Page images

up arms; because they multiply the victories; because they exaggerate the number of the slain; because they represent battles of uncertain event to have been Roman victories; and because they always represent the enemies of the Romans as the aggressors. Almost all the wars of Rome were (he says) doubtless successful, inasmuch as she ended by subjugating all the nations of Italy; but there is no certainty in the accounts of the historians, who in their details sin not only against truth, but even against probability.(22)

The ancient historians have, however, he thinks, transmitted to us a more faithful account of the internal state of Rome, and he considers it easy, with some attention, to form a correct idea of the primitive government, and to follow the changes which it underwent. He illustrates this remark by a sketch of the constitutional history in the first years of the Republic. He thinks that the relations of the Senate and the People at this period have been misunderstood by Dionysius and Livy, who conceived the tribunes of the third and fourth centuries as similar to the tribunes of the time of the civil wars: and he regards the account of the conduct of the popular party as the truest portion of the Roman history, which it will be easy to restore to its real light.(28)

§ 3 The conclusions of Beaufort were controverted by Hooke, in a 'Dissertation on the Credibility of the first 500 years of Rome,' prefixed to the second volume of the quarto edition of his history; but although the inquiries of Beaufort influenced some of the subsequent writers on the subject (for instance, Ferguson,

(22) Ib. P. 5.

[ocr errors]

(23) Ib. p. 108.-The same sketch is afterwards continued in the Considérations sur les différends du sénat et du peuple.'-Tom. vi. p. 263-390. Niebuhr, Hist. vol. i. p. 1216, remarks that Beaufort's purpose was merely negative; and Lect. vol. i. p. 87, that his Dissertation ́ displays that spirit of scepticism which only destroys without reconstructing. This remark applies only to the Dissertation, and not to the subsequent République Romaine,' where Beaufort sets forth his reconstructive views in detail. Niebuhr likewise remarks of Hooke, that 'he wrote in a good spirit and with judgment, but never conceived the notion that it was possible to reduce the chaos of Roman history to order.'-Hist. vol. ii. p. 204. In vol. iii. p. 159, Niebuhr speaks of his own laborious researches, by which he has brought into order the chaos of the early times of Rome.'

in his 'History of the Roman Republic'), (24) the question made but little progress, and received but little new light,(25) until the publication of Niebuhr's History, in 1811-12; afterwards reprinted, with large alterations and additions, in 1827-32. This work constitutes a great epoch in the modern treatment of Roman history. The enlarged edition, published by the author himself, brings the history down only to the execution of Manlius, in 384 B.C. A third posthumous volume, partly founded on a revised portion of the first edition of the second volume, and partly on unpublished papers, completes the First Punic War, and therefore includes the entire period which we shall have occasion to examine.(26)

Niebuhr pursued in the main a course similar to that which had been followed by Beaufort, as well in the negative as in the positive treatment of the subject. His learning was more extensive, his knowledge of antiquity and of medieval history was more comprehensive, his imagination more active, and his memory more capacious, than those of his predecessor; moreover, he undertook to compose a connected history, whereas Beaufort, after his critical dissertation, composed only a description of the political antiquities of Rome, and gave only a brief outline of the events. He likewise shows what part of it is to be believed, and in what sense the traditionary accounts are to

(24) Published in 1783, in 3 vols. 4to. Adam Ferguson was born in 1724, and died in 1816.

[ocr errors]

(25) A Memoir by P. C. Levesque, entitled, Doutes, conjectures et discussions sur différens points de l'histoire romaine,' which was read to the Institute in the eleventh year of the Republic, called in question the credibility of the early Roman history. Mém. de l'Institut, classe d'histoire, 1815.-Tom. ii. It was answered by Larcher, 'Observations sur l'authenticité de l'origine de Rome,' 15 June, 1804, ib. See also Levesque, Histoire critique de la République romaine,' 3 vols. 8vo. Paris, 1807; where his sceptical view of the early history is repeated, but with little learning or ability.

(26) B. G. Niebuhr, born August, 1776, died January, 1831. All the references in the following pages are to the third edition of the translation of the first 2 vols. of the history, by Archdeacon Hare and Bishop Thirlwall, London, 1837-8; and to the translation of the 3rd vol., by Dr. Smith and Dr. Schmitz, London, 1842; whenever Niebuhr's Lectures are cited, the reference is to Dr. Schmitz's translation of his Lectures on the History of Rome, ed. 2, 3 vols. London, 1850-1849.

be understood. But he carries both his scepticism and his reconstruction further than Beaufort. He exhibits greater boldness both in rejecting and in restoring. In fact, he has to a great extent cast aside the received narrative of Roman history down to the capture of the city by the Gauls, and has substituted another in its place. He has demolished the existing fabric, and out of its ruins he has built a new history, in a form not only different from that in which it has been related by modern writers, but from that in which it had been conceived by Cicero, Dionysius, and Livy.(~7)

Niebuhr has fully recognised the absence of contemporary historians prior to the war with Pyrrhus, and has admitted the important results which it involves. He frequently adverts to the imperfections of the external attestation for the early period. The main characteristic of his history, however, is the extent to which he relies upon internal evidence, and upon the indications afforded by the narrative itself, independently of the testimony to its truth. Thus he considers the reigns of Romulus and Numa as purely fabulous and poetical, and the period from Tullus Hostilius to the first secession of the plebs as mythicohistorical-as compounded of truth and fiction; while he thinks that a veracious and solid history may, by a proper process of

[ocr errors]

(27) Dr. Arnold, Hist. of Rome, vol. i. p. 218-21, justly remarks that Niebuhr's work is not so much characterized by his rejection of the early Roman history, as by his attempts to restore and establish it. Niebuhr' (he says) maintains that a true history of Rome, with many details of dates, places, events, and characters, may be recovered from the beginning of the commonwealth. It has been greatly corrupted and disguised by ignorant and uncritical writers; but there exist, he thinks, sufficient materials to enable us, not only to get rid of these corruptions, but to restore that genuine and original edifice, which they have so long overgrown and hidden from our view.' Were I indeed' (he adds) to venture to criticize the work of this great man, I should be inclined to charge him with having overvalued rather than undervalued the possible certainty of the early history of the Roman commonwealth.'-Schwegler, ib. p. 146, likewise contrasts the merely critical and sceptical results of Beaufort with the reconstructive procedure of Niebuhr. 'Niebuhr's work (he remarks) is the positive complement of the negative investigations of his predecessors.-Rein, Römisches Privatrecht,' (Leipzig, 1836,) says that Niebuhr stands alone, in having effectually overthrown the formerly received history; and in having formed a new fabric, by able combinations, a fabric which cannot be shaken, although particular defects in it may be attacked —p. 14.

reconstruction, be recovered for the period from the first secession down to the commencement of contemporary registration. This division of periods is exclusively founded on esoteric grounds: it is unsupported by any difference in the external testimony.

§ 4 The work of Niebuhr has formed a great landmark in the recent treatment of early Roman history. Almost all the subsequent works on the subject are either founded upon his researches, or are occupied to a great extent with criticisms of his conclusions, and with reasons for rejecting or doubting them. Among the former of these the work of Dr. Arnold stands conspicuous; which had been brought down to the end of the First Punic War, before he was unhappily carried off by a premature death.(28) Among the latter, it will be sufficient to name the work of Becker, on Roman Antiquities,' continued since his death by Marquardt; and the history of Schwegler, one volume of which, comprising the regal period, has alone appeared.(29) In these and other works, many of Niebuhr's opinions on questions of Roman history are disputed or doubted; and, it may be said, that there is scarcely any of the leading conclusions of Niebuhr's work which has not been impugned by some subsequent writer. Even his views upon the Agrarian laws-the soundest and most valuable portion of his history-have not escaped contradiction in certain points. Furthermore, a recent History of Rome, published at Basle, by Gerlach and Bachofen, and written with considerable erudition, not only repudiates the reconstructive part of Niebuhr's work, but even refuses assent to his negative criticisms, and returns to the old implicit faith in the early

(28) The first two volumes bear date 1838 and 1840. A third and posthumous volume, in which the history is brought down to 206 B.C., appeared in 1843, under the editorship of Archdeacon Hare. Concerning Dr. Arnold's relations to Niebuhr, see vol. i., pref. p. ix., ib. p. 220, 372.

(29) See Schwegler's character of Niebuhr's history, ib. p. 144-50. He says that among all the writers on Roman history, Niebuhr was the first who formed an accurate and complete idea of the ancient constitution, who rightly conceived the origin, connexion, and mutual influence of the Roman institutions; and that, however much he may have left to his successors to amend and to complete, in the main historical questions he almost always took the correct view. He considers Niebuhr's chief defect to be a want of impartial and sound exegesis of ancient authors.

period, such as it was in the time of Echard, Catrou, and Rollin.(30) The history of Niebuhr has thus opened more questions than it has closed, and it has set in motion a large body of combatants, whose mutual variances are not at present likely to be settled by deference to a common authority, or by the recognition of any common principle.

The main cause of the great multiplicity and wide divergence of opinions, which characterize the recent researches into early Roman history, is the defective method, which not only Niebuhr and his followers, but most of his opponents, have adopted. Instead of employing those tests of credibility which are consistently applied to modern history, they attempt to guide their judgment by the indications of internal evidence, and assume that the truth can be discovered by an occult faculty of historical divination. Hence, the task which they have undertaken resembles an inquiry into the internal structure of the earth, or into the question, whether the stars are inhabited. It is an attempt to solve a problem, for the solution of which no sufficient data exist.

The consequence is, that ingenuity and labour can produce nothing but hypotheses and conjectures, which may be supported by analogies, and may sometimes appear specious and attractive, but can never rest on the solid foundation of proof. There will, therefore, be a series of such conjectural histories; each successive writer will reject all or some of the guesses of his predecessors, and will propose some new hypotheses of his own. (31) But the

(30) Die Geschichte der Römer, von F. D. Gerlach und J. J. Bachofen. 1 vol., in two parts. Basil: 1851. It completes the period of the kings. In seeking to establish the historical character of the settlement of Æneas in Latium, and of the Italian wars celebrated in the Æneid, the authors deplore the pernicious tendency of the researches into Roman history since the time of Niebuhr.'-I. i. p. 180.

(31) Compare the judicious remarks of Moser upon the various hypothetical emendations of the passage of Cicero de Rep. ii. 22, concerning the centuries of Servius: Ego vero cum viderim, quam facili negotio posterior semper prioris interpretis sententiam infregerit, vel certe se infregisse censuerit, nolui equidem novam, quam jam excogitaveram, in medium proferre rationem, non meliorem illam tribus, quas ultimo loco exposui, rationibus; satis persuasus exstiturum mox, qui probet, neque meam neque sex priorum veram esse sententiam, sed suam, eamque octavam. Quâ de re cum adiissem virum in his rebus probe versatum,

« PreviousContinue »