Montesquieu: Considerations on the causes of the grandeur and decadence of the Romans, Chapter VI
Since they never made peace in good faith, and since universal conquest was their object, their treaties were really only suspensions of war, and they put conditions into them that always began the ruin of the state accepting them.
They made garrisons leave strongholds, or limited the number of ground troops, or had horses or elephants surrendered to them. And if the people was a sea power they forced it to burn its vessels and sometimes to live further inland.
After destroying the armies of a prince, they ruined his finances by excessive taxes or a tribute on the pretext of making him pay the expenses of the war — a new kind of tyranny that forced him to oppress his subjects and lose their love. When they granted peace to some prince, they took one of his brothers or children in hostage, which gave them the means of vexing his kingdom at will. When they had the closest heir, they intimidated the present ruler; if they only had a prince of distant degree, they used him to instigate popular revolts.
the Romans never made a peace treaty with an enemy unless it contained an alliance — that is, they subjugated no people which did not help them in reducing others.
When they allowed a city to remain free, they immediately caused two factions to arise within it. One upheld local laws and liberty, the other maintained that there was no law except the will of the Romans. And since the latter faction was always the stronger, it is easy to see that such freedom was only a name.
To keep great princes permanently weak, the Romans did not want them to make any alliance with those to whom they had accorded their own. And since they did not refuse their own to a powerful prince's neighbors, this condition, stipulated in a peace treaty, left him without allies.
When some prince had made a conquest, which often left him exhausted, a Roman ambassador immediately arrived to snatch it from his hands. From among a thousand examples, we can recall how, with a word, they drove Antiochus out of Egypt.
Knowing how well-suited the peoples of Europe were for war, they made it a law that no Asian king would be permitted to enter Europe and subjugate any people whatsoever. The main motive for their war against Mithridates was that he had contravened this prohibition by subduing some barbarians.
When they saw two peoples at war, even though they had no alliance or dispute with one or the other, they never failed to appear on the scene. And like our knights-errant, they took the part of the weaker. Dionysius of Halicarnassus says it was an old practice of the Romans always to extend their help to whomever came to implore it.
They removed the political and civil links connecting the four parts of Macedonia in the same way that they had formerly broken up the union of the small Latin cities
But, above all, their constant maxim was to divide. The Achaean republic was formed by an association of free cities. The senate declared that thenceforth each city would be governed by its own laws, without depending on a common authority.
Sometimes they abused the subtlety of the terms of their language. They destroyed Carthage, saying that they had promised to preserve the people of the city but not the city itself. We know how the Aetolians, who had entrusted themselves to the good faith of the Romans, were deceived: the Romans claimed that the meaning of the words to entrust oneself to the good faith of an enemy entailed the loss of all sorts of things — of persons, lands, cities, temples, and even tombs.
They could even give a treaty an arbitrary interpretation. Thus, when they wanted to reduce the Rhodians, they said they had not previously given them Lycia as a present but as a friend and ally.
Sometimes they made peace with a prince on reasonable conditions, and when he had executed them, added such unreasonable ones that he was forced to reopen the war. Thus, after making Jugurtha surrender his elephants, horses, treasures, and Roman deserters, they demanded that he surrender himself — an act which is the worst possible misfortune for a prince and can never constitute a condition of peace.
The peoples who were friends or allies all ruined themselves by the immense presents they gave to keep or gain favor, and half the money sent to the Romans for this purpose would have been enough to conquer them.
Soon the cupidity of individuals finished carrying off whatever had escaped public avarice. The magistrates and governors sold their injustices to kings. Two competitors ruined themselves vying with each other to buy a protection that was always doubtful against any rival whose funds were not entirely exhausted.
If, after the Second Punic War or the war with Antiochus, they had taken lands in Africa or Asia, they would have been unable to preserve conquests established on so slight a foundation. It was necessary to wait until all nations were accustomed to obeying as free states and allies before commanding them as subjects, and until they disappeared little by little into the Roman republic.
Look at the treaty they made with the Latins after the victory of Lake Regillus. It was one of the main foundations of their power. Not a single word is found there that might arouse suspicions of empire. It was a slow way of conquering. They vanquished a people and were content to weaken it. They imposed conditions on it which undermined it insensibly. If it revolted, it was reduced still further, and it became a subject people without anyone being able to say when its subjection began.