Essay 11 Part 2

The Populousness Of Ancient Nations

February 11, 2020

The world is not eternal nor incorruptible.

The following prove the mortality of this world, its passage, by corruption or dissolution, from one state or order to another:

  • the continual and rapid motion of matter,
  • the violent revolutions with which every part is agitated,
  • the changes remarked in the heavens,
  • the plain traces as well as tradition of an universal deluge, or
  • general convulsion of the elements

Society must therefore have its infancy, youth, manhood, and old age, similar to that each individual form which it contains. Man has these variations equally with every animal and plant.

In the flourishing age of the world, it may be expected, that the human species should possess greater vigour both of mind and body, more prosperous health, higher spirits, longer life, and a stronger inclination and power of generation.

But if the general system of things, and human society has such gradual revolutions that are too slow to be discernible in that short period comprehended by history and tradition. In all ages, the following have been pretty much the same:

  • stature and force of body,
  • length of life,
  • courage and extent of genius

The arts and sciences have flourished in one period, and have decayed in another.

  • When they rose to perfection among one people, they were totally unknown to all the neighbouring nations.
  • They universally decayed in one age, but was revived in a succeeding generation.

There is no universal difference in the human species. The universe might have a natural progress from infancy to old age. But it is uncertain whether it is advancing to perfection, or declining from it. Similarly, we cannot determine the progress or decay in human nature.

People commonly say that the large population size of antiquity is a sign of the world’s youth or vigour in the past.

But I think that such general physical causes should be entirely excluded from this question.

Some more particular physical causes are of importance.

Diseases in antiquity are almost unknown to modern medicine. There are new diseases that have no traces in ancient history. The moderns have a bigger disadvantage in disease. Small-pox alone could account for the great population of the ancient times.

If 10% of mankind were destroyed in every generation by war, pestilence, and famine, the resulting population would make a vast difference. This would make sense:

  • if the population were larger in ancient times than at present, and
  • if the difference were only from physical causes

Was antiquity so much more populous?

The extravagancies of Vossius on population are well known. But a better author has affirmed that the current population is not 1/50 of the population of the time of Julius Cæsar. This comparison is imperfect, even if we confine ourselves to Europe.

We do not even know the exact population of any European kingdom, or city at present. How can we pretend to calculate those of ancient cities and states, where historians have left us such imperfect traces?

It is possible for antiquity to have been more populous. We say that the ancients were more populous because we prefer their policies, manners, and the constitution of their government.

The Physical Causes for Population Growth

Every human has a desire and power of generation. This power is more restrained under the difficulties of their situation, which a wise legislature is supposed to observe and remove. In such a case, almost every man who thinks he can maintain a family will have one. At such a rate of propagation, the species would more than double every generation. The speed of this population growth depends on the way of providing for a family.

There were plagues which swept away 33% or 25% of a people. Yet this destruction was rare and society could again repopulate.

The largest populations, and greatest riches, will be found in countries with wise, just, and mild governments which make the condition of its subjects easy and secure. A country with a nice climate for vines will naturally be more populous than one which produces grain only. A grain country will be more populous than one fitted only for pasture.

In general, warm climates are the most populous because:

  • the necessities of its inhabitants are fewer, and
  • its vegetation is more powerful.

But with everything equal, the country with the most happiness, virtue, and the wisest institutions have the largest populations.

The Moral Causes for Population Growth

We can compare the domestic and political of the modern and ancient to judge by moral causes.

The ancients used slavery, while the moderns do not.

Some admirers of the ancients and opponents of civil liberty regret the loss of slavery. They brand all submission to the monarch as slavery, yet they would gladly enslave mankind. In reality, humans generally enjoy more liberty at present, even in the most arbitrary European government, than during the best periods of ancient times.

A petty ancient prince might only rule over a single city. But submission to him would be more grievous than obedience to a modern monarch. Likewise, ancient domestic slavery is more cruel than any modern citizenship.

We have more freedom the bigger the gap is between our rank and that of our master.

Domestic slavery made every man of rank a petty tyrant. It educated them, amidst the flattery, submission, and low debasement of his slaves, that all the checks and restraints were on the inferior and that none was on the superior. It did not teach them to have the reciprocal duties of gentleness and humanity. This led to the barbarous manners of ancient times.

In modern times, a bad servant does not easily find a good master, nor a bad master a good servant. The checks are mutual, suitable to reason and equity.

Rome had a custom of exposing old, useless, or sick slaves in an island of the Tyber, there to starve. Whoever recovered had his liberty given him by an edict of emperor Claudius, which also forbade to kill any slave merely for old age or sickness. Would this edict better the domestic treatment of slaves?

The elder Cato had a maxim to sell his superannuated slaves for any price, rather than maintain them as useless burdens.

Ergastula, or dungeons, where slaves in chains who were forced to work, were very common in Italy. Columella advises:

  • that they should always be built underground
  • the overseer to call over everyday the names of these slaves to know if any of them had deserted.

Ovid and other authors show proofs of:

  • the frequency of these dungeons, and
  • the many chained slaves confined in them

Had not these people shaken off all sense of compassion towards that unhappy part of their species, would they have presented their friends, at the first entrance, with such an image of the severity of the master, and misery of the slave?

So common in all trials, even of civil causes, as to call for the evidence of slaves; which was always extorted by the most exquisite torments.

Demosthenes says that, where it was possible to produce, for the same fact, either freemen or slaves, as witnesses, the judges always preferred the torturing of slaves, as a more certain evidence draws a picture of that disorderly luxury, which changes day into night, and night into day, and inverts every stated hour of every office in life.

He mentions of a Roman whipped and lashed his servants every third hour of the night for fun on the pretence of giving them correction and discipline. He says it not as an instance of cruelty, but only of disorder because such actions were usual, but the changes in the fixed hours when they were done were not.

What is the effect of slavery on population size?

They say that the ancient slavery was the chief cause of the extreme populousness in the ancient times.

Presently, all masters:

  • discourage the marrying of their male servants, and
  • ban the marrying of the female who are supposed to be incapacitated for their service.

But in the ancient past, the servants were property. And so the master encourages their propagation as much as that of his cattle. He rears the young with the same care and educates them to some art or calling, which may render them more useful or valuable to him. All of these are always under his eye. He has leisure to inspect the most minute detail of the marriage and education of his subjects. These are the good consequences of domestic slavery.

But this is wrong.

Few cattle are bred in the capital and near all great cities where provisions, lodging, and labour are dear. People prefer to buy mature cattle from the remoter and cheaper provinces which are consequently the only breeding lands for cattle.

Likewise, it would be more expensive to rear a child in London than to buy one of the same age from Scotland or Ireland where he had been bred in a cottage and fed on oatmeal or potatoes.

Therefore, those who had slaves in all the richer and more populous countries, would prevent the pregnancy of the females, and even destroy their offspring.

Children would thus perish in cities where they should encrease the fastest. Such a continued drain would depopulate the state and render great cities 10 times more destructive than a state without slavery.

If London, at present, without much encreasing, needs a yearly recruit from the country, of 5000 people, as is usually computed, what must it require, if the greater part of the tradesmen and common people were slaves, and were hindered from breeding by their avaricious masters?

There was a perpetual flux of slaves to Italy from the remoter provinces such as Syria, Cilicia, Cappadocia, and the Lesser Asia, Thrace, and Egypt.

Yet the population in Italy did not encrease. Writers attribute this to the continual decay of industry and agriculture.

Where then is that extreme fertility of the Roman slaves, which is commonly supposed?

The slave population could not maintain itself and needed immense recruits. Many of them were converted into Roman citizens. But even the population of such citizens did not encrease until the freedom of the city was communicated to foreign provinces.

A slave, born and bred in the family, was ‘verna’. They had, by custom, privileges and indulgences beyond others. This is why the masters were not fond of rearing many of them.

Whoever is acquainted with the maxims of our planters, will acknowledge the justness of this observation.23is much praised by his historian for the care, which he took in recruiting his family from the slaves born in it:

May we not thence infer, that this practice was not then very common?

The names of slaves in the Greek comedies were Syrus, Mysus, Geta, Thrax, Davus, Lydus, Phryx, etc. This means that at Athens, most of the slaves were imported from foreign countries.

Strabo says:

The Athenians gave to their slaves the names of the nations whence they were bought, as Lydus, Syrus; or the names that were most common among those nations, as Manes or Midas to a Phrygian, Tibias to a Paphlagonian.,

He praises the humanity of law that forbade any man to strike the slave of another.

If the barbarians from whom the slaves were bought, had information, that their countrymen met with such gentle treatment, they would entertain a great esteem for the Athenians.
  • Isocrates too insinuates that the slaves of the Greeks were commonly barbarians.
  • Aristotle in his Politics plainly supposes that a slave is always a foreigner.
  • The ancient comic writers represented the slaves as speaking a barbarous language.

Demosthenes was defrauded of a large fortune by his tutors.

His orations give an exact detail of the wealth left by his father, in money, merchandise, houses, and slaves, and the value of each. Among the rest were 52 handicraftsmen slaves:

  • 32 sword-cutlers,
  • 20 cabinet-makers.

All were males. There was no mention of wives, children or family which they would have had since it was a common practice at Athens to breed from the slaves. Only the house-maids of his mother were mentioned.

Plutarch said of the Elder Cato:

“He bought many slaves at the sales of prisoners of war. He chose them young, that they might easily get used to any diet or manner of life, and be instructed in any business or labour, as men teach young dogs or horses. He saw that love was the chief source of all disorders. He allowed his family's male slaves to have sex with the female slaves upon paying a fee for this privilege. But he strictly prohibited all intrigues out of his family.”

These prove that the marriage and propagation of their slaves was unimportant.

Cato was a great economist who lived in times when the ancient frugality and simplicity of manners were still dominant. If that was a common practice, founded on general interest, he would have embraced it.

The writers of the Roman law wrote that slaves were rarely bought for breeding. The lackeys and house-maids that I own do not serve much to multiply their species. But the ancients, besides personal slaves, had almost all their work and manufactures done by slaves who lived with their family.

Some great men even had 10,000.

If slavery were unfavourable to propagation then it must have been destructive.

A Roman nobleman had 400 slaves under the same roof with him. He was assassinated at home by the furious revenge of one of them. The law was executed with rigour, and all 400 were put to death.

Many other Roman noblemen had families equally, or more numerous. This would not be practicable if all the slaves married and the females were breeders.

The poet Hesiod married slaves and were esteemed inconvenient.

How much more, where families had encreased to such an enormous size as in Rome, and where the ancient simplicity of manners was banished from all ranks of people?

In his Economics, where he gives directions for the management of a farm, recommends a strict care and attention of laying the male and the female slaves at a distance from each other. He does not suppose that they are ever married.

The only slaves among the Greeks that continued their own race were the Helotes. They had houses apart and were more the slaves of the public than of individuals.

same author39 tells us, that Nicias’s overseer, by agreement with his master, was obliged to pay him an obolus a day for each slave; besides maintaining them, and keeping up the number.

Had the ancient slaves been all breeders, this last circumstance of the contract had been superfluous.

The ancients talk so frequently of a fixed, stated portion of provisions assigned to each slave, that we are naturally led to conclude, that slaves lived almost all single, and received that portion as a kind of board-wages.practice, indeed, of marrying slaves seems not to have been very common, even among the country-labourers, where it is more naturally to be expected.

Cato listed the slaves needed to work on a vineyard of 100 acres as 15:

  • the overseer (villicus)
  • his wife (villica)
  • 13 male slaves

for an olive plantation of 240 acres, [395] the overseer and his wife, and 11 male slaves; and so in proportion to a greater or less plantation or vineyard.

quoting this passage of Cato, allows his computation to be just in every respect, except the last.

For as it is requisite, says he, to have an overseer and his wife, whether the vineyard or plantation be great or small, this must alter the exactness of the proportion.

Had Cato’s computation been wrong, it had certainly been corrected by Varro, who seems fond of discovering so trivial an error.

He and Columella, recommends it as requisite to give a wife to the overseer, in order to attach him the more strongly to his master’s service.

This was therefore a peculiar indulgence granted to a slave, in whom so great confidence was reposed.the same place, Varro mentions it as an useful precaution, not to buy too many slaves from the same nation, lest they beget factions and seditions in the family.

A presumption, that in Italy, the greater part, even of the country labouring slaves, (for he speaks of no other) were bought from the remoter provinces.

All the world knows, that the family slaves in Rome, who were instruments of show and luxury, were commonly imported from the east.

Pliny speaking of the jealous care of masters says:

Hoc profecere , mancipiorum legiones, et in domo turba externa, ac servorum quoque causa nomenclator adhibendus.

Varro recommends to propagate young shepherds in the family from the old ones.

Grazing farms were commonly in remote and cheap places. Each shepherd lived in a cottage apart. His marriage and family was more convenient than those in dearer places where many servants lived with one family. The latter was the case in the Roman farms which produced wine or grain.

This exception with shepherds strongly confirms my position.

I own, advises the master to give a reward, and even liberty to a female slave, that had reared him above three children:

A proof, that sometimes the ancients propagated from their slaves; which, indeed, cannot be denied.

If not, then slavery, so common in antiquity, would have destroyed slave populations.

Slavery is generally disadvantageous both to the happiness and populousness of mankind. Slaves are better replaced with hired servants.

The seditions of the Gracchi were caused by the increase of slaves in Italy and the reduction of free citizens.

  • Appian ascribes this encrease to the breeding of slaves.
  • Plutarch ascribes this to the purchasing of barbarians, who were chained and imprisoned, βαρβαρικα δεσμωτηρια.

Florus says that both causes concurred.

Eunus and Athenio excited the servile war, by breaking up the slave dungeons and freeing 60,000 slaves.

The younger Pompey augmented his army in Spain in the same way.

Domestic slavery is unfavourable to propagation and to humanity when:

  • the rural labourers were in dungeons, and
  • it was difficult to find separate lodgings for the families of the city servants

At present, Turkey? recruits slaves from all its provinces similar to what Rome did. These provinces are consequently less populous according to Mons. Maillet. They send continual colonies of black slaves to the other parts of the Turkish empire and receives annually an equal return of white. The one brought from the inland parts of Africa; the other from Mingrelia, Circassia, and Tartary.