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The Great Empires of Prophecy, from Babylon to the Fall of Rome

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    Rome Ruled the World—The Only World Power—The World’s Homage to Rome—“The Iron Monarchy.”

    THE “mask of hypocrisy” which Octavius had assumed at the age of nineteen, and “which he never afterward laid aside,” was now, at the age of thirty-four, made to tell to the utmost in firmly establishing himself in the place of supreme power which he had attained. Having before him the important lesson of the fate of Caesar in the same position, when the Senate bestowed upon him the flatteries, the titles, and the dignities which it had before bestowed upon Caesar, he pretended to throw them all back upon the Senate and people, and obliged the Senate to go through the form of absolutely forcing them upon him. For he “was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation that the Senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom.” He therefore “wished to deceive the people by an image of civil liberty, and the armies by an image of civil government.”—Gibbon. 1[Page 311] “Decline and Fall,” chap 3, pars. 17, 18.GEP 311.1

    2. In this way he finally merged in himself the prerogatives of all the regular officers of the State—tribune, consul, prince of the Senate, proconsul, imperator, censor, pontifex maximus—with all the titles and dignities which had been given by the Senate to him, as before to Caesar. In short, he himself became virtually the State; his will was absolute.GEP 311.2

    3. Having thus drawn to himself “the functions of the Senate and the magistrate, and the framing of the laws, in which he was thwarted by no man,” the title of “Father of His Country” meant much more than ever it had before. The state was “the common parent” of the people. The State being now merged in one man, when that man became the father of his country, he likewise became the father of the people. And “the system by which every citizen shared in the government being thrown aside, all men regarded the orders of the prince as the only rule of conduct and obedience.”—Tacitus. 2[Page 312] “Annals,” book i, chap 4. Nor was this so merely in civic things; it was equally so in religious affairs. In fact there was in the Roman system no such distinction known as civil and religious. The State was divine, therefore that which was civil was in itself religious.GEP 311.3

    4. One man now having become the State, it became necessary that some title should be found which would fit this new dignity and express this new power. The Senate had exhausted the vocabulary of flattering titles in those which it had given to Caesar. Although all these were now given to Octavius, there was none among them which could properly define the new dignity which he possessed. Much anxious thought was given to this great question. “At last he fixed upon the epithet ‘Augustus,’a name which no man had borne before, and which, on the contrary, had been applied to things the most noble, the most venerable, and the most sacred. The rites of the gods were called august; their temples were august. The word itself was derived from the holy auguries; it was connected in meaning with the abstract term ‘authority,’ and with all that increases and flourishes upon earth. The use of this glorious title could not fail to smooth the way to the general acceptance of the divine character of the mortal who was deemed worthy to bear it. The Senate had just decreed the divinity of the defunct Caesar; the courtiers were beginning now to insinuate that his successor, while yet alive, enjoyed an effluence from deity; the poets were even suggesting that altars should be raised to him; and in the provinces, among the subjects of the State at least, temples to his divinity were actually rising, and the cult of Augustus was beginning to assume a name, a ritual, and a priesthood.” 3[Page 312] Encyclopedia Britannica, art. Augustus.GEP 312.1

    5. The “Augustan Age” was the glorious, the golden age of Roman power. At this point, therefore, it will be well to take a survey of the extent of the Roman monarchy. In the interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the word of the Lord came, saying: “And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.” And in the vision of Daniel, seventh chapter, there was seen “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: and it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it.” And in the interpretation the angel said, “The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces.”GEP 312.2

    6. Therefore the fourth kingdom from that of Nebuchadnezzar must be stronger than the third, the Grecian under Alexander the Great. And as that third kingdom bore rule over all the then known earth, the extent of this fourth one could be no less than the dominion of the known earth in its day. This thought is well expressed in some lines already quoted, and which may properly be repeated here: “History may allow us to think that Alexander and a Roman ambassador did meet at Babylon; that the greatest man of the ancient world saw and spoke with a citizen of that great nation, which was destined to succeed him in his appointed work, and to found a wider and still more enduring empire.”Arnold. 4[Page 313] “History of Rome,” chap 30, par. 2.GEP 313.1

    7. Octavius bearing by inheritance the greatest name then in the world,—Caesar,—and the most sacred and authoritative title known to the Roman world,—Augustus,—his name now took the form Caesar Augustus. “And it came to pass that in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed;” 5[Page 313] Luke 2:1. not immediately taxed in the sense of levying and collecting money; but rather enrolled, or as now it would be better expressed, he ordered a census of the empire to be taken, in order to the levying and collecting of a tax. And as the Roman Empire was to be taxed, “all the world” was to be taxed; for this was the domain of—GEP 313.2

    That sat on her seven hills, and from her throne
    Of beauty ruled the world.”
    GEP 313.3

    8. “Rome, therefore, which came last in the succession, and swallowed up the three great powers that had seriatim cast the human race into one mold, and had brought them under the unity of a single will, entered by inheritance upon all that its predecessors in that career had appropriated, but in a condition of far ampler development. Estimated merely by longitude and latitude, the territory of the Roman Empire was the finest, by much, that has ever fallen under a single scepter.... Rome laid a belt about the Mediterranean of a thousand miles in breadth; and within that zone she comprehended not only all the great cities of the ancient world, but so perfectly did she lay the garden of the world in every climate, and for every mode of natural wealth, within her own ring-fence, that since that era no land, no part and parcel of the Roman Empire, has ever risen into strength and opulence, except where unusual artificial industry has availed to counteract the tendencies of nature. So entirely had Rome engrossed whatsoever was rich by the mere bounty of native endowment. Vast, therefore unexampled, immeasurable, was the basis of natural power upon which the Roman throne reposed.”GEP 314.1

    9. “Its range, the compass of its extent, was appalling to the imagination. Coming last among what are called the great monarchies of prophecy, it was the only one which realized in perfection the idea of a monarchia, being (except for Parthia and the great fable of India beyond it) strictly coincident with the civilized world. Civilization and this empire were commensurate; they were interchangeable ideas and coextensive.... The vast power and domination of the Roman Empire, for the three centuries which followed the battle of Actium, have dazzled the historic eye....The battle of Actium was followed by the final conquest of Egypt. That conquest rounded and integrated the glorious empire; it was now circular as a shield.... From that day forward, for three hundred years, there was silence in the world; no muttering was heard; no eye winked beneath the wing. Winds of hostility might still rave at intervals; but it was on the outside of the mighty empire; it was at a dream-like distance; and, like the storms that beat against some monumental castle, ‘and at the doors and windows seem to call,’ they rather irritated and vivified the sense of security than at all disturbed its luxurious lull.”GEP 314.2

    10. “The Caesar of Western Rome—he only of all earthly potentates, past or to come, could be said to reign as a monarch; that is, as solitary king. He was not the greatest of princes, simply because there was no other but himself. There were, doubtless, a few outlying rulers, of unknown names and titles, upon the margins of his empire; there were tributary lieutenants, and barbarous reguli, the obscure vassals of his scepter, whose homage was offered on the lowest step of his throne, and scarcely known to him but as objects of disdain. But these feudatories could no more break the unity of his empire, which embraced the whole civilized world,—the total habitable world as then known to geography or recognized by the muse of history,—than at this day the British Empire on the sea can be brought into question or made conditional, because some chief of Owyhee or Tongataboo should proclaim a momentary independence of the British trident, or should even offer a transient outrage to her sovereign flag. Parthia, it is true, might pretend to the dignity of an empire. But her sovereigns, though sitting in the seat of the great king, were no longer the rulers of a vast and polished nation. They were regarded as barbarians, potent only by their standing army, not upon the larger basis of civic strength; and even under this limitation, they were supposed to owe more to the circumstances of their position—their climate, their remoteness, and their inaccessibility except through arid and sultry deserts—than to intrinsic resources, such as could be permanently relied on in a serious trial of strength between the two powers. The kings of Parthia, therefore, were far enough from being regarded in the light of antagonistic forces to the majesty of Rome. And, these withdrawn from the comparison, what else was there—what prince, what king, what potentate of any denomination—to break the universal calm that through centuries continued to lave, as with the quiet undulations of summer lakes, the sacred footsteps of the Caesarian throne.GEP 315.1

    11. “As respected the hand of man, Rome slept for ages in absolute security.... The Roman power, in its centuries of grandeur, involved every mode of strength, with absolute immunity from all kinds and degrees of weakness. It ought not, therefore, to surprise us that the emperor, as the depositary of this charmed power, should have been looked upon as a sacred person, and the imperial family considered as a ‘divina domus.’... Much more may this be supposed of him to whose care was confided the weightier part of the human race; who had it in his power to promote or suspend the progress of human improvement; and of whom, and the motions of whose will, the very prophets of Judea took cognizance.GEP 315.2

    12. “No nation and no king was utterly divorced from the counsels of God. Palestine, as a central chamber of God’s administration, stood in the same relation to all. It has been remarked, as a mysterious and significant fact, that the founders of the great empires all had some connection, more or less, with the temple at Jerusalem... And we may be sure that, amongst them, the Roman emperor, as the great accountant for the happiness of more men, and men more cultivated, than ever before were entrusted to the motions of a single will, had a special, singular, and mysterious relation to the secret counsels of Heaven.”—De Quincey. 6[Page 316] Essays, “The Caesars,” Introduction, par. 8; “Philosophy of Roman History,“pars, 1,2: The Caesars,” pars, 3, 9, 10.GEP 316.1

    13. “All the self-governing powers that had previously filled the world are seen to bend one after the other, and finally disappear. How suddenly did the earth become desolated of her free nations! ... However deeply we may sympathize with the fall of so many free States, we can not fail to perceive that a new life sprang immediately from their ruins. With the overthrow of independence fell the barriers of all exclusive nationalities; the nations were conquered; they were overwhelmed together; but by that very act were they blended and united; for, as the limits of the empire were held to comprise the whole earth, so did its subjects learn to consider themselves as one people.”—Von Ranke. 7[Page 316] “History of the Popes,” book i, chap 1, sec, i, pars, 2, 5.GEP 316.2

    14. The Roman conquests were almost entirely accomplished by the arms of the nation as a republic; and when Augustus succeeded in merging in himself all the authority of the empire, then, as shown by the quotations already given, he became the master of the world; and the remote peoples that had not yet felt the terror of the actual presence of the Roman arms, hastened, as in the day of Alexander the Great, to send their ambassadors, with presents, to crave his friendship.GEP 316.3

    15. “The name of Augustus growing famous all over the world, the remotest nations of the North and East—that is, the Scythians, the Samaritans [Sarmatians 8[Page 317] The text says Samaritans, but it certainly should be Sarmatians. The justice of this will be seen by any one who will consult any map of the period, or read carefully the text itself; for at this time the Samaritans were not a nation at all.], the Indians, and the Seres—sent ambassadors with presents, to him to pray his friendship, the last of which, Florus tells us, were four years on their journey, which is to be supposed coming and going. The Seres were the farthest people of the East, the same whom we now call the Chinese. They being anciently famous for the making of silk, and silken manufactures; hence serica became the name of silk, and sericum of a silken garment, both among the Greeks and Latins.”—Prideaux. 9[Page 317] “Connexion,” under An. 25, Herod 13.GEP 317.1

    16. In the year 21 B. C., Augustus started on an official journey into the East. After spending some time in Sicily, he sailed into Greece, and wintered at Samos. “While Augustus lay at this place, there came thither to him ambassadors from Candace, queen of Ethiopia, ... who, finding him at Samos, there obtained from him the peace which they desired, and then returned again into Ethiopia.... Early the next spring Augustus passed from Samos into Lesser Asia, and having settled all matters there, continued his progress through that country into Syria, and came to Antioch.GEP 317.2

    17. “Phraates, king of Parthia, on Augustus’s coming into Syria, sent ambassadors to him to pray his friendship. For being then upon ill terms with his people, whom he had much alienated from him by his tyranny and cruelty, he dreaded a foreign war, and he had reason at that time to fear it from Augustus. For whereas Augustus had three years before released to him one of his sons (whom he had in captivity at Rome), upon promise that he would send back to him all the prisoners and ensigns which the Parthians had taken from the Romans in their wars with Crassus and Antony, he had not yet discharged himself of that obligation. That, therefore, this might not be a cause of war against him, he now not only sent back all those captives and ensigns, but also yielded to all other terms of peace which were then required of him, and gave four of his sons, with their wives and children, in hostage for the performance of them.”GEP 317.3

    18. “At the same time that Augustus made peace with Parthia, he settled also the affairs of Armenia.... Augustus, toward the end of summer, returning out of Syria, was attended by Herod to the seashore, where he embarked, and from thence sailed back to Samos, and there resided all the ensuing winter in the same manner as he had the former.... While Augustus lay at Samos, there came thither to him a second embassy, from the king of India, to desire the establishment of a league of friendship with him, to which purpose he wrote to him a letter in the Greek language, telling him therein that though he reigned over six hundred kings, yet he had such value for the friendship of Augustus by reason of the great fame which he had heard of him, that he sent this embassy on so long a journey on purpose to desire it of him; to which letter he subscribed by the name of Porus, king of India.... Of the ambassadors that first set out from India on this embassy, three only reached the presence of Augustus; the others that were in commission died on the way.... Among the presents which they brought were several tigers, and these were the first of this sort of wild beasts that had been seen either by Greeks or Romans.”—Prideaux. 10[Page 318] Id., under 21 and 19 B. C.GEP 318.1

    19. At this time the Parthian hordes held dominion from the Tigris to the borders of China. The hordes of the Scythians and the Sarmatians were spread over all the north country above the Sea of Aral, the Caspian, and the Black Sea, and westward to the river Vistula and the Baltic Sea (the Baltic was then called the Sarmatian Ocean). From the Vistula, the Upper Danube, and the Rhine to the North Sea and the Baltic, was covered with the German tribes, as wild and savage as were the American Indians when the Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock, and even these had been chastised by Germanicus. When, therefore, it is seen that the Sarmatians, the Scythians, the Parthians, the Chinese, and the Indians, came to the throne of Augustus, bringing present, asking his friendship, and praying for promises of peace, it stands as the literal truth that from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Arctic regions to the Indian Ocean, and from the German Sea and the Frith of Forth of Ethiopia, there was not a single organized people in the world that did not either feel or fear the power of Rome. 11[Page 319] See “Labberton’s Historical Atlas,” map 15; “Ginn’s Classical Atlas, “map 12.GEP 318.2

    20. The boundaries of the actual conquests of the Roman armies—the limits to which the Roman soldiers actually marched and conquered—were marked by the Tigris, the Danube, the Rhine, the Frith of Forth, the Atlantic Ocean, the Desert of Sahara, the Desert of Arabia, and the Persian Gulf. And Gibbon’s elegant lines alone, would mark in Rome the fulfilment of the prophecy of “the fourth kingdom:” “The arms of the republic, sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid steps to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the ocean; and the images of gold, or silver, or brass, that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the IRON monarchy of Rome.” 12[Page 319] “Decline and Fall,” chap 38, par 43 (the first paragraph under “General observations,” etc. at the close of the chapter).GEP 319.1

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