|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
THE ROMAN EMPIRE
HOW THE REPUBLIC OF ROME AFTER CENTURIES OF UNREST AND REVOLUTION BECAME AN EMPIRE
 WHEN the Roman armies returned from these many victorious
campaigns, they were received with great jubilation.
Alas and alack! this sudden glory did not make the country any
happier. On the contrary. The endless campaigns had ruined
the farmers who had been obliged to do the hard work of Empire
making. It had placed too much power in the hands of the
successful generals (and their private friends) who had used
the war as an excuse for wholesale robbery.
The old Roman Republic had been proud of the simplicity
which had characterised the lives of her famous men. The
new Republic felt ashamed of the shabby coats and the high
principles which had been fashionable in the days of its grandfathers.
It became a land of rich people ruled by rich people
for the benefit of rich people. As such it was doomed to
disastrous failure, as I shall now tell you.
Within less than a century and a half, Rome had become
the mistress of practically all the land around the Mediterranean.
In those early days of history a prisoner of war lost
his freedom and became a slave. The Roman regarded war as
a very serious business and he showed no mercy to a conquered
foe. After the fall of Carthage, the Carthaginian women and
children were sold into bondage together with their own slaves.
 And a like fate awaited the obstinate inhabitants of Greece and
Macedonia and Spain and Syria when they dared to revolt
against the Roman power.
Two thousand years ago a slave was merely a piece of
machinery. Nowadays a rich man invests his money in factories.
The rich people of Rome (senators, generals and
war-profiteers) invested theirs in land and in slaves. The land
they bought or took in the newly-acquired provinces. The
slaves they bought in open market wherever they happened to
be cheapest. During most of the third and second centuries
before Christ there was a plentiful supply, and as a result the
landowners worked their slaves until they dropped dead in their
tracks, when they bought new ones at the nearest bargain-counter
of Corinthian or Carthaginian captives.
And now behold the fate of the freeborn farmer!
He had done his duty toward Rome and he had fought her
battles without complaint. But when he came home after ten,
fifteen or twenty years, his lands were covered with weeds and
his family had been ruined. But he was a strong man and
willing to begin life anew. He sowed and planted and waited
for the harvest. He carried his grain to the market together
with his cattle and his poultry, to find that the large landowners
who worked their estates with slaves could underbid him all
along the line. For a couple of years he tried to hold his own.
Then he gave up in despair. He left the country and he went
to the nearest city. In the city he was as hungry as he had been
before on the land. But he shared his misery with thousands
of other disinherited beings. They crouched together in filthy
hovels in the suburbs of the large cities. They were apt
to get sick and die from terrible epidemics. They were all
profoundly discontented. They had fought for their country and
this was their reward. They were always willing to listen to
those plausible spell-binders who gather around a public
grievance like so many hungry vultures, and soon they became a
grave menace to the safety of the state.
But the class of the newly-rich shrugged its shoulders.
"We have our army and our policemen," they argued, "they
 will keep the mob in order." And they hid themselves behind
the high walls of their pleasant villas and cultivated their
gardens and read the poems of a certain Homer which a Greek
slave had just translated into very pleasing Latin hexameters.
In a few families however the old tradition of unselfish
service to the Commonwealth continued. Cornelia, the daughter
of Scipio Africanus, had been married to a Roman by the
name of Gracchus. She had two sons, Tiberius and Gaius.
When the boys grew up they entered politics and tried to bring
about certain much-needed reforms. A census had shown
that most of the land of the Italian peninsula was owned by
two thousand noble families. Tiberius Gracchus, having been
elected a Tribune, tried to help the freemen. He revived two
ancient laws which restricted the number of acres which a single
owner might possess. In this way he hoped to revive the
valuable old class of small and independent freeholders. The
newly-rich called him a robber and an enemy of the state.
There were street riots. A party of thugs was hired to kill the
popular Tribune. Tiberius Gracchus was attacked when he
entered the assembly and was beaten to death. Ten years later
his brother Gaius tried the experiment of reforming a nation
against the expressed wishes of a strong privileged class. He
passed a "poor law" which was meant to help the destitute
farmers. Eventually it made the greater part of the Roman
citizens into professional beggars.
He established colonies of destitute people in distant parts
of the empire, but these settlements failed to attract the right
sort of people. Before Gaius Gracchus could do more harm he
too was murdered and his followers were either killed or exiled.
The first two reformers had been gentlemen. The two who
came after were of a very different stamp. They were
professional soldiers. One was called Marius. The name of the
other was Sulla. Both enjoyed a large personal following.
Sulla was the leader of the landowners. Marius, the victor
in a great battle at the foot of the Alps when the Teutons
and the Cimbri had been annihilated, was the popular hero
of the disinherited freemen.
 Now it happened in the year 88 B.C. that the Senate of
Rome was greatly disturbed by rumours that came from Asia.
Mithridates, king of a country along the shores of the Black
Sea, and a Greek on his mother's side, had seen the possibility
of establishing a second Alexandrian Empire. He began his
campaign for world-domination with the murder of all Roman
citizens who happened to be in Asia Minor, men, women and
children. Such an act, of course, meant war. The Senate
equipped an army to march against the King of Pontus and
punish him for his crime. But who was to be
commander-in-chief? "Sulla," said the Senate, "because he is Consul."
"Marius," said the mob, "because he has been Consul five times
and because he is the champion of our rights."
Possession is nine points of the law. Sulla happened to be
in actual command of the army. He went east to defeat
Mithridates and Marius fled to Africa. There he waited
until he heard that Sulla had crossed into Asia. He then
returned to Italy, gathered a motley crew of malcontents,
marched on Rome and entered the city with his professional
highwaymen, spent five days and five nights, slaughtering the
enemies of the Senatorial party, got himself elected Consul and
promptly died from the excitement of the last fortnight.
There followed four years of disorder. Then Sulla, having
defeated Mithridates, announced that he was ready to return
to Rome and settle a few old scores of his own. He was as
good as his word. For weeks his soldiers were busy executing
those of their fellow citizens who were suspected of democratic
sympathies. One day they got hold of a young fellow who
had been often seen in the company of Marius. They were
going to hang him when some one interfered. "The boy is too
young," he said, and they let him go. His name was Julius
Caesar. You shall meet him again on the next page.
As for Sulla, he became "Dictator," which meant sole and
supreme ruler of all the Roman possessions. He ruled Rome
for four years, and he died quietly in his bed, having spent the
last year of his life tenderly raising his cabbages, as was the
 custom of so many Romans who had spent a lifetime killing
But conditions did not grow better. On the contrary, they
grew worse. Another general, Gnaeus Pompeius, or Pompey,
a close friend of Sulla, went east to renew the war against the
ever troublesome Mithridates. He drove that energetic potentate
into the mountains where Mithridates took poison and
killed himself, well knowing what fate awaited him as a Roman
captive. Next he re-established the authority of Rome over
Syria, destroyed Jerusalem, roamed through western Asia,
trying to revive the myth of Alexander the Great, and at last
(in the year 62) returned to Rome with a dozen ship-loads of
defeated Kings and Princes and Generals, all of whom were
forced to march in the triumphal procession of this enormously
popular Roman who presented his city with the sum of forty
million dollars in plunder.
It was necessary that the government of Rome be placed
in the hands of a strong man. Only a few months before, the
town had almost fallen into the hands of a good-for-nothing
young aristocrat by the name of Catiline, who had gambled
away his money and hoped to reimburse himself for his losses by
a little plundering. Cicero, a public-spirited lawyer, had discovered
the plot, had warned the Senate, and had forced Catiline
to flee. But there were other young men with similar ambitions
and it was no time for idle talk.
Pompey organised a triumvirate which was to take charge
of affairs. He became the leader of this Vigilante Committee.
Gaius Julius Caesar, who had made a reputation for himself
as governor of Spain, was the second in command. The
third was an indifferent sort of person by the name of Crassus.
He had been elected because he was incredibly rich, having been
a successful contractor of war supplies. He soon went upon
an expedition against the Parthians and was killed.
As for Caesar, who was by far the ablest of the three, he
decided that he needed a little more military glory to become
a popular hero. He crossed the Alps and conquered that part
of the world which is now called France. Then he hammered
 a solid wooden bridge across the Rhine and invaded the land
of the wild Teutons. Finally he took ship and visited England.
Heaven knows where he might have ended if he had not been
forced to return to Italy. Pompey, so he was informed, had
been appointed dictator for life. This of course meant that
Caesar was to be placed on the list of the "retired officers," and
the idea did not appeal to him. He remembered that he had
begun life as a follower of Marius. He decided to teach the
Senators and their "dictator" another lesson. He crossed the
Rubicon River which separated the province of Cis-alpine Gaul
from Italy. Everywhere he was received as the "friend of the
people." Without difficulty Caesar entered Rome and Pompey
fled to Greece. Caesar followed him and defeated his followers
near Pharsalus. Pompey sailed across the Mediterranean and
escaped to Egypt. When he landed he was murdered by order
of young king Ptolemy. A few days later Caesar arrived.
He found himself caught in a trap. Both the Egyptians and
 the Roman garrison which had remained faithful to Pompey,
attacked his camp.
CAESAR GOES WEST
Fortune was with Caesar. He succeeded in setting fire to
the Egyptian fleet. Incidentally the sparks of the burning
vessels fell on the roof of the famous library of Alexandria
(which was just off the water front,) and destroyed it. Next
he attacked the Egyptian army, drove the soldiers into the
Nile, drowned Ptolemy, and established a new government
under Cleopatra, the sister of the late king. Just then word
reached him that Pharnaces, the son and heir of Mithridates,
had gone on the war-path. Caesar marched northward, defeated
Pharnaces in a war which lasted five days, sent word of
his victory to Rome in the famous sentence "veni, vidi, vici,"
which is Latin for "I came, I saw, I conquered," and returned
to Egypt where he fell desperately in love with Cleopatra, who
followed him to Rome when he returned to take charge of the
government, in the year 46. He marched at the head of not
less than four different victory-parades, having won four
Then Caesar appeared in the Senate to report upon his
adventures, and the grateful Senate made him "dictator" for
ten years. It was a fatal step.
The new dictator made serious attempts to reform the
Roman state. He made it possible for freemen to become
members of the Senate. He conferred the rights of citizenship
upon distant communities as had been done in the early days
of Roman history. He permitted "foreigners" to exercise
influence upon the government. He reformed the administration
of the distant provinces which certain aristocratic families
had come to regard as their private possessions. In short he
did many things for the good of the majority of the people but
which made him thoroughly unpopular with the most powerful
men in the state. Half a hundred young aristocrats formed a
plot "to save the Republic." On the Ides of March (the fifteenth
of March according to that new calendar which Caesar
had brought with him from Egypt) Caesar was murdered when
he entered the Senate. Once more Rome was without a master.
THE GREAT ROMAN EMPIRE
 There were two men who tried to continue the tradition of
Caesar's glory. One was Antony, his former secretary. The
other was Octavian, Caesar's grand-nephew and heir to his
estate. Octavian remained in Rome, but Antony went to Egypt
to be near Cleopatra with whom he too had fallen in love, as
seems to have been the habit of Roman generals.
A war broke out between the two. In the battle of Actium,
Octavian defeated Antony. Antony killed himself and
Cleopatra was left alone to face the enemy. She tried very
hard to make Octavian her third Roman conquest. When she
saw that she could make no impression upon this very proud
aristocrat, she killed herself, and Egypt became a Roman province.
As for Octavian, he was a very wise young man and he did
not repeat the mistake of his famous uncle. He knew how
people will shy at words. He was very modest in his demands
when he returned to Rome. He did not want to be a "dictator."
He would be entirely satisfied with the title of "the Honourable."
But when the Senate, a few years later, addressed
him as Augustus—the Illustrious—he did not object and a few
years later the man in the street called him Caesar, or Kaiser,
while the soldiers, accustomed to regard Octavian as their
Commander-in-chief referred to him as the Chief, the Imperator or
Emperor. The Republic had become an Empire, but the average
Roman was hardly aware of the fact.
In 14 A.D. his position as the Absolute Ruler of the
Roman people had become so well established that he was made
an object of that divine worship which hitherto had been reserved
for the Gods. And his successors were true "Emperors"—the
absolute rulers of the greatest empire the world had
If the truth be told, the average citizen was sick and tired
of anarchy and disorder. He did not care who ruled him provided
the new master gave him a chance to live quietly and
without the noise of eternal street riots. Octavian assured his
subjects forty years of peace. He had no desire to extend the
frontiers of his domains. In the year 9 A.D. he had
contem-  plated an invasion of the northwestern wilderness which was
inhabited by the Teutons. But Varus, his general, had been
killed with all his men in the Teutoburg Woods, and after that
the Romans made no further attempts to civilise these wild
They concentrated their efforts upon the gigantic problem
of internal reform. But it was too late to do much good. Two
centuries of revolution and foreign war had repeatedly killed
the best men among the younger generations. It had ruined
the class of the free farmers. It had introduced slave labor,
against which no freeman could hope to compete. It had
turned the cities into beehives inhabited by pauperized and
unhealthy mobs of runaway peasants. It had created a large
bureaucracy—petty officials who were underpaid and who were
forced to take graft in order to buy bread and clothing for
their families. Worst of all, it had accustomed people to violence,
to blood-shed, to a barbarous pleasure in the pain and
suffering of others.
Outwardly, the Roman state during the first century of our
era was a magnificent political structure, so large that Alexander's
empire became one of its minor provinces. Underneath
this glory there lived millions upon millions of poor and tired
human beings, toiling like ants who have built a nest underneath
a heavy stone. They worked for the benefit of some one
else. They shared their food with the animals of the fields.
They lived in stables. They died without hope.
It was the seven hundred and fifty-third year since the
founding of Rome. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus
was living in the palace of the Palatine Hill, busily engaged
upon the task of ruling his empire.
In a little village of distant Syria, Mary, the wife of Joseph
the Carpenter, was tending her little boy, born in a stable of
This is a strange world.
Before long, the palace and the stable were to meet in open
And the stable was to emerge victorious.
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