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Europe in the Middle Ages von Plunket, Ierne Lifford (eBook)

  • Erscheinungsdatum: 20.06.2017
  • Verlag: anboco
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Europe in the Middle Ages

The history of Mediaeval Europe is so vast a subject that the attempt to deal with it in a small compass must entail either severe compression or what may appear at first sight reckless omission. The path of compression has been trodden many times, as in J. H. Robinson's Introduction to the History of Western Europe, or in such series as the 'Periods of European History' published by Messrs. Rivingtons for students, or text-books of European History published by the Clarendon Press and Messrs. Methuen. To the authors of all these I should like to express my indebtedness both for facts and perspective, as to Mr. H. W. Davis for his admirable summary of the mediaeval outlook in the Home University Library series; but in spite of so many authorities covering the same ground, I venture to claim for the present book a pioneer path of 'omission'; it may be reckless but yet, I believe, justifiable. It has been my object not so much to supply students with facts as to make Mediaeval Europe live, for the many who, knowing nothing of her history, would like to know a little, in the lives of her principal heroes and villains, as well as in the tendencies of her classes, and in the beliefs and prejudices of her thinkers. This task I have found even more difficult than I had expected, for limits of space have insisted on the omission of many events and names I would have wished to include. These I have sacrificed to the hope of creating reality and arousing interest, and if I have in any way succeeded I should like to pay my thanks first of all to Mr. Henry Osborn Taylor for his two volumes of The Mediaeval Mind that have been my chief inspiration, and then to the many authors whose names and books I give elsewhere, and whose researches have enabled me to tell my tale. IERNE L. PLUNKET.

Produktinformationen

    Format: ePUB
    Kopierschutz: watermark
    Seitenzahl: 897
    Erscheinungsdatum: 20.06.2017
    Sprache: Englisch
    ISBN: 9783736419056
    Verlag: anboco
    Größe: 2627 kBytes
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Europe in the Middle Ages

II

THE DECLINE OF ROME

The years of Rome's greatness seemed to her sons an age of gold, but even at the height of her prosperity there were traces of the evils that brought about her downfall. An autocracy, that is, the rule of one man, might be a perfect form of government were the autocrat not a man but a god, thus combining superhuman goodness and understanding with absolute power. Unfortunately, Roman emperors were representatives of human nature in all its phases. Some, like Augustus, were great rulers; others, though good men, incompetent in the management of public affairs; whilst not a few led evil lives and regarded their office as a means of gratifying their own desires.

The Emperor Nero (54-68), for instance, was cruel and profligate, guilty of the murder of his half-brother, mother, and wife, and also of the deaths of numberless senators and citizens whose wealth he coveted. Because he was an absolute ruler his corrupt officials were able to bribe and oppress his subjects as they wished until he was fortunately assassinated. He was the last of his line, the famous House of Julius to which Augustus had belonged, and the period that followed his death was known as 'the year of the four Emperors', because during that time no less than four rivals claimed and struggled for the coveted honour.

Nominally, the right of election lay with the Senate, but the final champion, Vespasian (69-79), was not even a Roman nor an aristocrat, but a soldier from the provinces. He had climbed the ladder of fame by sheer endurance and his power of managing others, and his accession was a triumph not for the Senate but the legions who had supported him and who now learned their power. Henceforward it would be the soldier with his naked sword who could make and unmake emperors, and especially the Praetorian Guard whose right it was to maintain order in Rome.

The gradual recognition of this idea had a disastrous effect on the government of the Empire. Too often the successful general of a campaign on the frontier would remember Vespasian and become obsessed with the thought that he also might be a Caesar. Led by ambition he would hold out to his legions hopes of the rewards they would receive were he crowned in Rome, and some sort of bargain would be struck, lowering the tone of the army by corrupting its loyalty and making its soldiers insolent and grasping.

The Senate attempted to deal with this difficulty of the succession by passing a law that every Emperor should, during his lifetime, name his successor, and that the latter should at once be hailed as Caesar, take a secondary share in the government, and have his effigy printed on coins. In this way he would become known to the whole Roman world, and when the Emperor died would at once be acknowledged in his place. Thus the Romans hoped to establish the theory that England expresses to-day in the phrase 'The King never dies'.

Though to a certain extent successful in their efforts to avoid civil war, they failed to arrest other evils that were undermining the prosperity of the government. One of these was the imperial expenditure. It was only natural that the Emperor should assume a magnificence and liberality in excess of his wealthiest subjects, but in addition he found it necessary to buy the allegiance of the Praetorian Guard and to keep the Roman populace satisfied in its demands for free corn and expensive amusements.

The standard of luxury had grown, and Romans no longer admired, except in books, the simple life of their forefathers. Instead the fashionable ideal was that of the East they had enslaved, and the Emperor was gradually shut off from the mass of his subjects by a host of court officials who thronged his antechambers and exacted heavy bribes for admission. In this unhealthy atmosphere suspicion and plots grew apace like weeds, and money dripped through the imperial fingers as through a sieve, no

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