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annual indiction, was furnished in a manner still more direct and still more oppressive, in the various articles of wine or oil, corn or barley."!


Wine, oil, corn (wheat), and barley, are enumerated, as in the prophecy, by the historian ; and the tribute was levied according to the supposed average produce of a farm for five years. A measure of wheat, then, for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny, appear to refer to the price at which wheat and barley were rated by the treasury in fixing the amount of the tax. Wheat and barley being valued at this rate, the taxation would be exorbitant; for wheat would be thirty or thirty-two shillings per cwt., and barley about ten or eleven. As

As "a large portion of the tribute was paid in money, and the remainder in a manner still more direct and oppressive," this system of taxation would inevitably be fatal to agriculture, and productive of the most extreme misery. And it was soon found necessary to resort to very stringent measures in order to collect the taxes, and prevent the treasury from being defrauded.



This prohibition will be best elucidated by considering the mode in which the impost was ascertained, levied, and evaded; and the evasion of it punished by the imperial government.

The farms were measured sod by sod, the vines and trees were counted, and the amount of the rate estimated according to the average value of a farm for five years. The rate-payer, to evade the rate, feigned poverty, maimed and otherwise injured the trees. As soon as this was discovered, the tax-gatherer was authorized not only to administer an oath to, but even to torture, the proprietor and his family, if he were suspected of concealing the true state of his affairs; and prevarication was punished by death.

There is a law of the Theodosian code to this effect: “ If any one shall cut down a vine with a sacrilegious hook, or

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I Decline and Fall, c. 17, vol. ii. pp. 319, 320.

Agri glebatim metiebantur, vites et arbores numerabantur.—Lactantius.


injure its fruitful branches, or shall craftily feign poverty, that he may evade a just census, when detected, he shall be punished capitally, and his goods shall be confiscated to the treasury."ı

It may be objected, that as the Theodosian code was published long after the opening of the seal, its laws cannot illustrate the prophecy, because they do not prove that the frauds, which it prohibits and punishes, were practised in the third, or early in the fourth century.

It is, however, to be recollected, that the enormous evils caused by the land-tax, were suspended by the prudence of Alexander Severus, and that a considerable time will, in general, elapse, before the calamities and crimes that oppressive laws inevitably produce, are fully developed; and that special evasions must be practised before laws are made to prevent or restrain them. For laws do not anticipate, but are later than the irregularities or specific frauds they condemn and punish; because the law-giver cannot foresee, and cannot, therefore, provide against the various contrivances of human ingenuity to elude the law.

But there is sufficient evidence to prove that the rate-payers feigned, or were supposed to feign, poverty, to evade the tax, and were, therefore, punished capitally, long before the Theodosian code was compiled. Lactantius asserts the fact: “ Thus, whilst Galerius," says he, “ took care that no one should escape the census by counterfeiting poverty, he slew a multitude of miserable men, in violation of every right of humanity."

If, indeed, we were to attend only to Gibbon's representation, it might be supposed the evils of the land tax were, in a great measure, if not wholly, suspended till some time after the accession of the Christian emperors. His account is as follows: " It was reserved for the virtue of Alexander to relieve them, in a great measure, from this intolerable grievance, by reducing the tributes (imposed by Caracalla) to a thirtieth part of the sum exacted at the time of his accession. It is impossible to conjecture the motives that induced him to spare so trifling a remnant of the public evil; but the noxious weed which had been totally eradicated, again sprung up with the most luxuriant growth, and, in the succeeding age, darkened the Roman world with its deadly shade."

Decline and Fall, c. 17, note.

2 De Mort, Persecut. 23.

The subject of the land tax is again resumed (and scarcely glanced at sooner) in chapter 17, which contains the history of the administration of Constantine, and some of his successors.

“ The agriculture of the Roman provinces was insensibly ruined, and, in the progress of despotism, which tends to disappoint its own purposes, the emperors were obliged to derive some merit from the forgiveness of debts, or the remission of tributes, which their subjects were totally incapable of paying. According to the new division of Italy, the fertile and happy provinces of Campania, the scene of the early victories and the delicious retirements of the citizens of Rome, extended between the sea and the Apennine, from the Tyber to the Silarus. Within sixty years after the death of Constantine, and on the evidence of actual survey, au exemption was granted in favour of three hundred and thirty thousand English acres of desert and uncultivated land, which amounted to one-eighth of the surface of the whole province. As the footsteps of the barbarians had not yet been seen in Italy, the cause of this amazing desolation, which is recorded in the laws, can be ascribed only to the administration of the Roman emperors.

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A reader of Gibbon would naturally suppose, by comparing these statements, that the evils of the land tax were suspended for, perhaps, more than a century, and that the land tax did not become an intolerably oppressive burden till the reign of Constantine and his successors; yet, it appears from his own account of the disastrous state of the empire, from the year

250 to 265, that even then the imperial oppression was one of the two causes that had ruined agriculture, and produced a dreadful famine: “But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present, and the hope of the future, harvest." And Lactantius, who lived in the third century, positively asserts, all the evils of the land tax were fully developed in the reign of Diocletian, who was made emperor A.D. 285. Diocletian,” says he, “ ruined

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I Decline and Fall c. 6, p. 200. 3 Ib. c. 17, vol. ii. p.


2 Ib. c. 17, vol. ii. p. 321; compare 13, p. 43. 4 Ib. vol. i. c. 10, p. 337.

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the empire. By the vastness of the indictions the resources of the husbandmen were consumed—the fields were deserted, and the arable lands were changed into a wilderness.”ı “ A more terrible picture,” says Michelet, “ has never been

, drawn than that left us by Lactantius of this murderous strife between the hungry treasury and the worn-out people, who could suffer and die, but not pay. So numerous, says Lactantius, were the receivers, in comparison with the payers,

and so enormous the weight of taxation, that the labourers broke down, the plains became deserts, and woods grew where the plough had been.

It were impossible to number the officials who were rained on every province and town. Condemnations, proscriptions, and exactions were all they knew; exactions, not frequent, but perpetual, and accompanied by intolerable outrages. But the public distress, the universal mourning was when the scourge of the census came; and its takers scattering themselves in every direction, produced a general confusion, that I can only liken it to the misery of a hostile invasion, or to a town abandoned to the soldiery. The fields were measured to the very clods; the trees counted; each vine plant numbered; cattle were registered as well as men. The crack of the whip and cry of the tortured filled the air. The faithful slave was tortured for evidence against his master, the wife to depose against her husband, the son against his sire. For lack of evidence, the torture was applied to extort one's own witness against oneself; and when nature gave way they wrote down what one had never uttered. Neither old age nor sickness was exempted.”

It is in these frightful calamities, beginning in the reign of Severus, that the scal has its accomplishment.

To recapitulate: A black horse appears, his rider has a yoke in his hand; a proclamation is made, “ a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny,” and a command is given not to hurt the oil and the wine. It has been shown that the theatre of these events is the Roman empirethat the time is before the fall of heathenism, and in the third century—that blackness is the symbol of tribulation and distress—that a zugos, or yoke, is the symbol of a government which oppresses the subject by exorbitant taxes—that the miseries foretold in the prophecy spring from measures affecting agricultural produce, particularly wheat, barley, oil, and wine, and that an edict, or command, is issued to prohibit hurt being done to, or wrong as regards, the oil and wine. Corresponding with these representations, we find in the sequence and connexion of history great exactions levied by the imperial government and a grievous land tax imposed, which desolated the provinces of the empire and ruined the husbandman—that wheat and barley must have been taxed at a fixed rate—that to evade the heavy taxation imposed on the produce of the land, the tax-payer feigned poverty, and injured his trees—that laws were made to punish these evasions—and that the rate-payer, his wife, his children, his family and slaves were tortured and

| De Morte, Pers. 7; compare 23.

put to death.


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