Religion Keeps the Roman Commonwealth Together
Again the Roman customs and principles regarding
money transactions are better than those of
the Carthaginians. In the view of the latter
nothing is disgraceful that makes for gain;
with the former nothing is more disgraceful than to receive
bribes and to make profit by improper means. For they
regard wealth obtained from unlawful transactions to be as
much a subject of reproach, as a fair profit from the most
unquestioned source is of commendation. A proof of the fact
is this. The Carthaginians obtain office by open bribery, but
among the Romans the penalty for it is death.
With such a radical difference, therefore, between
the rewards offered to virtue among the two peoples, it is natural
that the ways adopted for obtaining them should be different also.
But the most important difference for the better which
the Roman commonwealth appears to me to
display is in their religious beliefs.
conceive that what in other nations is looked
upon as a reproach, I mean a scrupulous fear of the gods, is
the very thing which keeps the Roman commonwealth together.
To such an extraordinary height is this carried among them,
both in private and public business, that nothing could
exceed it. Many people might think this unaccountable; but
in my opinion their object is to use it as a check upon the
common people. If it were possible to form a state wholly of
philosophers, such a custom would perhaps be unnecessary.
But seeing that every multitude is fickle, and full of lawless
desires, unreasoning anger, and violent passion, the only
resource is to keep them in check by mysterious terrors and
scenic effects of this sort. Wherefore, to my mind, the ancients
were not acting without purpose or at random, when they
brought in among the vulgar those opinions about the gods,
and the belief in the punishments in Hades: much rather do
I think that men nowadays are acting rashly and foolishly in
rejecting them. This is the reason why, apart from anything
else, Greek statesmen, if entrusted with a single talent, though
protected by ten checking-clerks, as many seals, and twice as
many witnesses, yet cannot be induced to keep faith: whereas
among the Romans, in their magistracies and embassies, men
have the handling of a great amount of money, and yet from
pure respect to their oath keep their faith intact. And, again,
in other nations it is a rare thing to find a man who keeps his
hands out of the public purse, and is entirely pure in such
matters: but among the Romans it is a rare thing to detect a
man in the act of committing such a crime.1
. . .