Chapter 12

The Isle of Delos and Mithridates

September 21, 2021

UPON the destruction of Corinth by the Romans, the merchants retired to Delos island, which was a place of safety. 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 sent colonies to Propontis and to the Euxine sea. Those colonies retained their laws and liberties under the Persians. The kings of Pontus and Alexander did not molest these people.

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.

Chapter 13= The Genius of the Romans as to Maritime Affairs

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.

Chapter 14= The Genius of the Romans with Respect to Commerce

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.
  • They were estranged from commerce by:
    • their genius,
    • their glory,
    • their military education, and
    • the very form of their government

In the city, they were employed only about war, elections, factions, and law-suits.

In the country, they were employed in agriculture. It established a severe and tyrannical government its provinces. This made it 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.

People had these two ideas:

  • Commerce is of the greatest service to a state, and
  • The Romans had the best-regulated government in the world

Those people have believed that the Romans greatly honoured and encouraged commerce. But the truth is, they seldom troubled their heads about it.