De Monarchia By Dante Alighieri Book II Chapter IX: The Romans Were Victorious Over All Contestants For Empire.

Adoration of the Shepherds 

And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, To be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Lk


The Romans were victorious over all contestants for Empire.

1. That people, then, which was victorious over all the contestants for Empire gained its victory by the decree of God. For as it is of deeper concern to God to adjust a universal contention than a particular one, and as even in particular contentions the decree of God is sought by the contestants, according to the familiar proverb, “To him whom God grants aught, let Peter give his blessing,”1 therefore undoubtedly among the contestants for the Empire of the world, victory ensued from a decree of God. That among the rivals for world-Empire the Roman people came off victor will be clear if we consider the contestants and the prize or goal toward which they strove. This prize or goal was sovereign power over all mortals, or what we mean by Empire.2 This was attained by none save by the Roman people, not only the first but the sole contestant to reach the goal contended for, as will be at once explained.

2. The first man to pant after the prize was Ninus, king of the Assyrians, who, as Orosius records,3 together with his consort Semiramis, through more than ninety years gave battle for world-supremacy, and subdued all Asia to himself; nevertheless, the western portion of the earth never became subject to him or his queen. Both of these Ovid commemorates in his fourth book in the story of Pyramus: “Semiramis4 girded the city with walls of burnt brick;” and below: “They are to meet at the tomb of Ninus, and hide beneath its shadow.”5

3. Vesoges, king of Egypt, was the second to strain after this prize, but though he harassed the South and North of Asia, as Orosius narrates, he never achieved the first part of the world.6 Nay, between umpires7 and goal, as it were, he was turned back from his rash undertaking by the Scythians.8

4. Next Cyrus, king of the Persians, undertook the same thing, but after destroying Babylon and transferring Babylonian sovereignty to the Persians, before he had tested his strength in western regions, he laid down his life and ambition at once before Tomyris, queen of the Scythians.

5. Then after these Xerxes,9 son of Darius and king among the Persians, invaded the world with so vast and mighty a multitude of nations that he spanned with a bridge between Sestos and Abydos that passage of the sea separating Asia from Europe. This astonishing work Lucan extols thus in the second book of the Pharsalia: “Such roads, fame signs, did haughty Xerxes build across the seas.” But at last miserably repulsed from his enterprise, he failed to reach his goal.10

6. Beside these and in later times, Alexander,11 the Macedonian king, came nearest of all to the palm of Monarchy, through ambassadors forewarning the Romans to surrender. But, as Livy recounts, before their answer came, he fell as in the midst of a course in Egypt.12 Of his tomb there Lucan renders testimony in the eighth book, in an invective against Ptolemy, king of Egypt: “Thou last offspring of the Lagaean line, swiftly to perish in thy degeneracy and yield the sceptre to thy incestuous sister, while for thee the Macedonian is guarded in the sacred cave.”13

7. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God,”14 who will not pause in amazement before thee? For thou, when Alexander strove to entangle the feet of his Roman rival in the course, didst snatch him from the contest, lest his rashness wax more great.

8. But that Rome gained the palm of so magnificent a prize is confirmed by many witnessings. Our Poet says in his first book: “Verily, with the passing of the years shall one day come from hence the Romans, rulers sprung of the blood of Teucer called again to life, who shall hold the sea and land in undivided sovereignty.”15 And Lucan in his first book: “The kingdom is apportioned by the sword, and the fortune of the mighty nation that is master over sea, over land, and over all the globe, suffers not two in command.”16 And Boethius in his second book speaks thus of the Prince of the Romans: “Nay, he was ruler of the peoples whom the sun looks on from the time he rises in the east until he hides his rays beneath the waves, and those whom the chilling northern wain o’errules, and those whom the southern gale burns with its dry blasts, as it beats the burning sands.”17 And Luke, the scribe of Christ, who speaketh all things true, offers the same testimony in the part of his writtings which says, “There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.”18 From these words we can clearly see that the jurisdiction of the Romans embraced the whole world.

9. It is proved by all these facts that the Romans were victorious among the contestants for world-Empire; therefore they were victorious by divine decree; and consequently they gained the Empire by divine decree, that is, they gained it with Right.

[1. ] “The saying expresses the Ghibelline view of the relation of the Empire to the Pope; it may have originated with the coronation of Charles the Great.” Church.

[2. ]De Mon. 1. 2. 1.

[3. ] Oros. Hist. 1. 4. 1, 4.

[4. ]Inf. 5. 58: “She is Semiramis, of whom we read that she succeeded to Ninus and was his wife. She held the land which the Sultan rules.”

[5. ]Met. 4. 58, 88.

[6. ] Oros. Hist. 1. 14. 1-3.

[7. ] “Athlothetas” were the judges or umpires in the Greek games, whose seats were opposite to the goal at the side of the stadium. See Smith’s Dict. of Antiquities. Aristotle in the Ethics, 1. 4. 5, says: “Plato also proposes doubt . . . whether the right way is from principles or to principles; just as in the course from the starting-post to the goal, or the contrary.”

[8. ]De Mon. 1. 14. 2; 2. 9. 4; 3. 3. 1.

[9. ]Purg. 28. 71: “Hellespont, there where Xerxes passed, a bridle still to all pride of men.”

[10. ]Phar. 2. 672.

[11. ] Dante puts Alexander among the tyrants and murderers in the river Phlegethon, Inf. 12. 107. In Inf. 14. 31 the flakes of fire fall “As Alexander, in those hot parts of India, saw falling upon his host flames unbroken even to the ground.” In Conv. 4. 11. 7 Dante seems to esteem him highly, at least in one regard: “And who has not Alexander still at heart, because of his royal beneficence?”

[12. ] This reference to Livy is an error on Dante’s part, for the Roman historian nowhere recounts this story of the ambassadors or of the conqueror’s death. Livy says (9. 18. 3) of Alexander and the Romans: “Quem ne fama quidem illis notum arbitror fuisse.” Toynbee solved the problem of the origin of the ambassador story by tracing it to the Chronicle of Bishop Otto of Freising. See Toynbee, Studies, pp. 290 ff. Of Dante’s belief concerning the place of Alexander’s death Moore says: “This error probably arose from the confusion of Babylon in Assyria with Babylon (i. e. old Cairo) in Egypt. As Dante probably knew (1) that Alexander died at Babylon, and (2) that he was buried (according to Lucan) in Egypt, he might naturally have inferred that his death occurred at the Egyptian Babylon.”

[13. ]Phar. 8. 692.

[14. ]Rom. 11. 33. This verse is again quoted Conv. 4. 21. 3.

[15. ]Aen. 1. 234.

[16. ]Phar. 1. 109, 111.

[17. ]De Consol. Phil. 2, Metr. 6. 8-13 (Temple Classics trans.).

[18. ]Luke 2. 1. This reference is used in the letter to King Henry, Letter 7. 3; Conv. 4. 5; De Mon. 2. 12. 5.