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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IX. THE EARLY EMPIRE: THE WORLD UNDER ROMAN RULE, 31 B.C.-l80 A.D.
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SOME SOCIAL EVILS
Some of the customs of the time appear especially shocking. The brutal gladiatorial games were a passion with every one, from the emperor to his lowest subject. Infanticide was a general practice. Marriage grew to be a mere civil contract, easily made and easily broken. Common as divorce had become, the married state was regarded as undesirable. Augustus vainly made laws to encourage matrimony and discourage celibacy. Suicide, especially among the upper classes, was astonishingly frequent. No one questioned another's right to leave this life at pleasure. The decline of the earlier paganism left many men without a deep religious faith to combat the growing doubt and worldliness of the age.
BRIGHTER ASPECTS OF ROMAN SOCIETY
Yet this dark picture needs correction at many points. It may be questioned whether the vice, luxury, and wickedness of ancient Rome, Antioch, or Alexandria much exceeded what our great modern capitals can show, During this period, moreover, many remarkable improvements took place in social life and manners. There was an increasing kindliness and charity. The weak and the infirm were better treated. The education of the poor was encouraged by the founding of free schools. Wealthy citizens of the various towns lavished their fortunes on such public works as baths, aqueducts, and temples, for the benefit of all classes. Even the slaves were much better treated. Imperial laws aimed to check the abuses of cruelty, overwork, and neglect, and philosophers recommended to masters the exercise of gentleness and mercy toward slaves. In fact, the first and second centuries of our era were marked by a great growth of the humanitarian spirit.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy