The Story of the Roman Empire; or, the Kingdom of Iron - 8

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THE Story of Rome is so vast that it is extremely difficult to compress within the column or so of a magazine, month by month, even the merest outline of it: but we desire, if we can, just to trace the various leading features of the history of this ancient Empire, in order that our readers may perceive how all the events connected with the development of this wonderful nation tended to manifest the design and purposes of God in history.
It has been observed by interested friends that we are disposed to take too favorable a view of the rulers and of the general government of this great Empire. But it is not so. We are fully alive to the fact that for ages the administration of the ruling powers in Rome was cruel and intolerant indeed: but admitting this, we can perceive, as we have over and over again stated, that the very cruelty, whether of kings or people, was often restrained in a singular manner, and the tyrannical power of this indomitable people was controlled by a Power above and beyond their calculations.
This, perhaps, was most evident during the remainder of the second epoch of their history. We venture to say that during the period, say, from 450 to 250 B.C., nothing could be finer than the efforts of many wise men amongst the people to frame just and wise laws, and to secure equity for all. Let any one study carefully the various codes of laws that were proposed by celebrated men for the just government of the people during this era, and he would be bound to confess that they would have done credit to our own times and generation; because they were, on the whole, generous and perfectly equitable: but this even, as now, frequently led to open conflict between those who desired to secure more liberty and a greater share in the land and in the general jurisdiction of the country.
So much in earnest were the people to obtain enlightenment upon matters that might tend to the general good, that actually in 462 B.C. three commissioners, or Triumviri as they were called, were sent into Greece to collect information concerning the laws of Solon at Athens, and to elicit useful information for the guidance of the rulers at home as to the government of other Greek States. The result of all this was the tabulation of the laws into what they termed “the Twelve Tables,” and these were for long ages regarded with the greatest veneration as the basis of all Roman law, and some of the tenets therein, however little they may have been observed nationally, bear a striking resemblance to the Decalogue.
During the time when many of the citizens of Rome were busy law-making, the military forces were doing all they could to gradually subjugate the surrounding nations and tribes. We can understand how necessary this was, so as to pave the way for the greater dominion the Romans were afterwards to secure. Their power must be unquestioned at home before the vast armies that would eventually arise could march forth to the uttermost limits of the known world. One of the most singular struggles of old Rome was against the King of Veii. The siege of the city itself lasted, like that of Troy, ten years, and its ultimate capture was almost as singular. The waters of the Alban Lake rose to a great height, and submerged the adjacent country. It was said by an oracle that Veii would never be taken until a way was made for the overflowing waters to reach the sea, and so the old Romans started to make a tunnel. It was six thousand feet long, and four and a half feet wide, and although two thousand years have passed away, it serves the same useful purpose even now: but the making of it gave the commander of the Roman forces an idea how he might take the city, for he made another tunnel under the city, and one day, when the priest was engaged in offering a sacrifice to Juno, a band of brave men emerged at the Capitol. The army outside surrounding the city made vigorous assaults at the same time, and the inhabitants were thrown into such terror that the Roman soldiers inside opened the gates to their companions, and Veii was occupied by the Romans.
It is only another example of the uncertainty of all human greatness, for Camillus, the conqueror, and the man who had so cleverly compassed the capture of the town after the long siege, returned to Rome. He entered the city in magnificent triumph, drawn in a chariot by white horses, and erected on the hill of the Aventine the statue of Juno, which had been the guide and boast of Veii. But his countrymen envied Camillus. He was accused of appropriating spoil for his personal use, and was arraigned before the tribunes. He went voluntarily into exile, and as he went he prayed that judgment might overtake his ungrateful people, and so it did, for even then an enemy was at the doors. The powerful Gauls had crossed the Apennines, and Rome, grand Rome as she was even then, was left a mound of ashes by these terrible foes. Then the Romans resolved to recall Camillus from banishment and elect him Dictator.