Page images
PDF
EPUB

must needs conduce to heighten the splendour of royalty; but an this, when this is all, is of little or no value. What is that king in reality, who loses all his merit and his dignity when he puts off lus ornaments ?

Some of the Eastern kings, conceiving that they should thereby procure the greater reverence to their persons, generally kept themselves shut up in their palaces, and seldom showed themselves to their subjects. We have already seen that Dejoces, the first king of the Medes, at his accession to the throne, introduced this policy, which afterwards became very common in all the Eastern countries. But it is a great mistake, to imagine that a prince cannot descend from his grandeur, by a sort of familiarity, without debasing or lesseming his greatness. Artaxerxes did not think so; and Plutarch observes,* that that prince, and queen Statira, his wife, took a pleasure in being visible and of easy access to their people; and by so doing were but the more respected.

Among the Persians no subject whatsoever was allowed to appear in the king's presence without prostrating himself before him ; and this law, which Seneca with good reason calls a Persian slavery,t Persicam servitutem, extended also to foreigners. We shall find afterwards, that several Grecians refused to comply with it, looking upon such a ceremony as derogatory to men born and bred in the bosom of liberty. Some of them, less scrupulous, did submit to it, but not without great reluctance; and we are told, that one of them, in order to cover the shame of such a servile prostration, purposely let fall his ring when he came near the king,f that he might have occasion to bend his body on another account. But it would have been criminal for any of the natives of the country to hesitate or deliberate about a homage, which the kings exacted from them with the utmost rigour.

What the Scripture relates of two sovereigns,i whereof the one commanded all his subjects on pain of death, to prostrate themselves before his image; and the other under the same penalty suspended all acts of religion, with regard to all the gods in general, except to himself alone; and on the other hand, of the ready and blind obedience of the whole city of Babylon, who ran all together on the first signal to bend the knee before the idol, and to invoke the king exclusively of all the powers of heaven: all this shows to what an extravagant excess the Eastern kings carried their pride, and the people their flattery and servitude.

So great was the distance between the Persian king and his subjects, that the latter, of what rank or quality soever, whether satrape governors, near relations, or even brothers to the king, were looked upon only as slaves; whereas the king himself was always considered, not only as their sovereign lord and absolute master, but

* In Artax. p. 1013.

† Lib. iii. de Benef. c. 12. et lib. iii. de frâ, c. 17 Ælian. I, i. Var. Histor. cap. xxi. Nebuchadnezzar, Doojži. Darius the Mede, Dan. vi.

as a kind of divinity. In a word,* the peculiar character of the Asiatic nations, and of the Persians more particularly than any other, was servitude and slavery; which made Cicero say,t that the despotic power which some were endeavouring to establish in the Roman commonwealth, was an insupportable yoke, not only to a Roman, but even to a Persian.

It was therefore this arrogant haughtiness of the princes on one hand, and this abject submission of the people on the other, which, according to Plato,f were the principal causes of the ruin of the Persian empire, by dissolving all the ties wherewith a king is united to his subjects, and the subjects to their king. Such a haughtiness extinguishes all affection and humanity in the former; and such an abject state of slavery leaves the people neither courage, zeal, nor gratitude. The Persian kings governed only by threats and menaces, and the subjects neither obeyed nor marched, but with unwilling. ness and reluctance. This is the idea Xerxes himself gives us of them in Herodotus, where that prince is represented as wondering how the Grecians, who were a free people, could go to battle with a good will and inclination. How could any thing great or noble be expected from mnen, so dispirited and depressed by habitual slavery as the Persians were, and reduced to such an abject servitude; which, to use the words of Longinus,s is a kind of imprisonment, wherein a man's soul may be said in some sort to grow little and contracted ?

I am unwilling to say it; but I do not know, whether the great Cyrus himself did not contribute to introduce among the Persians both that extravagant pride in their kings, and that abject submis. sion and flattery in the people. It was in that pompous ceremony, which I have several times mentioned, that the Persians (til) then very jealous of their liberty, and very far from being inclined to make a shameful prostitution of it by any mean behaviour or servile compliances) first bent the knee before their prince, and stooped to a posture of adoration. Nor was this an effect of chance; for Xenophon intimates clearly enough, that Cyrus,|| who desired to have that homage paid him, had appointed persons on purpose to begin it; whose example was accordingly followed by the multitude. In these little tricks and stratagems, we no longer discern that nobleness and greatness of soul which had ever been conspicuous in that prince till this occasion: and I should be apt to think, that being arrived at the utmost pitch of glory and power, he could no longer resist those violent attacks wherewith posterity is always assaulting even the best of princes, secundo res sapientium animos fatigant; T and that at last pride and vanity, which are almost inseparable from sovereign power, forced him, and in a manner tore him, from himself and his own naturally good inclinations; Vi dominationis convulsus el mutatus ?**

* Plut. in Apophth. p. 213, Lib. x. Epist. ad Altic. I Lib. iii. de Leg. p. 697 „ Cap. xxxv. Il Cyrop. I. viii. p. 215. 1 Sallast. ** Tacit. Annal. I. vi. c. 48

SECTION III.

The wrong education of their princes another cause of the declension of the Persian

Empire. It is Plato still,* the prince of philosophers, who makes this reflection; and we shall find, if we narrowly examine the fact in question, how solid and judicious it is, and how inexcusable Cyrus's conduct was in this respect.

Never had any man more reason than Cyrus to be sensible how highly necessary a good education is to a young prince. He knew the whole value of it with regard to himself, and had found all the advantages of it by his own experience. What he most earnestly recommended to his officers,t in that fine discourse which he made to them after the taking of Babylon, in crder to exhort them to maintain the glory and reputation they had acquired, was to educate their children in the same manner as they knew they were educated in Persia, and to preserve themselves in the practice of the same manners as were observed there.

Would one believe, that a prince, who spoke and thought in this manner, could ever have entirely neglected the education of his owí children? Yet this is what happened to Cyrus. Forgetting that he was a father, and employing himself wholly about his conquests, he left that care entirely to women, that is, to princesses, brought up in a country where pomp, luxury, and voluptuousness reigned in the highest degree; for the queen his wife was of Media. And in the same taste and manner were the two young princes, Cambyses and Smerdis, educated. Nothing they asked was ever refused them: all their desires were anticipated. The great maxim was, that their attendants should cross them in nothing, never contradict them, nor ever make use of reproofs or remonstrances with them. No one opened his mouth in their presence, but to praise and commend what they said and did. Every one cringed and stooped and bent the knee before them; and it was thought essential to their greatness to place an infinite distance between them and the rest of mankind, as if they had been of a different species from them. It is Plato that informs us of all these particulars; for Xenophon, probably to spare his hero, says not one word of the manner in which these princes were brought up, though he gives us go ample an account of the education of their father.

What surprises me the most is, that Cyrus did not, at least, take them along with him in his last campaigns, in order to draw them out of that soft and effeminate course of

life, and to instruct them in the art of war; for they must needs have been of sufficient years : put perhaps the women opposed his design, and nverruled him.

Whatever the obstacle was, the effect of the education of these

[blocks in formation]

princes was such as might be expected from it. Cambyses came out of that school what he is represented in history, an obstinate and self-conceited prince, full of arrogance and vanity, abandoned to the most scandalous excesses of drunkenness and debauchery, cruel and inhuman, even to the causing of his own brother to be murdered in consequence of a dream; in a word, a furious frantic madman, who hy his ill-conduct brought the empire to the brink of destruction.

His father, says Plato, left him at his death vast provinces, immense riches, with innumerable forces by sea and land: but he had not given him the means of preserving them, by teaching nim the right use of such power.

This philosopher makes the same reflections with regard to Darius and Xerxes. The former, not being the son of a king, had not been brought up in the same etteminate manner as princes were; but ascended the throne with a long habit of industry, great temper and moderation, a courage little inferior to that of Cyrus, by which he added to the empire almost as many provinces as the other had conquered. But he was no better a father than he, and reaped no benefit from the fault of his predecessor in neglecting the education of his children. Accordingly, his son Xerxes was little better than a second Cambyses.

From all this, Plato, after having shown what numberless rocks and quicksands, almost unavoidable, lie in the way of persons bred in the arms of wealth and greatness, concludes, that one principal cause of the declension and rụin of the Persian empire was the bad education of their princes; because those first examples had an in. fluence upon, and became a kind of rule to, all their successors, un. der whom every thing still degenerated more and more, till at last their luxury exceeded all bounds and restraints.

SECTION IV.

Their breach of faith and want of sincerity.

We are informed by Xenophon,* that one of the causes both of the great corruption of manners among the Persians, and of the de. struction of their empire, was their want of public faith. Formerly, says he, the king, and those that governed under him, thought it an indispensable duty to keep their word, and inviolably to observe all treaties into which they had entered, with the solemnity of an oath; and that even with respect to those that had rendered themselves most unworthy of such treatment, through their perfidiousness and insincerity: and it was by this sound policy and prudent conduct, that they gained the absolute confidence, both of their own subjects, and of all their neighbours and allies. This is a very great encomium given by the historian to the Persians, which undoubtedly

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

ܪ

belongs chiefly to the reign of the great Cyrus; though Xenophon applies it likewise to that of the younger Cyrus,* whose grand maxim was, as he tells us, never to violate his faith upon any pretence whatsoever, with regard either to any word he had given, any promise made, or any treaty he had concluded. These princes had a just idea of the regal dignity, and rightly judged, that, if probity and truth were banished from the rest of mankind, they ought to find a sanctuary in the heart of a king ; who, being the bond and centre, as it were, of society, should also be the protector and avenger of faith engaged; which is the very foundation whereon the other depends.

Such sentiments as these, so noble and so worthy of persons born for government, did not last long. A false prudence, and a spurious artificial policy, soon succeeded in their place. Instead of faith, probity, and true merit, says Xenophon,t which heretofore the prince used to cherish and distinguish, all the chief offices of the court began to be filled with those pretended zealous servants of the king, who sacrifice every thing to his humour and supposed interests; who hold it as a maxim,f that falsehood and deceit, perfidiousness and perjury, if boldly and artfully put in practice, are the shortest and surest expedients to give success to his enterprises and designs, who look upon a scrupulous adherence in a prince to his word, and to the engagements into which he has entered, as an effect of pusillanimity, incapacity, and want of understanding; and whose opinion, ir short, is, that a man is unqualified for government, if he does not prefer considerations of state, before the exact observation of treaties, though concluded in never so solemn and sacred a manner.

The Asiatic nations, continues Xenophon, soon imitated their prince, who became their example and instructor in double-dealing and treachery. They soon gave themselves up to violence, injustice, and impiety: and from thence proceeds that strange alteration and difference we find in their manners, as also the contempt they conceived for their sovereigns, which is both the natural consequence and usual punishment of the little regard princes pay to the most sacred and awful solemnities of religion.

Surely the oath by which treaties are sealed and ratified, and the Deity invoked not only as present, but as guarantee of the conditions stipulated, is a most sacred and august ceremony, very proper for the subjecting of earthly princes to the Supreme Judge of heaven and earth, who alone is qualified to judge them; and for the keeping of all human majesty within the bounds of its duty, by making it appear before the majesty of God, in respect of which it is as nothing. Now, if princes will teach their people not to stand in

p. 239

* ne Expod. Cyr. I. i. p. 267. † Cyrop. I. viji.

1 Επί το κατεργάζεσθαι αν επιθυμείη, συντομωτάτην ίδoν ώετο είναι δια του επιορκεϊν τε, και ψεύδεσθαι, και εξαπατάν: το δε άτλούν τε και αληθές, To auto roma razbio civas. De Exped Cyr. l. I. p. 239.

« PreviousContinue »