For generations not a few the claims of the Latin cities to be independent of the
successors of Romulus were maintained with varying success until at last, in B.
C. 493, a treaty was concluded between the parties by which an alliance on terms
of equality was effected and the conditions of peace determined for a long period
of time. From this date the consolidated race was known as Roman, but the term
Latin has ever been retained as the name of the sonorous and powerful language
which was destined to reverberate from the Forum and become the depository of law
for all civilized nations.
Such is a brief general sketch of the various races which contributed to populate
the Italian peninsula. Under the leadership of Rome the primitive nations were
first conquered and then unified. A national type was established. The people
became Romans. In the distant states-Calabria, Bruttium, Liguria, Venetia-the
provincial character remained; but the distinction between these provincial
populations and the Romans of Latium was nothing more than that which has always
obtained between the capital district and the outskirts of a great state. It
remains to notice briefly the physical, intellectual, and moral qualities
exhibited by this race in the days of its grandeur.
The Roman character was one of great strength. Its outlines are strongly marked;
the features are unmistakable. The Assyrians have been called the Romans of the
East. With equal propriety the Romans may be called the Assyrians of the West. In
both races there was the same robustness. In both, vigor predominated, over
delicacy. Whether in himself or in his work the Roman had an excess of naked
brawn. The profile of his activity is striking in every feature. After two
thousand years the word Roman, as applied to human character and endeavor, is
still spelled with a capital: the reference is to the race rather than to the
idea. It implies the possession of those coarse, strong qualities of personality
which make up in force what they lack in refinement.
The Roman was intensely practical. He was a man of business. His heroes were men
of business. He looked to results. There was always an end in view-an aim to Ilis
endeavor. Ideal pursuits were left to others. He was a man without a reverie. His
life was one of gain or loss. Each day told in some way upon the question at
issue. It either carried him further from his object or brought him near to the
goal. Not that the end sought was always worthy. Not that the struggle was always
noble, or the work always done in honor. It was sufficient that the affair should
be undertaken with vigor and prosecuted with success. The outcome must justify
the beginning. It was business. Take the case of AEneas. How little ideal! How
devoid of sentiment! What an abominable lover! Dido's love had no more effect on
him than on a man of terra cotta. His business called him away. He must go over
to Latium and kill Turnus and build a town! Such was the hero created by the epic
muse of the Augustan Age, and the Romans thought him admirable!
The man of the Tiber was little susceptible to impressions. He was a cause rather
than an effect. The verb of his daily life was never in the passive. Nature
impressed him but little. How seldom are the skies and the stars referred to in
the poems of Horace! What has he to say of the birds and the flowers? One can
well imagine that when the Apulian bard sings of the flood that carried the
fishes into the top of the elm, he would have had them for his breakfast.
The Latin literature reflects but faintly the harmonies of nature, the wonders of
cloud and sky, the grandeur of the universe. That second sight, which seeing
behind the imperfect outlines of natural forms the ideal of the thing more
beautiful becomes the creative genius of poetry, was wanting in the Roman bards.
They sang of life and manners, of politics and the state, of commerce and of war.
But those sentiments which are born of dream and reverie found but a feeble echo
on the harp-strings of the bards of Rome.
Prominent among the mental characteristics of the Roman should be mentioned his