Leniency and Inequality Leading to Disorder and Decline of CommerceFebruary 11, 2020
The Leniency of the Romans
The refined Greeks were violent, so it means that the barbarous commonwealths of Africa, Spain, and Gaul were so much more.
An exception is the Roman commonwealth wherein no blood was ever shed in any sedition at Rome, until the murder of the Gracchi.
Dionysius Halicarnassæus, observed the singular humanity of the Roman people and which makes him believe that they were originally of Greek extraction.
The Romans were so late in becoming violent. Appian’s history of their civil wars shows the most frightful massacres, proscriptions, and forfeitures in the world. He resented such barbarous acts, unlike the Greek historians who wrote about such violence with coolness and indifference.
The maxims of ancient politics have so little humanity and moderation.
In the later period of the Roman commonwealth, the laws were so absurdly contrived as to lead to violence. All capital punishments were abolished. Any criminal or dangerous Roman citizen could not be regularly punished, other than by banishment. It became necessary to commit murder in private vengeance.
If Brutus had won over the triumvirate, he could not have allowed Octavius and Anthony to be banished overseas where they could plot new commotions and rebellions. Instead, he executed Antonius, brother to the triumvirate.
Cicero, with the approval of the wise and virtuous of Rome, arbitrarily executed Catiline’s accomplices, contrary to law without any trial.
A wretched security in a government which pretends to laws and liberty! One extreme produces another.
An excessive severity in the laws tends to beget great relaxation in their execution. Likewise, their excessive lenity naturally produces cruelty and barbarity.
The Disorders were Caused by Inequality
The frequent disorders in all ancient governments was generally caused by:
- the great difficulty of establishing any Aristocracy, and
- the perpetual discontents and seditions of the people, whenever even the meanest and most beggarly were excluded from the legislature and from public offices
The freedom and rank of citizens above slaves entitled them to every power and privilege of the commonwealth.
Solon’s laws allowed all free citizens to vote and run for elections. But they confined some magistracies to a particular census. The treaty with Antipater decreed that only Athenians with 2,000 drachmas or l60 Sterling or more could vote.
Such laws look democratic to us. But it was so disagreeable to the Athenians that over 2/3 of them immediately left their country. The people never satisfied till those laws were repealed.
Cassander reduced that census to half. Yet still the government was considered as:
- an oligarchical tyranny, and
- the effect of foreign violence.
Tullius’ laws seem equal and reasonable, by fixing the power in proportion to the property. Yet the Romans could never be brought quietly to submit to them.
Bach then, there was no middle-ground between:
- a severe, jealous aristocracy, ruling over discontented subjects, and
- a turbulent, factious, tyrannical democracy.
Presently, all republics in Europe have justice, lenity, and stability equal to, or even beyond, Marseilles, Rhodes, or the most celebrated in antiquity. Almost all of the modern republics are well-tempered aristocracies.
The Lack of Manufactures and Trade
Trade, manufactures, and industry never flourished in the ancient times as they do now.
The only clothing of the ancients, both for males and females, was a kind of white or grey flannel which they cleaned as often as it became dirty.
After Carthage, Tyre had the greatest commerce in the Mediterranean before it was destroyed by Alexander. According to Arrian, it was no mighty city.
According to Herodotus, Athens was a trading city. But it was as populous before and after the Median war. Yet its commerce then was so inconsiderable. The Greeks rarely went to the neighbouring coasts of Asia and the Western edge of the Mediterranean sea.
The following are an infallible indication that industry and commerce were at their infancy:
- the high interest of money, and
- the great profits of trade
Lysias says that 100% profit was made on a cargo of two talents sent from Athens to the Adriatic. This was not extraordinary profit.
Demosthenes says that Antidorus paid 3.5 talents for a house which he rented out at 1 talent a year. Demosthenes blames his own tutors for not using his money to a like advantage:
The value of 20 of the slaves left by his father, he computes at 40 minas, and the yearly profit of their labour at 12.
The most moderate interest at Athens, (for there was higher often paid) was 12% paid monthly.
Before the Roman civil war, Verres pegged interest at 24% for money which he left in the hands of the publicans. Cicero exclaims against this, not because of the high rate, but because it had never been customary to peg any interest rate on such occasions.
Interest sunk at Rome after the settlement of the empire.
But it never remained so low for a long time as what is happening in the modern commercial states.
Thucydides says that the Athenians felt inconveniencies from the fortifying of Decelia by the Spartans. It prevented them from bringing over their grain from Eubea by land through Oropus. Instead, they had to embark it and sail around the promontory of Sunium.
The ancient commerce which flourished was that of agricultural produce, and not manufactures.
Diodorus Siculus says that:
- the sale of wine and oil into Africa was the foundation of the riches of Agrigentum.
- the location of the city of Sybaris was the cause of its immense populousness, being built near the two rivers Crathys and Sybaris.
But these two rivers are not navigable. They could only produce some fertile vallies for agriculture. It is such an inconsiderable advantage that a modern writer not see it noteworthy.
The barbarity of the ancient tyrants, together with the extreme love of liberty of those times, banished every merchant and manufacturer. It would have depopulated the state if it relied on industry and commerce since fewer would be available for defense or agriculture.
The persecutions of Philip 2nd and Louis 14th filled Europe with the manufacturers of Flanders and of France.
Present Switzerland is remarkable because it has the most skillful husbandmen and the most bungling tradesmen in Europe.
Agriculture flourished in Greece and Italy as the ancient republics had a great equality of riches where each family cultivated its own field diligently for their own food.
But the most natural way to encourage husbandry is to excite other kinds of industry and thereby afford the labourer a ready market for his commodities, and a return of such goods as may contribute to his pleasure and enjoyment.
This method is infallible and universal. It prevails more in modern government than in the ancient. It affords a presumption of the superior populousness of the former.
Xenophon says that man may be a farmer with no art or skill is requisite. All he needs is industry and attention to the execution.
Columella hints that agriculture was but little known in the age of Xenophon.
The following are all extremely useful to encourage art, industry, and populousness:
- our superior skill in mechanics
- the discovery of new worlds that enlarge commerce
- the establishment of posts and the use of bills of exchange
If we eliminated them, every kind of business and labour would stop and many families would immediately perish from lack and hunger. We cannot replace such new inventions with any regulation or institution.