« PreviousContinue »
by God over the Persians, as the only law und rule of what is becoming or unbecoming, virtuous or vicious ?
This detestable custom continued till the time of Alexander the Great, who, being become master of Persia, by the overthrow and death of Darius, made an express law to suppress it. These enormities may serve to teach us from what an abyss the Gospel has delivered us; and how weak a barrier human wisdom is of itself against the most extravagant and abominable crimes.
I shall finish this article by saying a word or two upon their manner of burying their dead. It was not the custom of the Eastern nations,* and especially of the Persians, to erect funeral piles for the dead, and to consume their bodies in the flames. Accordinglyt we find that Cyrus,f when he was at the point of death, took care to charge his children to inter his body, and to restore it to the earth; that is the expression he makes use of; by which he scems to declare, that he looked upon the earth as the original parent, from whence he sprung, and to which he ought to return. And when Cambyses had offered a thousand indignities to the dead body of Amasis, king of Egypt, he thought he crowned all by causing it to be burnt, which was equally contrary to the Egyptian and Persian manner of treating the dead. It was the custom of the latter to wrap up their dead in wax,|| in order to keep them the longer from corruption.
I thought proper to give a fuller account in this place of the manners and customs of the Persians, because the history of that people will take up a great part of this work, and because I shall say no more on that subject in the sequel. The treatise of Barnabas Brisson, I president of the parliament of Paris, upon the government of the Persians, has been of great use to me. Such collections as these, when they are made by able hands, save a writer a great deal of pains, and furnish him with erudite observations, which cost him little, and yet often do him great honour.
ARTICLE V. The causes of the declension of the Persian Empire, and of the change that happened in
their manners. When we compare the Persians, as they were before Cyrus and during his reign, with what they were afterwards in the reigns of his successors, we can hardly believe they were the same people : and we see a sensible illustration of this truth, that the declension of manners in any state is always attended with that of empire and dominion. * Herod. l. iii. c. 16.
† Cyrop. I. viii. p. 238. | Ac mihi quidem antiquissimum sepulturæ genus id fuisse videtur, quo apud Xenophontem Cyrus utitur. Redditur enim terræ corpus, et ita locatum ac situm quasi operimento matris olducitur. Cic. lib. ij. de Leg. n. 56. Herod. l. iii. c. 16.
Condiunt Egyptii mortuós, et eos do:ni servant: Persæ jam cerâ circumlitos condiunt, ut cuim maxime permaneant diuturna corpora. Cic. Tuscul. Quæst. lib. i. n. 108. * Bamih. Brissonius de regio Persarum principafu, &c. Argentorati, an, 1710
Among many other causes that brought about the declension of the Persian empire, the four following may be looked upon as the principal: Their excessive magnificence and luxury; the abject subjection and slavery of the people; the bad education of their princes, which was the source of all their irregularities; and their want of faith in the execution of their treaties, oaths, and engagements.
Luxury and magnificence. What made the Persian troops in Cyrus's time to be looked upon as invincible, was the temperate and hard life to which they were accustomed from their infancy, having nothing but water for their ordinary drink, bread and roots for their food, the ground, or something as hard, to lie upon, inuring themselves to the most painful exercises and labours, esteeming the greatest dangers as nothing. The temperature of the country where they were born, which was rough, mountainous, and woody, might somewhat contribute to their hardiness; for which reason Cyrus would never consent to the project of transplanting them into a more mild and agreeable climate.* The excellent education bestowed upon the ancient Persians, of which we have already given a sufficient account, and which was not left to the humours and caprice of parents, but was subject to the authority and direction of the magistrates, and regulated upon principles of the public good; this excellent education prepared them for observing, in all places and at all times, a most exact and severe discipline. Add to this, the influence of the prince's example, who made it his ambition to surpass all his subjects in regularity, was the most abstemious and sober in his manner of life, the plainest in his dress, the most inured and accustomed to hardships and fatigues, as well as the bravest and most intrepid in the time of action. What might not be expected from soldiers so formed and so trained up? By them therefore we find Cyrus conquered a great part of the world.
After all his victories he continued to exhort his army and people not to degenerate from their ancient virtue, that they might not eclipse the glory they had acquired, but carefully preserve that simplicity, sobriety, temperance, and love of labour, which were the means by which they had obtained it. But I do not know, whether Cyrus himself did not at that very time sow the first seeds of that luxury, which soon overspread and corrupted the whole nation. In that august ceremony, which we have already described at large, and on which he first showed himself in public to his new-conquered subjects, he thought proper, in order to heighten the splendour of his regal dignity, to make a pompous display of all the magnificence
• Plut. in. Apophth. p. 172.
and show, that was best calculated to dazzle the eyes of the people. Among other things he changed his own apparel, as also that of his officers, giving them all garments made after the fashion of the Medes, richly, shining with gold and purple, instead of their Persian clothes, which were very plain and simple.
This prince seemed to forget how much the contagious example of a court, the natural inclination all men have to value and esteem what pleases the eye and makes a fine show, the anxiety they have to distinguish themselves above others by a false merit, easily attained in proportion to the degrees of wealth and vanity a man has above his neighbours; he forgot how capable all this together was of corrupting the purity of ancient manners, and of introducing by degrees a general predominant taste for extravagance and luxury.
This luxury and extravagance rose in time to such an excess, as was little better than downright madness. The prince carried all his wives along with him to the wars; and with what an equipage such a troop must be attended, is easy to judge. All his generals and officers followed his example, each in proportion to his rank and ability. Their pretext for so doing was, that the sight of what they held most dear and precious in the world, would encourage them to fight with the greater resolution; but the true reason was the love of pleasure, by which they were overcome and enslaved, before they came to engage with the enemy.
Another instance of their folly was, that even in the army they carried their luxury and extravagance with respect to their tents, chariots, and tables, to a greater excess, if possible, than they did in their cities. The most exquisite meats,f the rarest birds, and the costliest dainties, must needs be found for the prince in what part of the world soever he was encamped. They had their vessels of gold and silver without number; instruments of luxury,t says a certain historian, not of victory; proper to allure and enrich an enemy, but not to repel or defeat him.
I do not see what reason Cyrus could have for changing his conduct in the last years of his life. It must be owned, indecd, that the station of kings requires a suitable grandeur and magnificence, which may on certain occasions be carried even to a degree of pomp and splendour. But princes, possessed of a real and solid merit have a thousand ways of compensating what they seem to lose by retrenching some part of their outward state and magnificence. Cyrus himself had found by experience, that a king is more sure of gaining respect from his people by the wisdom of his conduct than by the greatness of his expenses; and that affection and confidence produce a closer attachment to his person than a vain admiration of unnecessary pomp and grandeur. Be this as it will, Cyrus's last example became very contagious. A taste for pomp and expense * Xenoph. Cyrop. I. iv.
t Senec. I. iii. de Irâ, c. 20. Non belli sed luxuriæ apparatum-Aciem Persarum auro purpurâque fulgentem in tueri jubebat Alexander, prædam, non arma gestantem. Q. Curt.
first prevailed at court, then spread itse’f into the cities and provinces, and in a little time infected the whole nation, and was one ot' the principal causes of the ruin of that empire, which he himself had founded.
What is here said of the fatal effects of luxury, is not peculiar to the Persian empire. The most judicious historians, the most learned philosophers, and the profoundest politicians, all lay it down as a certain, indisputable maxim, that whenever luxury prevails, it never fails to destroy the most flourishing states and kingdoms; and the experience of all ages, and all nations, does but too clearly demonstrate the truth of this maxim.
What then is that subtle, secret poison, that thus lurks under the pomp of luxury and the charms of pleasure, and is capable of enervating at the same time both the whole strength of the body, and the vigour of the mind? It is not very difficult to comprehend why it has this terrible effect. When men are accustomed to a soft and voluptuous life, can they be very fit for undergoing the fatigues and hardships of war? Are they qualified for suffering the rigour of the seasons; for enduring hunger and thirst; for passing whole nights without sleep upon occasion; for going through continual exercise and action; for facing danger and despising death? The natural effect of voluptuousness and delicacy, which are the inseparable companions of luxury, is to render men subject to a multitude of false wants and necessities, to make their happiness depend upon a thousand trifling conveniences and superfluities, which they can no longer be without, and to give them an unreasonable fondness for life, on account of a thousand secret ties and engagements, that endear it to them, and which by stifling in them the great motives of glory, of zeal for their prince, and love for their country, render them fearful and cowardly, and hinder them from exposing themselves to dangers which may in a moment deprive them of all those things wherein they place their felicity.
The abject submission and slavery of the Persians. We are told by Plato, that this was one of the causes of the declension of the Persian empire. And indeed what contributes most to the preservation of states, and renders their arms victorious, is not the number, but the vigour and courage of their armies; and, as it was finely said by one of the ancients,* from the day a man loseth his liberty, he loseth one half of his ancient virtue. He is no longer concerned for the prosperity of the state, to which he looks upon himself as an alien; and having lost the principal motives of his attachment to it, he becomes indifferent to the success of public affairs to the glory or welfare of his country, in which his circumstances
* Hom. Odyss. P. v. 322
allow him to claim no share, and by which his own private condition is not altered or improved. It may truly be said that the reign of Cyrus was a reign of liberty. That prince never acted in an arbitrary manner; nor did he think, that a despotic power was worthy of a king; or that there was any great glory in ruling an empire of slaves. His tent was always open; and free access was allowed to every one that desired to speak to him. He did not live retired, but was visible, accessible, and affable to all; heard their complaints, and with his own eyes observed and rewarded merit; invited to his table not only the generals of his army, not only the principal officers, but even subalterns, and sometimes whole companies of soldiers. The simplicity and frugality of his table made him capable of giving such entertainments frequently.* His aim was to animate his officers and soldiers, to inspire them with ccurage and resolution, to attach them to his person rather than to his dignity, and to make them warmly espouse his glory, and still more the interest and prosperity of the state. This is what may truly be called the art of governing and commanding.
In reading Xenophon, we observe with pleasure, not only those fine turns of wit, that justness and ingenuity in their answers and repartees, that delicacy in jesting and raillery ; but at the same time that amiable cheerfulness and gaiety which enlivened their entertainments, from which all pomp and luxury were banished, and in which the principal seasoning was a decent and becoming freedom, that prevented all constraint, and a kind of familiarity which was so far from lessening their respect for the prince, that it gave such a life and spirit to it, as nothing but a real affection and tenderness could produce. I may venture to say, that by such a conduct as this a prince doubles and trebles his army at a small expense. Thirty thousand men of this sort are preferable to millions of such slaves as these very Persians became afterwards. In time of action, on a decisive day of battle, this truth is most evident, and the prince is more sensible of it than any body else. At the battle of Thymbra, when Cyrus's horse fell under him, Xenophon takes notice of what importance it is to a commander to be loved by his soldiers. The danger of the king's person became the danger of the army; and his troops on that occasion gave incredible proofs of their cou rage and bravery.
Things were not carried on in the same manner, under the greatest part of his successors. Their only care was to support the pomp of sovereignty. I must confess, their outward ornaments and ensigns of royalty did not a little contribute to that end. A purple robe richly embroidered, and hanging down to their feet, a tiara, worn upright on their heads, and encircled by a superb diadem, & golden sceptre in their hands, a magnificent throne, a numerous and splendid court, a multitude of officers and guards; these things * Tantas vires habet frugalitas Principis, ut tot impendiis, tot erogationibus sola sufli
Plin. in Paneg. Traj.