« PreviousContinue »
and refreshing the guests, who dined off gold plate, served up on tables overlaid with silver, and reclined on sofas sustained by legs of. ivory, silver, and sometimes even gold. They were also uncommonly splendid in the article of lamps, which were often fabricated of the most precious materials, and in which they burned the most costly and fragrant oils. The immense wealth that flowed by so many various channels into Rome was not all consumed in that city: great quantities were carried away into remote provinces by the numerous and successive governor*, and other men of consular and prætorian dignity, who finally settled there, with their families, in voluntary or compelled exile. A very considerable portion, too, was, in the infancy of the republic, transmitted to support and pay the numerous armies constantly stationed in Gaul, Germany, Britain, and other countries, where gold had not before abounded; still, however, by far the greater part was swallowed up in the deep vortex of Rome itself; and it js on record, that Tiberjus left in she public. treasury vic'ies Jepties millies, £21,796,875 2s' 4^«* The emperor Calj
'* Plutirch, in Vita Tibsrii.
M 3 gula, gula, his successor, delighted in rolling him-» self about, in all the insatiable lust and pride of avarice, in immense quantities of gold coin, spread abroad on the spacious floor of his palace. Yet was this insane cupidity presently succeeded by as wild extravagance, in throwing down money by handfuls, from a high tower, among the scrambling populace, and this continued for many days together, as well as at entertainments; wherein every article, not only the dishes, but the viands also, though bearing the form of meats, were of solid gold; the fictitious meats and golden dimes being afterwards distributed among the guests.* Nor was it only for human beings that he provided this species of golden banquet; his favourite horse, whom he denominated Incitatus, must also share the sumptuous repast. The stable of that animal was formed of fine marble \ his manger was of ivory; he wore a collar of rich pearls round his neck, and his caparisons were of Tyrian purple. Thus splendidly accommodated, it seems but consistent that this prince of a horse should be regaled with
* Suetonius in Caligula, cap. 29.
equal equal magnificence; he, therefore, was fed with gilded oats, and drank the most costly wines out of golden chalices. In these and similar absurdities, this frantic tyrant, this alternate miser and prodigal, in the two last years only of his short reign, is reported to have squandered away eighteen millions of the public money.
However prodigious were the sums expended by the emperors of Rome, they were soon reinstated in the treasury by their absolute power and boundless rapacity; and the reign of Claudius exhibits an instance of three persons, his freed men and chief ministers, Narcissus, Pallas, and Calistus, who are said to have amassed more wealth than Crœsus and all the kings of Persia and of the empire, and to have been, in their delegated government, equally rapacious and profuse; keeping their weak and timid sovereign in the chains of dependence and poverty. But whatever sums avarice might have hoarded, or extortion obtained, were dissipated by that monster in human Ihape, Nero, in the gratification of his unbounded lusts, and in the erection of that stupendous structure, called his Golden Palace, from the vast profusion of that metal
M 4 with. with which it was adorned; the rooft the walls, the galleries, the saloons, all glittering with gold, ivory, and precious stones. We may form some judgment of the immense , sum consumed in the building this palace from what we read in Suetonius, viz. that Nero not having finished it, the first order which Otho, when he became emperor, signed was for quingenties, H. S. or fifty millions of sesterces, to complete it; which, reduced to pounds sterling, amount to£403,645 165. 8</.* The enormous sums spent by the imperial glutton Vitellius on his sumptuous banquets, repeated four times a day, have been already specified, and apparently justify the strong assertion of Josephus, that, had he lived much longer, the revenues of the whole Roman empire would scarcely have been sufficient to furnish his luxurious table. • After exhibiting to the reader this faithful picture of the great wealth and prodigality of the Roman people under the early Cæsars, the conquerors of ravaged Asia, there is no occasion for our extending the view farther, or enumerating all the unbounded extrava
gance of their successors. During the ant* bitious contests that gradually weakened, then divided, and finally subverted, that empire, the precarious state of all property, but particularly that species of it which consisted in gold and silver, coined or in bullion, every where sought for with avidity by the different usurpers, to pay the armies which they respectively brought into the field, occasioned an immense quantity of treasure to be buried all over Italy under-ground in vaults and caverns, in gardens, in fields, and under the floors and walls of their houses. The jealous possessor, forcibly hurried away to the field of battle, expired on that field, and the important secret, in what obscure spot it was Concealed, perished with him. Nor was it only in Italy that they were thus buried -, the distant provinces felt, through all their limits, the convulsion of the capital; and the inhabitants, harassed by ephemeral tyrants, committed their treasures to the too faithful bosom of the concealing earth. These have occasionally been dug up, through every succeeding century, in Gaul, Germany, and Spain, sometimes in very large quantities; and have well rewarded the toil of the fortunate