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O let me pierce the secret shade,
Thus to the grave in peace defcend!'
Cold is the feufclefs heart that never ftrove
Nor youth's enlivening graces teach to love.
And all the prodigality of charms,
Form'd to enflave my heart and grace my lay.'
ART. III. The History of the World, from the Reign of Alexander to that of Augustus. By John Gillies, LL. D. 2 vol. 4to. Caddell & Davies, London. 1807.
THE countries of Western Asia afford no very flattering precedent to those who, confident in the perfectibility of mankind, see nothing but prospects of brilliancy before them, and anticipate ages of progressive improvement, with no danger of backward steps, and no boundary but the dissolution of the world. It is on the desolate plains, and among the degraded inhabitants of those regions, that we must look for the source of our arts, our letters, our religion, our population itself. There may seem to be a sort of compensation in the state of human society at different periods; and the polished kingdoms of Europe may be considered rather to have supplied the place of Egypt and Jonia, than to have been added to the permanent mass of civi
The melancholy interest which the downfal of this portion of the globe has thrown over its history, is heightened by the difficulty with which that history is learned, and the mysteriousness which hangs over great part of it. It is lighted, indeed, in its earlier periods, with so faint and quivering a lamp of authentic testimony, that the acuteness and erudition of modern times has constantly been baffled in attempting to dispel the gloom. A stronger ray breaks upon us about the age of Cyrus,—a period which, so far as that part of the world is concerned, forms a line of demarcation between known and unknown history. But, relatively to the state of society in those countries, a more important epoch is fixed by the subsequent conquests of Alexander. The Persian dynasty, like those still more ancient, was barbarian : It was under the dominion of Greece, and afterwards of Rome, that Asia became, for a period of 900 years, the seat of regular military dicipline, of diffused opulence, of legal government, and of philosophy,
It is during the earlier and more splendid part of this term, the interval between Alexander and Augustus, that the present author has undertaken to relate the revolution of the Grecian world, enlarged as that was by the successes of the former conqueror. A more interesting or honourable labour could scarcely have been chosen by the historian; nor one which presents more frequent opportunities of beguiling his own task and that of his readers, by illustrations from various branches of ancient and modern literature. In a former history of Greece, which has long since been given to the world, and which still continues, as we are told by the author in his preface, to experience public indulgence, Dr Gillies deduced the narrative to the death of Alexander. The military exploits of that hero fell, therefore, within its compass; but his political institutions, which were destined to become the groundwork of the Macedonian dominion in the East, seemed more properly reserved for the commencement of the present undertaking. Accordingly, Dr Gillies, in five preliminary chapters, has entered, as well upon these ar rangements of Alexander, and upon the plans which were interrupted by his death, as upon the political geography of his dominions, and the history, so far as it can be known, of those considerable nations which had previously been melted down into the mass of the Persian empire.
In eleven years of perpetual victory, Alexander had traversed Asia from the Hellespont to the Hyphasis, and become the undisputed possessor of territories, nearly commensurate in their limits with the present kingdoms of Turkey and Persia. This conquest is not more memorable for the great and permanent revolution which it effected, than for the apparent inadequacy of the means. The throne of the successors of Cyrus, incomparably the greatest potentates who had hitherto existed within the limits of the ancient world, though protected, not more by the countless multitude of their own subjects, than by the disciplined valour of Grecian mercenaries, was subverted within two years, by an army which fell considerably short of 40,000 men. After the battle of Arbela, in which the Greeks, with incredible exaggeration, report 300,000 barbarians to have fallen, no further resistance was opposed by Persia. The remaining part of Alexander's career was employed, and, some may think, wasted, in reducing the fierce and independent barbarians of the Oxus and the Indus, with so prodigal a display of personal valour, upon occasions comparatively unimportant, that we may reasonably suspect the ruling passion of his mind to have been not so much ambition, as the love of that frivolous glory which the foolish Greeks lavished upon the fabulous heroes of their poetical romances.
the death of Darius may have been of considerable importance to his success; it led the Persians to look upon him as a legitimate sovereign, whose title was sanctioned by conquest, and secured by the absence of competitors. It seems indeed a singular coincidence between his history, and that of the Roman hero most frequently compared to him, that each was relieved of his opponent by an assassination, in which he had no concern, and of which he reaped the full benefit, with the credit of punishing the traitor, and lamenting the treason.
Triumphs so easily achieved, may justly lead us as much to contempt of the vanquished, as to admiration of the conqueror. The unwieldy Colossus of the Persian empire tottered at the slightest blow; the vast living masses which barbarian despotism mistook for armies, were never led to battle without discomfiture; and the experience of a century and a half, from the memorable engagements of Marathon and Salamis, had proved, that nothing but the disunion of the Greeks could have preserved the Persian ascendancy upon the coasts of the Mediterranean. The weakness, indeed, of that monarchy, seems greater than might have been expected, from the natural bravery of some of its constituent nations; and we are surprised to find, among those who so tamely submitted to the yoke of Alexander, the ancestors of those warlike and polite barbarians, who, under the Parthian kings, and the dynasty of the Sassanidæ, repelled the Roman eagles, and avenged the violation of their territory in the blood of Crassus and of Julian. But the Greeks overlooked this consideration in the splendour of their hero's exploits; he obtained the name of the greatest, as well as the most successful commander whom the world had seen; and is said to have been placed in this rank by some who might scem well entitled to contest it with him. Later writers, especially the Romans, who were jealous of his renown, came to dwell more upon the unfavourable parts of his character. His wild ambition,-his disgraceful intemperance,his love for adulation and servility,-all the spots and blemishes of his fervid temperament,-became the theme of satirists and philosophers; and the conqueror of Asia has been held up in no other light than that of a madman, and a destroyer. The ingenious refinement of our own times has done justice, and perhaps more than justice, to his political institutions. He certainly appears to have conceived enlightened commercial projects; and the numerous cities, judiciously founded in different parts of his empire, are proofs of the precautions he took to secure its durability. Yet so much of vain ambition, and even mere geographical curiosity seems to have actuated the mind of Alexander, that Awe may doubt whether the celebrated voyage of Nearchus, and the correspondent march of the army through Caramania, had
any object more precise than that of discovering and subduing what had been unexplored before. It seems still more doubtful to us, whether his assumption of the Persian dress, and exchange of the liberal spirit of free Greeks, for the baseness of oriental homage, was rather founded in deep policy, than in the intoxication which prosperity naturally produces, in a mind fond of power and of flattery. By this conduct, which is applauded by Dr Gillies, as it was by Robertson, he lost the affections of his Macedonian soldiers, which his own experience might have taught him to be more important, than those of the cowardly multitudes whom they had helped him to overcome. However generous the theory may appear, of regarding all denominations of subjects with equal favour, it should surely be effected rather by exalting the weak, than by degrading the strong. And, inconsistent with Liberal government as we may think the vassalage of one nation to another, intermingled in the same territory, it has constantly recurred in the revolutions of the East, and is apparently inevitable, where great differences exist in the civil and military improvements of the two.
The predilection of Alexander for Persian customs will not appear the more judicious, if we consider his actual conquests as parts only of a scheme so extensive, that the countries east of the Euphrates would, had it been realized, have formed the least important portion of his empire. He bequeathed, as a legacy to his successors, the invasion of the Carthaginian dominions, and the task of bearing the Macedonian standard to the pillars of Hercules. Italy, it seems, would next have attracted him; and it has been matter of speculation, whether the power then rising in that country, and destined one time to plant its foot upon the neck of both his hereditary and .acquired kingdoms, would have been found already ripe for the conflict. What Livy, like an indignant patriot asserts, Dr Gillies, like a staunch admirer of Alexander, denies; and, upon the whole, we do not quarrel with his conclusions. But we think him deceived in supposing, that the resistance of Rome would have been less formidable than that of Carthage. It seems one of those modern refinements upon history, of which we spoke above, to overrate the merits of that republic. Rich, without politeness or letters; active in commercial enterprize, without skill or courage in arms; she waged ignominious wars in Sicily with almost incessant defeat, and trembled for her own capital, on the incursion of a petty tyrant of Syracuse. But the strongest proof of her intrinsic cowardice and weakness is, that, in spite of her great maritime experience, she was unable to contend, during the Punic war, with the first naval armaments that were itted out from the mouth of the Tiber.