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Fall Of Roman Empire

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The only accession which the Roman empire received, during

the first century of the Christian Aera, was the province of

Britain. In this single instance, the successors of Caesar and

Augustus were persuaded to follow the example of the former,

rather than the precept of the latter. The proximity of its

situation to the coast of Gaul seemed to invite their arms; the

pleasing though doubtful intelligence of a pearl fishery,

attracted their avarice; ^6 and as Britain was viewed in the

light of a distinct and insulated world, the conquest scarcely

formed any exception to the general system of continental

measures. After a war of about forty years, undertaken by the

most stupid, ^7 maintained by the most dissolute, and terminated

by the most timid of all the emperors, the far greater part of

the island submitted to the Roman yoke. ^8 The various tribes of

Britain possessed valor without conduct, and the love of freedom

without the spirit of union. They took up arms with savage

fierceness; they laid them down, or turned them against each

other, with wild inconsistency; and while they fought singly,

they were successively subdued. Neither the fortitude of

Caractacus, nor the despair of Boadicea, nor the fanaticism of

the Druids, could avert the slavery of their country, or resist

the steady progress of the Imperial generals, who maintained the

national glory, when the throne was disgraced by the weakest, or

the most vicious of mankind. At the very time when Domitian,

confined to his palace, felt the terrors which he inspired, his

legions, under the command of the virtuous Agricola, defeated the

collected force of the Caledonians, at the foot of the Grampian

Hills; and his fleets, venturing to explore an unknown and

dangerous navigation, displayed the Roman arms round every part

of the island. The conquest of Britain was considered as already

achieved; and it was the design of Agricola to complete and

insure his success, by the easy reduction of Ireland, for which,

in his opinion, one legion and a few auxiliaries were sufficient.

^9 The western isle might be improved into a valuable possession,

and the Britons would wear their chains with the less reluctance,

if the prospect and example of freedom were on every side removed

from before their eyes.

[Footnote 6: Caesar himself conceals that ignoble motive; but it

is mentioned by Suetonius, c. 47. The British pearls proved,

however, of little value, on account of their dark and livid

color. Tacitus observes, with reason, (in Agricola, c. 12,) that

it was an inherent defect. "Ego facilius crediderim, naturam

margaritis deesse quam nobis avaritiam."]

[Footnote 7: Claudius, Nero, and Domitian. A hope is expressed

by Pomponius Mela, l. iii. c. 6, (he wrote under Claudius,) that,

by the success of the Roman arms, the island and its savage

inhabitants would soon be better known. It is amusing enough to

peruse such passages in the midst of London.]

[Footnote 8: See the admirable abridgment given by Tacitus, in

the life of Agricola, and copiously, though perhaps not

completely, illustrated by our own antiquarians, Camden and


[Footnote 9: The Irish writers, jealous of their national honor,

are extremely provoked on this occasion, both with Tacitus and

with Agricola.]

But the superior merit of Agricola soon occasioned his

removal from the government of Britain; and forever disappointed

this rational, though extensive scheme of conquest. Before his

departure, the prudent general had provided for security as well

as for dominion. He had observed, that the island is almost

divided into two unequal parts by the opposite gulfs, or, as they

are now called, the Friths of Scotland. Across the narrow

interval of about forty miles, he had drawn a line of military

stations, which was afterwards fortified, in the reign of

Antoninus Pius, by a turf rampart, erected on foundations of

stone. ^10 This wall of Antoninus, at a small distance beyond the

modern cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, was fixed as the limit of

the Roman province. The native Caledonians preserved, in the

northern extremity of the island, their wild independence, for

which they were not less indebted to their poverty than to their

valor. Their incursions were frequently repelled and chastised;

but their



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