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after the death of these two illustrious patriots fell by the intrigues of faction, into the hands of men of a quite different character, we need not wonder that the Thebans sunk alike in power and reputation until Thebes itself was totally destroyed by Alexander the Great, and their country, with the rest of Greece, swallowed up at last by the insatiable ambition of the Romans.
OF all the free states whose memory
is preserved to us in history, Carthage bears the nearest resem. blance to Britain, both in her commerce, opulence, sovereignty of the sea, and her method of carrying on her land wars by foreign mercenaries. If to these we add the vicinity of the Carthaginians to the Romans, the most formidable and most rapacious people at that time in Europe, and the specifick difference, as I may term it, of the respective military force of each nation, the situation of Carthage with respect to Rome, seems greatly analogous to that of Britain with respect to France, at least for this last century. Consequently, the dreadful fate of that republick, once the most flourishing state in the universe, and the most formidable rival Rome ever had to cope with, must merit our highest attention at this juncture: both as the greatness of her power arose from, and was supported by commerce, and as she owed her ruin more to her own intestine divisions, than to the arms of the Romans.
We know very little of this opulent and powerful people until the time of the first Punick war. For as not one of their own historians has reached
our times, we have no accounts of them but what are transmitted to us by their enemies. Such writers consequently deserve little credit, as well from their ignorance of the Carthaginian constitution, as their inveterate prejudice against that great people. Hence it is that we know so little of their laws, and have but an imperfect idea of their constitutional form of government,
The government of Carthage, if we may credit the judicious Aristotle, seems to have been founded on the wisest maxim of policy. For he affirms, the different branches of their legislature were so exactly balanced,* that for the space of five hundred years, from the commencement of the republick down to his time, the repose of Carthage had never been disturbed by any considerable sedition, or her liberty invaded by any single tyrant: the two fatal evils to which every republican government is daily liable, from the very nature of their constitution. An additional proof too may be drawn from this consideration, that Carthage was able to support herself upwards of seven hundred years in opulence and splendour in the midst of so many powerful enemies, and during the greater part of that time, was the centre of commerce of the known world, and enjoyed the uninterrupted sovereignty of the sea without a rival.
* Arist. de Republ. lib. 2. cap. 9. lit. 4.
The genius of the Carthaginians was warlike as well as commercial, and affords undeniable proof, that those qualities are by no means incompatible to the same people. It is almost impossible indeed to discover the real character of this great people. The Roman historians, their implacable enemies, constantly paint them in the blackest colours, to palliate the perfidious and merciless behaviour of their own countrymen towards that unfortunate republick. A fact so notorious, that neither Livy, nor any other of their writers, with all their art, were able to conceal it. The Greek historians, whose countrymen had suffered so greatly by the Carthaginian arms in Sicily and all the other islands in the Mediterranean, betray as strong a prejudice against them as the Roman. Even the respectable Polybius, the only author amongst them who deserves any degree of credit, is plainly partial, when he speaks of the Carthaginian manners. The Romans continually charge them with the want of publick faith, and have handed down the Punica fides as a proverb. I shall take notice of this scandalous charge in another place, where I shall show how much more justly it may be retorted upon the Romans.
As the desire of gain is the chief spur to commerce, and as the greatest men in Carthage never thought it beneath them to engage in that lucrative employment, all the historians have represented the whole body of the people as so insatiably fond of amassing wealth, that they esteemed even the lowest and dirtiest means lawful, that tended to the acquisition of their darling object. “ Amongst the Carthaginians," says Polybius, when he compares the manners of that people with those of the Romans,
nothing was infamous that was attended with gain. Amongst the Romans nothing so infamous as bribery,t and to enrich themselves by unwar. rantable means." He adds in proof of his assertion, that," at Carthage all the dignities, and highest cmployments in the state were openly sold. A practice, he affirms, which at Rome was a capital crime." Yet but a few pages before, where he inveighs bitterly against the sordid love of money, and rapacious avarice of the Cretans, he remarks that, “they were the only people in the world to whom no kind of gain appeared either infamous or unlawful."'s In another place where he censures the Greeks for aspersing Titus Flamius the Roman general, as if he had not been proof against the gold of Macedon, he affirms, “ that whilst the Romans preserved the virtuous manners of their forefathers, and had not yet carried their arms into foreign countries, not a single man of them would have been guilty of a crime of that nature.”|| But though he can boldly assert, as he says, " that in his time many of the Romans, if taken man by man, were able to preserve
Polyb. lib. 6. p. 692.
+ Id. ibid. Ibid. Polyb. lib. 6. p. 681. || Excerpt. ex Polyb. de virtutibus et vitiis, p. 1426.