Ancient Achievements

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The same may be said in general of other Oriental monarchies, especially when embarked in aggressive wars, where the will of the monarch was supreme and unresisted, as in Persia. In India and China the government was not so absolute, since it was checked by feudatory princes, almost independent like the feudal barons and dukes of mediaeval Europe.

Nor was there probably among Oriental nations any elaborate codification of the decrees and laws as in Greece and Rome, except by the priests for their ritual service, like that which marked the jurisprudence of the Israelites. There were laws against murder, theft, adultery, and other offences, since society cannot exist anywhere without such laws; but there was no complicated jurisprudence produced by the friction of competing classes striving for justice and right, or even for the interests of contending parties. We do not look to Egypt or to China for wise punishment of ordinary crimes; but we do look to Greece and Rome, and to Rome especially, for a legislation which shall balance the complicated relations of society on principles of enlightened reason. Moreover, those great popular rights which we now most zealously defend have generally been extorted in the strife of classes and parties, sometimes from kings, and sometimes from princes and nobles. Where there has been no opposition to absolutism these rights have not been secured; but whenever and wherever the people have been a power they have imperiously made their wants known, and so far as they have been reasonable they have been finally secured,--perhaps after angry expostulations and, disputations.

Now, it is this kind of legislation which is remarkable in the history of Greece and Rome, secured by a combination of the people against the ruling classes in the interests of justice and the common welfare, and finally endorsed and upheld even by monarchs themselves. It is from this legislation that modern nations have learned wisdom; for a permanent law in a free country may be the result of a hundred years of discussion or contention,--a compromise of parties, a lesson in human experience. As the laws of Greece and Rome alone among the ancients are rich in moral wisdom and adapted more or less to all nations and ages in the struggle for equal rights and wise social regulations, I shall confine myself to them. Besides, I aim not to give useless and curious details, but to show how far in general the enlightened nations of antiquity made attainments in those things which we call civilization, and particularly in that great department which concerns so nearly all human interests,--that of the regulation of mutual social relations; and this by modes and with results which have had their direct influence upon our modern times.

When we consider the native genius of the Greeks, and their marvellous achievements in philosophy, literature, and art, we are surprised that they were so inferior to the Romans in jurisprudence,--although in the early days of the Roman republic a deputation of citizens was sent to Athens to study the laws of Solon. But neither nations nor individuals are great in everything. Before Solon lived, Lycurgus had given laws to the Spartans. This lawgiver, one of the descendants of Hercules, was born, according to Grote, about eight hundred and eighty years before Christ, and was the uncle of the reigning king. There is, however, no certainty as to the time when he lived; it was probably about the period when Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians. He instituted the Spartan senate, and gave an aristocratic form to the constitution. But the senate, composed of about thirty old men who acted in conjunction with the two kings, did not differ materially from the council of chiefs, or old men, found in other ancient Grecian States; the Spartan chiefs simply modified or curtailed the power of the kings. In the course of time the senate, with the kings included in it, became the governing body of the State, and this oligarchical form of government lasted several hundred years. We know but little of the especial laws given by Lycurgus. We know the distinctions of society,--citizens and helots, and their mutual relations,--the distribution of lands to check luxury, the public men, the public training of youth, the severe discipline to which all were subjected, the cruelty exercised towards slaves, the attention given to gymnastic exercises and athletic sports,--in short, the habits and customs of the people rather than any regular system of jurisprudence. Lycurgus was the trainer of a military brotherhood rather than a law-giver. Under his regime the citizen belonged to the State rather than to his family, and all the ends of the State were warlike rather than peaceful,--not looking to the settlement of quarrels on principles of equity, or a development of industrial interests, which are the great aims of modern legislation.

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