Slike strani

the Roman Wall from the Tyne to the Solway are perhaps the best preserved. So the English wavered for a time between the line of the Indus and that of the Soliman range; so in the wild mountain region beyond Kashmir they have, within the last few years, alternately occupied and retired from the remote outpost of Chitral. It has been their good fortune to have been obliged to fortify a comparatively small number of points, and all of these are on the north-west frontier.

There have been those who would urge them to occupy Afghanistan and entrench themselves therein to resist a possible Russian invasion. But for the present wiser counsels have prevailed. Afghanistan is a more effective barrier in the hands of its own fierce tribes than it would be as a part of British territory. A parallel may be drawn between the part it has played of late years and that which Armenia played in the ancient world from the days of Augustus to those of Heraclius. Both countries had been the seats of shortlived Empires, Armenia in the days of Tigranes, Afghanistan in those of Ahmed Shah. Both are wild and rugged regions, the dwelling-places of warlike races. Christian Armenia was hostile from religious sentiment to the enemies whom Rome had to fear, the Persian Fire-worshippers. Musulman Afghanistan dreads the power of Christian Russia. But the loyalty or friendship of the Armenian princes was not always proof against the threats of the formidable Sassanids, and the action of the Afghans is an element of uncertainty and anxiety to the British rulers of India.

To make forces so small as those on which Rome relied and those which now defend British India adequate for the work they have to do, good means of communication are indispensable. It was one of the first tasks of the Romans to establish such means. They were the great-indeed one may say, the onlyroad builders of antiquity. They began this policy before they had completed the conquest of Italy; and it was one of the devices which assured their supremacy throughout the peninsula. They followed it out in Gaul, Spain, Africa, Britain, and the East, doing their work so thoroughly that in Britain some of the roads continued to be the chief avenues of travel down till the eighteenth century. So the English have been in India a great engineering people, constructing lines of communication, first roads and afterwards railways, on a scale of expenditure unknown to earlier ages. The potentates of elder days, Hindu rajahs, and subsequently Pathans and Moguls, with other less famous Musulman dynasties, have left their memorials in temples and mosques, in palaces and tombs.

The English are commemorating their sway by railway works, by tunnels and cuttings, by embankments and bridges. If India were to relapse into barbarism the bridges, being mostly of iron, would after a while perish, and the embankments would in time be swept away by torrential rains, but the rock-cuttings and the tunnels would remain, as the indestructible paving-stones of the Roman roads, and majestic bridges, like the Pont du Gard in Languedoc, remain to witness to the skill and thoroughness with which a great race did its work.

The opening up of India by railroads suggests not a few interesting questions which, however, I can do no more than indicate here. Railroad construc

tion has imposed upon the Indian exchequer a strain all the heavier because some lines, especially those on the north-west frontier, having been undertaken from strategic rather than commercial motives, will yield no revenue at all proportionate to their cost. It has been suggested that although railroads were meant to benefit the peasantry, they may possibly have increased the risk of famine, since they induce the producer to export the grain which was formerly locally stored up in good years to meet the scarcity of bad years. The comparative quickness with which food can be carried by rail into a famine area does not-so it is argued-compensate for the loss of these domestic reserves. Railways, bringing the numerous races that inhabit India into a closer touch with one another than was possible before, are breaking down, slowly but surely, the demarcations of caste, and are tending towards an assimilation of the jarring elements, racial and linguistic, as well as religious, which have divided India into a number of distinct, and in many cases hostile, groups. Centuries may elapse before this assimilation can become a source of political danger to the rulers of the country: yet we discern the beginnings of the process now, especially in the more educated class. The Roman roads, being highways of commerce as well as of war, contributed powerfully to draw together the peoples whom Rome ruled into one imperial nationality. But this was a process which, as we shall presently note, was for Rome an unmixed gain, since it strengthened the cohesion of an Empire whose inhabitants had every motive for loyalty to the imperial Government, if not always to the par

[ocr errors]

ticular sovereign. The best efforts of Britain may not succeed in obtaining a similar attachment from her Indian subjects, and their union into a body animated by one national sentiment might become an element of danger against which she has never yet been required to take precautions.

The excellence of the highways of communication provided by the wise energy of the Romans and of the English has contributed not only to the easier defence of the frontiers of both Empires, but also to the maintenance of a wonderfully high standard of internal peace and order. Let any one think of the general state of the ancient world before the conquests of Rome, and let him then think of the condition not merely of India after the death of the Emperor Aurungzeb, but of the chief European countries as they stood in the seventeenth century, if he wishes to appreciate what Rome did for her subjects, or what England has done in India. In some parts of Europe private war still went on two hundred and fifty years ago. Almost everywhere robber bands made travelling dangerous and levied tribute upon the peasantry. Even in the eighteenth century, and even within our own islands, Rob Roy raided the farmers of Lennox, and landlords in Connaught fought pitched battles with one another at the head of their retainers. Even a century ago the coasts of the Mediterranean were ravaged by Barbary pirates, and brigandage reigned unchecked through large districts of Italy. But in the best days of the Roman Empire piracy was unknown; the peasantry were exempt from all exactions except those of the tax-gatherer; and the great roads were practically safe for travellers. Southern and western Europe, taken as a whole, would seem to have enjoyed better order under Hadrian and the Antonines than was enjoyed again until nearly our own times. This was the more remarkable because the existence of slavery must have let loose upon society, in the form of runaway slaves, a good many dangerous characters. Moreover, there remained some mountainous regions where the tribes had been left practically to themselves under their own rude customs. These enclaves of barbarism within civilized territory, such as was Albania, in the central mountain knot of which no traces of Roman building have been found, and the Isaurian country in Asia Minor, and possibly the Cantabrian land on the borders of south-western Gaul and northern Spain, where the Basque tongue still survives, do not appear to have seriously interfered with the peace and wellbeing of the settled population which dwelt around them, probably because the mountaineers knew that it was only by good behaviour that they could obtain permission to enjoy the measure of independence that had been left to them. The parts of provincial Africa which lay near the desert were less orderly, because it was not easy to get behind the wild tribes who had the Sahara at their back.

The internal peace of the Roman Empire was, however, less perfect than that which has been established within the last sixty years in India. Nothing surprises the visitor from Europe so much as the absolute confidence with which he finds himself travelling unprotected across this vast country, through mountains and jungles, among half savage tribes whose languages he does not

« PrejšnjaNaprej »