Book 1, Chapter 5, 296 AD to 410 AD – Decline of the Roman Power – Continued
The work of disintegration went rapidly forward, one province after another was lost; the northern barbarians became bolder in their incursions and of these one of the most feared was Alaric the Goth who ravaged Italy, and threatened Rome itself. These foreign attacks were aided by internal strife, and particularly by military appointments and depositions of emperors in distant provinces, among which the legions in Britain were prominent, several obscure soldiers being thus elevated and dethroned within a period of a few months. Such events occurring at the extremities of the empire were signs of feebleness and decay at its heart, as has been so graphically described by Gibbon in “The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire.” Nor had the treatment of conquered nations and of added provinces been such as to attach them to the imperial government by any strong moral tie, on the contrary, it has been shown that the policy pursued was of such a nature as to tend to the dismemberment of the empire, as by an inevitable retribution. Mr. Kemble presents the following able and judicious remarks upon this point (Saxons in England ii. 282). “Selfish and thoroughly unprincipled as the Roman government was in all its dependencies, it is little to be thought that it would manifest any unusual tenderness in this distant, unprofitable, and little known possession and we cannot entertain the least doubt that the condition of the British aborigines was from the first one of oppression, and was to the very last a mere downward progress from misery to misery. But such a system as this ruinous to the conquered and beneficial even to the conquerors only as long as they could maintain the law of force had no inherent vitality. It rested upon a crime, a sin which in no time or region has the providence of the Almighty blessed, the degradation of one class on pretext of benefiting another. And as the sin, so was also the retribution.
The Empire itself might have endured here, had the Romans taught the Britons to be men, and reconstituted a vigorous state upon that basis, in the hour of ruin, when province after province was torn away from the city, and the curse of an irresponsible will in feeble hands was felt through every quarter of the convulsed and distracted body. But the Britons had been taught the arts and luxuries of cultivation that they might be enervated. Disarmed, except when a jealous policy called for levies to be drafted into distant armies, congregated into cities on the Roman plan, that they might forget the dangerous freedom of their forests, attracted to share and emulate the feasts of the victors that they might learn to abhor the hard but noble fare of a squalid liberty, supported and encouraged in internal war, that union might not bring strength, and that the Roman slave dealer might not lack the objects of his detestable traffic, how should they develop the manly qualities on which the greatness of nation rests? How should they be capable of in dependent being, who had only been trained as instruments for the ambition, or victims to the avarice, of others? To crown all, their beautiful daughters might serve to amuse the softer hours of their lordly masters, but there was to be no conn4bium, and thus a half-caste race arose among them, growing up with all the vices of the victors, and with all the disqualifications of the vanquished. Nor under such circumstances can population follow a healthy course of development, and a hardy race be produced to recruit the power and increase the resources of the state. No price is indeed too great to pay for civilization, the root of all individual and national power; but mere civilization may be purchased too dearly. It is not worth its cost if it is obtained only by the sacrifice of all, which, having makes life itself of value.
Chapter 5, Christianity in Britain
Chapter 5, Decline of the Roman Power
Incursions of Northern Barbarians
Chapter 5, The Romans Leave Britain
Categories: Book 1