Roman Saturnus in imitation of the Greek Uranos—were, while Hellenistic, of no great importance. But the diffusion of the doctrines of Epichar and Euhemerus in Rome was fraught with momentous consequences. The poetical philosophy, which the later Pythagoreans had extracted from the writings of the old Sicilian comedian Epicharmus of Megara (about 280), or rather had, at least for the most part, circulated under cover of his name, saw in the Greek gods natural substances, in Zeus the atmosphere, in the soul a particle of sun-dust, and so forth. In so far as this philosophy of nature, like the Stoic doctrine in later times, had in its most general outlines a certain affinity with the Roman religion, it was calculated to undermine the national religion by resolving it into allegory. A quasi-historical analysis of religion was given in the "Sacred Memoirs" of Euhemerus of Messene (about 450), which, under the form of reports on the travels of the author among the marvels of foreign lands, subjected to thorough and documentary sifting the accounts current as to the so-called gods, and resulted in the conclusion that there neither were nor are gods at all. To indicate the character of the book, it may suffice to mention the one fact, that the story of Kronos devouring his children is explained as arising out of the existence of cannibalism in the earliest times and its abolition by king Zeus. Notwithstanding, or even by virtue of, its insipidity and of its very obvious purpose, the production had an undeserved success in Greece, and helped, in concert with the current philosophies there, to bury the dead religion. It is a remarkable indication of the expressed and conscious antagonism between religion and the new philosophy that Ennius already translated into Latin those notoriously destructive writings of Epicharmus and Euhemerus. The translators may have justified themselves at the bar of Roman police by pleading that the attacks were directed only against the Greek, and not against the Latin, gods; but the evasion was tolerably transparent. Cato was, from his own point of view, quite right in assailing these tendencies indiscriminately, wherever they met him, with his own peculiar bitterness, and in calling even Socrates a corrupter of morals and offender against religion.

Home and Foreign Superstition

Thus the old national religion was visibly on the decline; and, as the great trees of the primeval forest were uprooted the soil became covered with a rank growth of thorns and of weeds that had never been seen before. Native superstitions and foreign impostures of the most various hues mingled, competed, and conflicted with each other. No Italian stock remained exempt from this transmuting of old faith into new superstition. As the lore of entrails and of lightning was cultivated among the Etruscans, so the liberal art of observing birds and conjuring serpent? flourished luxuriantly among the Sabellians and more particularly the Marsians. Even among the Latin nation, and in fact in Rome itself, we meet with similar phenomena, although they are, comparatively speaking, less conspicuous. Such for instance were the lots of Praeneste, and the remarkable discovery at Rome in 573 of the tomb and posthumous writings of the king Numa, which are alleged to have prescribed religious rites altogether strange and unheard of. But the credulous were to their regret not permitted to learn more than this, coupled with the fact that the books looked very new; for the senate laid hands on the treasure and ordered the rolls to be summarily thrown into the fire. The home manufacture was thus quite sufficient to meet such demands of folly as might fairly be expected; but the Romans were far from being content with it. The Hellenism of that epoch, already denationalized and pervaded by Oriental mysticism, introduced not only unbelief but also superstition in its most offensive and dangerous forms to Italy; and these vagaries moreover had quite a special charm, precisely because they were foreign.

Worship of Cybele

Chaldaean astrologers and casters of nativities were already in the sixth century spread throughout Italy; but a still more important event—one making in fact an epoch in the world's history—was the reception of the Phrygian Mother of the Gods among the publicly recognized divinities of the Roman state, to which the government had been obliged to give its consent during the last weary years of the Hannibalic war (550). A special embassy was sent for the purpose to Pessinus, a city in the territory of the Celts of Asia Minor; and the rough field-stone, which the priests of the place liberally presented to the foreigners as the real Mother Cybele, was received by the community with unparalleled pomp. Indeed, by way of perpetually commemorating the joyful event, clubs in which the members entertained each other in rotation were instituted among the higher classes, and seem to have materially stimulated the rising tendency to the formation of cliques. With the permission thus granted for the -cultus- of Cybele the worship of the Orientals gained a footing officially in Rome; and, though the government strictly insisted that the emasculate priests of the new gods should remain Celts (-Galli-) as they were called, and that no Roman burgess should devote himself to this pious eunuchism, yet the barbaric pomp of the "Great Mother" —her priests clad in Oriental costume with the chief eunuch at their head, marching in procession through the streets to the foreign music of fifes and kettledrums, and begging from house to house—and the whole doings, half sensuous, half monastic, must have exercised a most material influence over the sentiments and views of the people.

Worship of Bacchus

The effect was only too rapidly and fearfully apparent. A few years later (568) rites of the most abominable character came to the knowledge of the Roman authorities; a secret nocturnal festival in honour of the god Bacchus had been first introduced into Etruria through a Greek priest, and, spreading like a cancer, had rapidly reached Rome and propagated itself over all Italy, everywhere corrupting families and giving rise to the most heinous crimes, unparalleled unchastity, falsifying of testaments, and murdering by poison. More than 7000 men were sentenced to punishment, most of them to death, on this account, and rigorous enactments were issued as to the future; yet they did not succeed in repressing the ongoings, and six years later (574) the magistrate to whom the matter fell complained that 3000 men more had been condemned and still there appeared no end of the evil.

Repressive Measures

Of course all rational men were agreed in the condemnation of these spurious forms of religion—as absurd as they were injurious to the commonwealth: the pious adherents of the olden faith and the partisans of Hellenic enlightenment concurred in their ridicule of, and indignation at, this superstition. Cato made it an instruction to his steward, "that he was not to present any offering, or to allow any offering to be presented on his behalf, without the knowledge and orders of his master, except at the domestic hearth and on the wayside-altar at the Compitalia, and that he should consult no -haruspex-, -hariolus-, or -Chaldaeus-." The well-known question, as to how a priest could contrive to suppress laughter when he met his colleague, originated with Cato, and was primarily applied to the Etruscan -haruspex-. Much in the same spirit Ennius censures in true Euripidean style the mendicant soothsayers and their adherents:

-Sed superstitiosi vates impudentesque arioli,
Aut inertes aut insani aut quibus egestas imperat,
Qui sibi semitam non sapiunt, alteri monstrant viam,
Quibus divitias pollicentur, ab eis drachumam ipsi petunt.-

But in such times reason from the first plays a losing game against unreason. The government, no doubt, interfered; the pious impostors were punished and expelled by the police; every foreign worship not specially sanctioned was forbidden; even the consulting of the comparatively innocent lot-oracle of Praeneste was officially prohibited in 512; and, as we have already said, those who took part in the Bacchanalia were rigorously prosecuted. But, when once men's heads are thoroughly turned, no command of the higher authorities avails to set them right again. How much the government was obliged to concede, or at any rate did concede, is obvious from what has been stated. The Roman custom, under which the state consulted Etruscan sages in certain emergencies and the government accordingly took steps to secure the traditional transmission of Etruscan lore in the noble families of Etruria, as well as the permission of the secret worship of Demeter, which was not immoral and was restricted to women, may probably be ranked with the earlier innocent and comparatively indifferent adoption of foreign rites. But the admission of the worship of the Mother of the Gods was a bad sign of the weakness which the government felt in presence of the new superstition, perhaps even of the extent to which it was itself pervaded by it; and it showed in like manner either an unpardonable negligence or something still worse, that the authorities only took steps against such proceedings as the Bacchanalia at so late a stage, and even then on an accidental information.

Austerity of Manners
Catos's Family Life

The picture, which has been handed down to us of the life of Cato the Elder, enables us in substance to perceive how, according to the ideas of the respectable burgesses of that period, the private life of the Roman should be spent. Active as Cato was as a statesman, pleader, author, and mercantile speculator, family life always formed with him the central object of existence; it was better, he thought, to be a good husband than a great senator. His domestic discipline was strict. The servants were not allowed to leave the house without orders, nor to talk of what occurred to the household to strangers. The more severe punishments were not inflicted capriciously, but sentence was pronounced and executed according to a quasi-judicial procedure: the strictness with which offences were punished may be inferred from the fact, that one of his slaves who had concluded a purchase without orders from his master hanged himself on the matter coming to Cato's ears. For slight offences, such as mistakes committed in waiting at table, the consular was wont after dinner to administer to the culprit the proper number of lashes with a thong wielded by his own hand. He kept his wife and children in order no less strictly, but by other means; for he declared it sinful to lay hands on a wife or grown-up children in the same way as on slaves. In the choice of a wife he disapproved marrying for money, and recommended men to look to good descent; but he himself married in old age the daughter of one of his poor clients. Moreover he adopted views in regard to continence on the part of the husband similar to those which everywhere prevail in slave countries; a wife was throughout regarded by him as simply a necessary evil. His writings abound in invectives against the chattering, finery-loving, ungovernable fair sex; it was the opinion of the old lord that "all women are plaguy and proud," and that, "were men quit of women, our life might probably be less godless." On the other hand the rearing of children born in wedlock was a matter which touched his heart and his honour, and the wife in his eyes existed strictly and solely for the children's sake. She nursed them ordinarily herself, or, if she allowed her children to be suckled by female slaves, she also allowed their children in return to draw nourishment from her own breast; one of the few traits, which indicate an endeavour to mitigate the institution of slavery by ties of human sympathy—the common impulses of maternity and the bond of foster-brotherhood. The old general was present in person, whenever it was possible, at the washing and swaddling of his children. He watched with reverential care over their childlike innocence; he assures us that he was as careful lest he should utter an unbecoming word in presence of his children as if he had been in presence of the Vestal Virgins, and that he never before the eyes of his daughters embraced their mother, except when she had become alarmed during a thunder-storm. The education of the son was perhaps the noblest portion of his varied and variously honourable activity. True to his maxim, that a ruddy-checked boy was worth more than a pale one, the old soldier in person initiated his son into all bodily exercises, and taught him to wrestle, to ride, to swim, to box, and to endure heat and cold. But he felt very justly, that the time had gone by when it sufficed for a Roman to be a good farmer and soldier; and be felt also that it could not but have an injurious influence on the mind of his boy, if he should subsequently learn that the teacher, who had rebuked and punished him and had won his reverence, was a mere slave. Therefore he in person taught the boy what a Roman was wont to learn, to read and write and know the law of the land; and even in his later years he worked his way so far into the general culture of the Hellenes, that he was able to deliver to his son in his native tongue whatever in that culture he deemed to be of use to a Roman. All his writings were primarily intended for his son, and he wrote his historical work for that son's use with large distinct letters in his own hand. He lived in a homely and frugal style. His strict parsimony tolerated no expenditure on luxuries. He allowed no slave to cost him more than 1500 -denarii- (65 pounds) and no dress more than 100 -denarii- (4 pounds: 6 shillings); no carpet was to be seen in his house, and for a long time there was no whitewash on the walls of the rooms. Ordinarily he partook of the same fare with his servants, and did not buffer his outlay in cash for the meal to exceed 30 -asses- (2 shillings); in time of war even wine was uniformly banished from his table, and he drank water or, according to circumstances, water mixed with vinegar. On the other hand, he was no enemy to hospitality; he was fond of associating both with his club in town and with the neighbouring landlords in the country; he sat long at table, and, as his varied experience and his shrewd and ready wit made him a pleasant companion, he disdained neither the dice nor the wine-flask: among other receipts in his book on husbandry he even gives a tried recipe for the case of a too hearty meal and too deep potations. His life up to extreme old age was one of ceaseless activity. Every moment was apportioned and occupied; and every evening he was in the habit of turning over in his mind what he had heard, said, or done during the day. Thus he found time for his own affairs as well as for those of his friends and of the state, and time also for conversation and pleasure; everything was done quickly and without many words, and his genuine spirit of activity hated nothing so much as bustle or a great ado about trifles. So lived the man who was regarded by his contemporaries and by posterity as the true model of a Roman burgess, and who appeared as it were the living embodiment of the—certainly somewhat coarse-grained—energy and probity of Rome in contrast with Greek indolence and Greek immorality; as a later Roman poet says:

-Sperne mores transmarinos, mille habent offucias.
Cive Romano per orbem nemo vivit rectius.
Quippe malim unum Catonem, quam trecentos Socratas.- (3)

Such judgments will not be absolutely adopted by history; but every one who carefully considers the revolution which the degenerate Hellenism of this age accomplished in the modes of life and thought among the Romans, will be inclined to heighten rather than to lessen that condemnation of the foreign manners.

New Manners

The ties of family life became relaxed with fearful rapidity. The evil of grisettes and boy-favourites spread like a pestilence, and, as matters stood, it was not possible to take any material steps in the way of legislation against it. The high tax, which Cato as censor (570) laid on this most abominable species of slaves kept for luxury, would not be of much moment, and besides fell practically into disuse a year or two afterwards along with the property-tax generally. Celibacy—as to which grave complaints were made as early as 520—and divorces naturally increased in proportion. Horrible crimes were perpetrated in the bosom of families of the highest rank; for instance, the consul Gaius Calpurnius Piso was poisoned by his wife and his stepson, in order to occasion a supplementary election to the consulship and so to procure the supreme magistracy for the latter —a plot which was successful (574). Moreover the emancipation of women began. According to old custom the married woman was subject in law to the marital power which was parallel with the paternal, and the unmarried woman to the guardianship of her nearest male -agnati-, which fell little short of the paternal power; the wife had no property of her own, the fatherless virgin and the widow had at any rate no right of management. But now women began to aspire to independence in respect to property, and, getting quit of the guardianship of their -agnati- by evasive lawyers' expedients —particularly through mock marriages—they took the management of their property into their own hands, or, in the event of being married, sought by means not much better to withdraw themselves from the marital power, which under the strict letter of the law was necessary. The mass of capital which was collected in the hands of women appeared to the statesmen of the time so dangerous, that they resorted to the extravagant expedient of prohibiting by law the testamentary nomination of women as heirs (585), and even sought by a highly arbitrary practice to deprive women for the most part of the collateral inheritances which fell to them without testament. In like manner the exercise of family jurisdiction over women, which was connected with that marital and tutorial power, became practically more and more antiquated. Even in public matters women already began to have a will of their own and occasionally, as Cato thought, "to rule the rulers of the world;" their influence was to be traced in the burgess-assembly, and already statues were erected in the provinces to Roman ladies.


Luxury prevailed more and more in dress, ornaments, and furniture, in buildings and at table. Especially after the expedition to Asia Minor in 564 Asiatico-Hellenic luxury, such as prevailed at Ephesus and Alexandria, transferred its empty refinement and its dealing in trifles, destructive alike of money, time, and pleasure, to Rome. Here too women took the lead: in spite of the zealous invective of Cato they managed to procure the abolition, after the peace with Cartilage (559), of the decree of the people passed soon after the battle of Cannae (539), which forbade them to use gold ornaments, variegated dresses, or chariots; no course was left to their zealous antagonist but to impose a high tax on those articles (570). A multitude of new and for the most part frivolous articles—silver plate elegantly figured, table-couches with bronze mounting, Attalic dresses as they were called, and carpets of rich gold brocade—now found their way to Rome. Above all, this new luxury appeared in the appliances of the table. Hitherto without exception the Romans had only partaken of hot dishes once a day; now hot dishes were not unfrequently produced at the second meal (-prandium-), and for the principal meal the two courses formerly in use no longer sufficed. Hitherto the women of the household had themselves attended to the baking of bread and cooking; and it was only on occasion of entertainments that a professional cook was specially hired, who in that case superintended alike the cooking and the baking. Now, on the other hand, a scientific cookery began to prevail. In the better houses a special cook was kept The division of labour became necessary, and the trade of baking bread and cakes branched off from that of cooking—the first bakers' shops in Rome appeared about 583. Poems on the art of good eating, with long lists of the most palatable fishes and other marine products, found their readers: and the theory was reduced to practice. Foreign delicacies—anchovies from Pontus, wine from Greece—began to be esteemed in Rome, and Cato's receipt for giving to the ordinary wine of the country the flavour of Coan by means of brine would hardly inflict any considerable injury on the Roman vintners. The old decorous singing and reciting of the guests and their boys were supplanted by Asiatic -sambucistriae-. Hitherto the Romans had perhaps drunk pretty deeply at supper, but drinking- banquets in the strict sense were unknown; now formal revels came into vogue, on which occasions the wine was little or not at all diluted and was drunk out of large cups, and the drink-pledging, in which each was bound to follow his neighbour in regular succession, formed the leading feature—"drinking after the Greek style" (-Graeco more bibere-) or "playing the Greek" (-pergraecari-, -congraecare-) as the Romans called it. In consequence of this debauchery dice-playing, which had doubtless long been in use among the Romans, reached such proportions that it was necessary for legislation to interfere. The aversion to labour and the habit of idle lounging were visibly on the increase.(4) Cato proposed to have the market paved with pointed stones, in order to put a stop to the habit of idling; the Romans laughed at the jest and went on to enjoy the pleasure of loitering and gazing all around them.

Increase of Amusements

We have already noticed the alarming extension of the popular amusements during this epoch. At the beginning of it, apart from some unimportant foot and chariot races which should rather be ranked with religious ceremonies, only a single general festival was held in the month of September, lasting four days and having a definitely fixed maximum of cost.(5) At the close of the epoch, this popular festival had a duration of at least six days; and besides this there were celebrated at the beginning of April the festival of the Mother of the Gods or the so-called Megalensia, towards the end of April that of Ceres and that of Flora, in June that of Apollo, in November the Plebeian games—all of them probably occupying already more days than one. To these fell to be added the numerous cases where the games were celebrated afresh—in which pious scruples presumably often served as a mere pretext—and the incessant extraordinary festivals. Among these the already-mentioned banquets furnished from the dedicated tenths(6) the feasts of the gods, the triumphal and funeral festivities, were conspicuous; and above all the festal games which were celebrated—for the first time in 505—at the close of one of those longer periods which were marked off by the Etrusco-Roman religion, the -saecula-, as they were called. At the same time domestic festivals were multiplied. During the second Punic war there were introduced, among people of quality, the already-mentioned banquetings on the anniversary of the entrance of the Mother of the Gods (after 550), and, among the lower orders, the similar Saturnalia (after 537), both under the influence of the powers henceforth closely allied—the foreign priest and the foreign cook. A very near approach was made to that ideal condition in which every idler should know where he might kill time every day; and this in a commonwealth where formerly action had been with all and sundry the very object of existence, and idle enjoyment had been proscribed by custom as well as by law! The bad and demoralizing elements in these festal observances, moreover, daily acquired greater ascendency. It is true that still as formerly the chariot races formed the brilliant finale of the national festivals; and a poet of this period describes very vividly the straining expectancy with which the eyes of the multitude were fastened on the consul, when he was on the point of giving the signal for the chariots to start. But the former amusements no longer sufficed; there was a craving for new and more varied spectacles. Greek athletes now made their appearance (for the first time in 568) alongside of the native wrestlers and boxers. Of the dramatic exhibitions we shall speak hereafter: the transplanting of Greek comedy and tragedy to Rome was a gain perhaps of doubtful value, but it formed at any rate the best of the acquisitions made at this time. The Romans had probably long indulged in the sport of coursing hares and hunting foxes in presence of the public; now these innocent hunts were converted into formal baitings of wild animals, and the wild beasts of Africa—lions and panthers—were (first so far as can be proved in 568) transported at great cost to Rome, in order that by killing or being killed they might serve to glut the eyes of the gazers of the capital. The still more revolting gladiatorial games, which prevailed in Campania and Etruria, now gained admission to Rome; human blood was first shed for sport in the Roman forum in 490. Of course these demoralizing amusements encountered severe censure: the consul of 486, Publius Sempronius Sophus, sent a divorce to his wife, because she had attended funeral games; the government carried a decree of the people prohibiting the bringing over of wild beasts to Rome, and strictly insisted that no gladiators should appear at the public festivals. But here too it wanted either the requisite power or the requisite energy: it succeeded, apparently, in checking the practice of baiting animals, but the appearance of sets of gladiators at private festivals, particularly at funeral celebrations, was not suppressed. Still less could the public be prevented from preferring the comedian to the tragedian, the rope-dancer to the comedian, the gladiator to the rope-dancer; or the stage be prevented from revelling by choice amidst the pollution of Hellenic life. Whatever elements of culture were contained in the scenic and artistic entertainments were from the first thrown aside; it was by no means the object of the givers of the Roman festivals to elevate—though it should be but temporarily—the whole body of spectators through the power of poetry to the level of feeling of the best, as the Greek stage did in the period of its prime, or to prepare an artistic pleasure for a select circle, as our theatres endeavour to do. The character of the managers and spectators in Rome is illustrated by a scene at the triumphal games in 587, where the first Greek flute-players, on their melodies failing to please, were instructed by the director to box with one another instead of playing, upon which the delight would know no bounds.

Nor was the evil confined to the corruption of Roman manners by Hellenic contagion; conversely the scholars began to demoralize their instructors. Gladiatorial games, which were unknown in Greece, were first introduced by king Antiochus Epiphanes (579-590), a professed imitator of the Romans, at the Syrian court, and, although they excited at first greater horror than pleasure in the Greek public, which was more humane and had more sense of art than the Romans, yet they held their ground likewise there, and gradually came more and more into vogue.

As a matter of course, this revolution in life and manners brought an economic revolution in its train. Residence in the capital became more and more coveted as well as more costly. Rents rose to an unexampled height. Extravagant prices were paid for the new articles of luxury; a barrel of anchovies from the Black Sea cost 1600 sesterces (16 pounds)—more than the price of a rural slave; a beautiful boy cost 24,000 sesterces (240 pounds)—more than many a farmer's homestead. Money therefore, and nothing but money, became the watchword with high and low. In Greece it had long been the case that nobody did anything for nothing, as the Greeks themselves with discreditable candour allowed: after the second Macedonian war the Romans began in this respect also to imitate the Greeks. Respectability had to provide itself with legal buttresses; pleaders, for instance, had to be prohibited by decree of the people from taking money for their services; the jurisconsults alone formed a noble exception, and needed no decree of the people to compel their adherence to the honourable custom of giving good advice gratuitously. Men did not, if possible, steal outright; but all shifts seemed allowable in order to attain rapidly to riches—plundering and begging, cheating on the part of contractors and swindling on the part of speculators, usurious trading in money and in grain, even the turning of purely moral relations such as friendship and marriage to economic account. Marriage especially became on both sides an object of mercantile speculation; marriages for money were common, and it appeared necessary to refuse legal validity to the' presents which the spouses made to each other. That, under such a state of things, plans for setting fire on all sides to the capital came to the knowledge of the authorities, need excite no surprise. When man no longer finds enjoyment in work, and works merely in order to attain as quickly as possible to enjoyment, it is a mere accident that he does not become a criminal. Destiny had lavished all the glories of power and riches with liberal hand on the Romans; but, in truth, the Pandora's box was a gift of doubtful value.

Notes for Chapter XIII

1. That —Asiagenus— was the original title of the hero of Magnesia and of his descendants, is established by coins and inscriptions; the fact that the Capitoline Fasti call him -Asiaticus- is one of several traces indicating that these have undergone a non-contemporary revision. The former surname can only he a corruption of —Asiagenus— —the form which later authors substituted for it—which signifies not the conqueror of Asia, but an Asiatic by birth.

2. II. VIII. Religion

3. [In the first edition of this translation I gave these lines in English on the basis of Dr. Mommsen's German version, and added in a note that I had not been able to find the original. Several scholars whom I consulted were not more successful; and Dr. Mommsen was at the time absent from Berlin. Shortly after the first edition appeared, I received a note from Sir George Cornewall Lewis informing me that I should find them taken from Florus (or Floridus) in Wernsdorf, Poetae Lat. Min. vol. iii. p. 487. They were accordingly given in the revised edition of 1868 from the Latin text Baehrens (Poet. Lat. Min. vol. iv. p. 347) follows Lucian Muller in reading -offucia-. —TR.]

4. A sort of -parabasis- in the -Curculio- of Plautus describes what went on in the market-place of the capital, with little humour perhaps, but with life-like distinctness.

-Conmonstrabo, quo in quemque hominem facile inveniatis loco,
Ne nimio opere sumat operam, si quis conventum velit
Vel vitiosum vel sine vitio, vel probum vel inprobum.
Qui perjurum convenire volt hominem, ito in comitium;
Qui mendacem et gloriosum, apud Cloacinae sacrum.
[Ditis damnosos maritos sub basilica quaerito.
Ibidem erunt scorta exoleta quique stipulari solent.]
Symbolarum conlatores apud forum piscarium.
In foro infumo boni homines atque dites ambulant;
In medio propter canalem ibi ostentatores meri.
Confidentes garrulique et malevoli supra lacum,
Qui alteri de nihilo audacter dicunt contumeliam
Et qui ipsi sat habent quod in se possit vere dicier.
Sub veteribus ibi sunt, qui dant quique accipiunt faenore.
Pone aedem Castoris ibi sunt, subito quibus credas male.
In Tusco vico ibi sunt homines, qui ipsi sese venditant.
In Velabro vel pistorem vel lanium vel haruspicem
Vel qui ipsi vorsant, vel qui aliis, ut vorsentur, praebeant.
Ditis damnosos maritos apud Leucadiam Oppiam.-

The verses in brackets are a subsequent addition, inserted after the building of the first Roman bazaar (570). The business of the baker (-pistor-, literally miller) embraced at this time the sale of delicacies and the providing accommodation for revellers (Festus, Ep. v. alicariae, p. 7, Mull.; Plautus, Capt. 160; Poen. i. a, 54; Trin. 407). The same was the case with the butchers. Leucadia Oppia may have kept a house of bad fame.

5. II. IX. The Roman National Festival

6. III. XIII. Religious Economy

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