Selected Satires of Lucian

Excerpt

"In the second century of the Christian Aera, the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guaranteed by ancient renown and disciplined valor. The gentle, but powerful, influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury . . . During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines."

These are the words with which Edward Gibbon opens his monumental history. They paint a picture of material well-being whose colors are bright but not false: government was efficient and honest; people were prosperous, and Western civilization was enjoying the longest period of peace in its history.

Politically the West was one world, all under the rule of the Roman Empire. Any inhabitant could make his way from the heat of Mesopotamia to the fogs of England without crossing a frontier. As you would expect under such circumstances, economic health was, in general, sound: in most places business was good and people were making money. There was a steady climb up the lower rungs of the social ladder into the middle class. Moreover, since in government as well as business, careers were open to talent, more and more from the middle class moved up, too, becoming millionaires and entering the ranks of the political or social elite. Men who, a generation back, had been slaves now built themselves impressive homes, sent their sons to college, gave handsome donations to their home towns, and held office as aldermen or mayors. But, on the spiritual side, things were not so rosy. Gib . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Garden City, NY
Publication year:
  • 1962

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