The Essays of Montaigne/Book II/Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXIV. Of the Roman grandeur. Edit

I will only say a word or two of this infinite argument, to show the
simplicity of those who compare the pitiful greatness of these times with
that of Rome. In the seventh book of Cicero's Familiar Epistles (and let
the grammarians put out that surname of familiar if they please, for in
truth it is not very suitable; and they who, instead of familiar, have
substituted "ad Familiares," may gather something to justify them for so
doing out of what Suetonius says in the Life of Caesar, that there was a
volume of letters of his "ad Familiares ") there is one directed to
Caesar, then in Gaul, wherein Cicero repeats these words, which were in
the end of another letter that Caesar had written to him: "As to what
concerns Marcus Furius, whom you have recommended to me, I will make him
king of Gaul, and if you would have me advance any other friend of yours
send him to me." It was no new thing for a simple citizen of Rome, as
Caesar then was, to dispose of kingdoms, for he took away that of King
Deiotarus from him to give it to a gentleman of the city of Pergamus,
called Mithridates; and they who wrote his Life record several cities
sold by him; and Suetonius says, that he had once from King Ptolemy three
millions and six hundred thousand crowns, which was very like selling him
his own kingdom:

          "Tot Galatae, tot Pontus, tot Lydia, nummis."

          ["So much for Galatia, so much for Pontus,
          so much for Lydia."—Claudius in Eutrop., i. 203.]

Marcus Antonius said, that the greatness of the people of Rome was not
so much seen in what they took, as in what they gave; and, indeed, some
ages before Antonius, they had dethroned one amongst the rest with so
wonderful authority, that in all the Roman history I have not observed
anything that more denotes the height of their power. Antiochus
possessed all Egypt, and was, moreover, ready to conquer Cyprus and other
appendages of that empire: when being upon the progress of his victories,
C. Popilius came to him from the Senate, and at their first meeting
refused to take him by the hand, till he had first read his letters,
which after the king had read, and told him he would consider of them,
Popilius made a circle about him with his cane, saying:—"Return me an
answer, that I may carry it back to the Senate, before thou stirrest out
of this circle." Antiochus, astonished at the roughness of so positive
a command, after a little pause, replied, "I will obey the Senate's
command." Then Popilius saluted him as friend of the Roman people.
To have renounced claim to so great a monarchy, and a course of such
successful fortune, from the effects of three lines in writing! Truly
he had reason, as he afterwards did, to send the Senate word by his
ambassadors, that he had received their order with the same respect as if
it had come from the immortal gods.

All the kingdoms that Augustus gained by the right of war, he either
restored to those who had lost them or presented them to strangers. And
Tacitus, in reference to this, speaking of Cogidunus, king of England,
gives us, by a marvellous touch, an instance of that infinite power: the
Romans, says he, were from all antiquity accustomed to leave the kings
they had subdued in possession of their kingdoms under their authority.

          "Ut haberent instruments servitutis et reges."

     ["That they might have even kings to be their slaves."
     —Livy, xlv. 13.]

'Tis probable that Solyman, whom we have seen make a gift of Hungary and
other principalities, had therein more respect to this consideration than
to that he was wont to allege, viz., that he was glutted and overcharged
with so many monarchies and so much dominion, as his own valour and that
of his ancestors had acquired.