The Discovery of New Worlds  by M. B. Synge

The Roman World

"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change."


I N this new century, the story of the world was the story of Rome herself, for she ruled over nearly all the world that was known to the men of these olden times.

Let us remember that we are still talking of two thousand years ago, though we have almost unconsciously glided from the era known as B.C.—that is, Before Christ—to that known as A.D., Anno Domini, the year of our Lord.

It is sometimes hard to realise all that had happened before this time in the far-off ages of long ago. And yet it is all so interesting and so vastly important. It shows us how earnest work and toil raised each nation in turn to a high position, and how the acquisition of wealth or the greed of conquest brought that nation low.

We must now see how Rome too,—"Golden Rome," as she was called by the poets of her day,—the Mistress of the World, fell, owing to her desire for wealth and display, indolence and luxury, and how great and terrible was her fall.

While the child Christ was growing up in his quiet home in the East, Cæsar Augustus was still ruling the great Roman world, of which Rome itself was the centre. Augustus did what he could to make Rome, the capital of the whole world, worthy of her name.

Like Pericles at Athens in the olden days, he built beautiful buildings and tried to make the city as famous as possible. Many races met within her gates, many languages were spoken in her streets. Eastern princes and wildly-clad Britons and Gauls, low-browed Egyptians and sunburnt Spaniards,—all might have been seen at this time in the Forum at Rome, together with the Romans and Greeks.

Anxious to communicate with all parts of his mighty empire, Augustus started the imperial post. At certain stations along the great military roads, which now stretched from Rome to Cadiz in Spain, as well as to the coasts of France and Holland, he established settlements. Officers and messengers, with horses and mules, were ready to ride off, at a moment's notice, with messages from the emperor, to those who were ruling provinces under him. Along these great roads the legions of Rome were continually marching to and from the provinces, their tall helmets flashing in the sunlight as they tramped along the paved roads to protect the interests of Rome in distant lands.

The "Queen of Roman Roads," as it was called, was that known as the Appian Way, along which passed the traffic between Rome and the South, extending to Brindisi. It was a splendid road, broad enough for two carriages to pass one another, and built of hard stones hewn smooth.

Thus the countries dependent on Rome could pour their produce into the Golden City; while on the other hand the famous Augustan roads, starting from the golden milestone in the Forum,—the very heart of the Empire,—carried Roman civilisation and life to the western limits of Europe.

Then there were Roman possessions across the sea.

The whole northern coast of Africa was hers, from Carthage to Alexandria. Alexandria was at this time second only to Rome itself: as a centre for commerce she stood at the head of all the cities in the world.

Egypt supplied Rome with grain, which was shipped from Alexandria; the traffic of the East and West met in her streets; she had the finest Greek library in the world, and she was famous for her scholars and merchants.

But the reign of the emperor Augustus was drawing to its end. He was an old man now, and he had reigned over the empire forty-five years.

There had been peace throughout the latter part of his reign, disturbed only by one battle. This was in Germany, when the Germans won a victory over the consul Varus. It preyed on the mind of the old emperor, and he would sit grieving over it, at times beating his head against the wall and crying "Varus, Varus, give me back my legions."

He was never the same again. He set his empire in order and prepared for death.

"Do you think I have played my part well on the stage of life?" he asked those who stood round him, as he arranged his grey hair and beard before a mirror which he had called for.

Compared with those that came after, he had indeed played his part well. The Romans delighted to honour him. They called the sixth month in the Roman year, August, after him, just as they had called the month before, July, after Julius Cæsar, and these names have lasted to this very day.