The doctrine that practical need—and not, as I hold, the lure of intellectual adventure—is the prime mover of scientific endeavor can be put to the test in the case of ancient Rome…
…In the social structure of Rome, purely intellectual interests had no natural home. Though its complexity increased as time went on, we may, for our purpose, put the case in a nutshell by saying that there were the peasants, the urban plebs (including traders and artisans), and the slaves. And above them all, there was a ‘society’ that no doubt had its business stratum (more or less represented by the order of the equites) but consisted mainly of an aristocracy that, unlike the Athenian aristocracy in the times after Pericles, never retired into opposition to lead a life of refined leisure, but threw itself wholeheartedly into public affairs both civil and military. The res publica was the center of its existence and all its activity. With widening horizons and increasing refinement, it cultivated an interest in Greek philosophy and art and developed a (largely derivative) literature of its own. These things were touched upon lightly, however, and were definitely considered as pastimes, essentially nugatory in themselves. There was little steam left for serious work in any scientific field, as Cicero’s (106–43 B.C.) representative writings are sufficient to show. And this deficiency was not, and could not be, made up by encouraging foreigners and freedmen who were directed primarily toward utilitarian tasks.
Of course, a society of this structure was bound to be passionately interested in history, mainly its own history. This was in fact one of the two main outlets for such scientific curiosity as the Roman mind harbored. But this curiosity was characteristically confined to political and military history. Sociological and economic backgrounds were hastily sketched—such sketches occur even in Caesar—social upheavals were reported with the utmost economy of general considerations. The one great exception is Tacitus’ (c. 55–120) Germania.
1. Schumpeter, Joseph A. History of Economic Analysis. New York: Oxford UP, 1954. Print. 66-67.