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to the west and north-west of them, an awesome and untravelled ocean, from whose unknown further shore no enemy could appear. To the south they were defended by the equally impassable barrier of a torrid and waterless desert, stretching from the Nile to the Atlantic. It was only on the north and east that there were frontiers to be defended; and these two sides remained the quarters of danger, because no natural barrier, arresting the progress of armies or constituting a defensible frontier, could be found without pushing all the way to the Baltic in one direction or to the ranges of Southern Kurdistan, perhaps even to the deserts of Eastern Persia in the other. The north and the east ultimately destroyed Rome. The north sent in those Teutonic tribes which occupied the western provinces and at last Italy herself, and those Slavonic tribes which settled between the Danube, the Aegean, and the Adriatic, and permeated the older population of the Hellenic lands. Perhaps the Emperors would have done better for the Empire (whatever might have been the ultimate loss to mankind) if, instead of allowing themselves to be disheartened by the defeat of Varus, they had pushed their conquests all the way to the Baltic and the Vistula, and turned the peoples of North and Middle Germany into provincial Romans. The undertaking would not have been beyond the resources of the Empire in its vigorous prime, and would have been remunerative, if not in money, at any rate in the way of providing a supply of fighting-men for the army. So too the Emperors might possibly have saved much suffering to their Romanized subjects in South Britain ad they followed up the expedition of Agricola and
subdued the peoples of Caledonia and lerne, who afterwards became disagreeable as Picts and Scots. The east was the home of the Parthians, of the Persians, so formidable to the Byzantine Emperors in the days of Kobad and Chosroes Anushirwan, and of the tribes which in the seventh and eighth centuries, fired by the enthusiasm of a new faith and by the prospect of booty, overthrew the Roman armies and turned Egypt, Syria, Africa, Spain, and ultimately the greater part of Asia Minor into Muhamadan kingdoms. Had Rome been menaced on the south and west as she was generally menaced on the east and sometimes on the north, her Empire could hardly have lived so long. Had she possessed a natural barrier on the east like that which the Sahara provided on the south she might have found it easy to resist, and not so very hard even to subjugate, the fighting races of the north.
Far more fortunate has been the position of the English in India. No other of the great countries of the world is protected by such a stupendous line of natural entrenchments as India possesses in the chain of the Himalayas from Attock and Peshawur in the west to the point where, in the far east, the Tsanpo emerges from Tibet to become in Upper Assam the Brahmaputra. Not only is this mountain mass the loftiest and most impassable to be found anywhere on our earth; it is backed by a wide stretch of high and barren country, so thinly peopled as to be incapable of constituting a menace to those who live in the plains south of the Himalayas. And in point of fact the relations, commercial as well as political, of India with Tibet, and with the Chinese who are suzerains of Tibet, have been, at least in historical times, extremely scanty. On the east, India is divided from the Indo-Chinese peoples, Talains, Burmese and Shans, by a belt of almost impenetrable hill and forest country: nor have these peoples ever been formidable neighbours. It is only at its northwestern angle, between Peshawur and Quetta (for south of Quetta as far as the Arabian Sea there are deserts behind the mountains and the Indus) that India is vulnerable. The rest of the country is protected by a wide ocean. Accordingly the masters of India have had only two sets of foes to fear; European maritime powers who may arrive by sea after a voyage which, until our own time, was a voyage of three or four months, and land powers who, coming from the side of Turkistan or Persia, may find their way, as did Alexander the Great and Nadir Shah, through difficult passes into the plains of the Punjab and Sindh. This singular natural isolation of India, as it facilitated the English conquest by preventing the native princes from forming alliances with or obtaining help from powers beyond the mountains or the sea, so has it also enabled the English to maintain their hold with an army extraordinarily small in proportion to the population of the country. The total strength of the Roman military establishment in the days of Trajan, was for an area of some two and a half millions of square miles and population of possibly one hundred millions, between 280,000 and 320,000 men. Probably four-fifths of this force was stationed on the Rhine, the Danube, and the Euphrates. There were so few in most of the inner provinces that, as some one said, the nations wondered where were the troops that kept them in subjection.
The peace or 'established' strength of the British army in India is nearly 230,000 men, of whom about 156,000 are natives and 74,000 Englishmen. To these there may be added the so-called 'active reserve' of natives who have served with the colours, about 17,000 men, and about 30,000 European volunteers. Besides these there are of course the troops of the native princes, estimated at about 350,000 men, many of them, however, far from effective. But as these troops, though a source of strength while their masters are loyal, might under altered circumstances be conceivably a source of danger, they can hardly be reckoned as part of the total force disposable by the British Government. Recently, however, about 20,000 of them have been organized as special contingents of the British army, inspected and advised by British officers, and fit to take their place with regiments of the line.
It would obviously be impossible to defend such widely extended dominions by a force of only 230,000 or 250,000 men, but for the remoteness of all possibly dangerous assailants. The only formidable land neighbour is Russia, the nearest point of whose territories in the Pamirs is a good long way from the present British outposts, with a very difficult country between. The next nearest is France on the Mekong River, some 200 miles from British Burma, though a shorter distance from Native States under British influence. As for sea powers, not only is Europe a long way off, but the navy of Britain holds the sea.
It was by her command of the sea that Britain won India. Were she to cease to hold it, her position there would be insecure indeed.
In another respect also the sharp severance of
India from all the surrounding countries may be deemed to have proved a benefit to the English. It has relieved them largely if not altogether from the temptation to go on perpetually extending their borders by annexing contiguous territory. When they had reached the natural boundaries of the Himalayas and the ranges of Afghanistan, they stopped. Beyond these lie rugged and unprofitable highlands, and still more unprofitable wildernesses. In two regions only was an advance possible: and in those two regions they have yielded to temptation. They have crossed the southern part of the Soliman mountains into Baluchistan in search for a more 'scientific' frontier, halting for the present on the Amram range, north-west of Quetta, where from the Khojak heights the eye, ranging over a dark-brown arid plain, descries seventy miles away the rocks that hang over Kandahar. They moved on from Arakhan and Tenasserim into Lower Burma, whence in 1885 they conquered Upper Burma and proclaimed their suzerainty over some of the Shan principalities lying further to the east. But for the presence of France in these regions, which makes them desire to keep Siam in existence as a so-called ' Buffer State,' manifest destiny might probably lead them ultimately eastward across the Menam and Mekong to Annam and Cochin China.
The Romans too sought for a scientific frontier, and hesitated often as to the line they should select, sometimes pushing boldly eastward beyond the Rhine and the Euphrates, sometimes receding to those rivers. Not till the time of Hadrian did they create a regular system of frontier defence, strengthened at many points by fortifications, among which the forts that lie along