The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic: Part 2 of 4: The First Hammer-Blows

Yves here. The commentariat had a lively discussion of the first installment of this mini-history of the Roman Republic, with Michael Hudson in particular taking issue with the framing. I hope this post leads to further debate.

By Newdealdemocrat. Originally published at Angry Bear

This is part 2 of my four part look at the Roman Republic and subsequent Empire. In part 1, I described the structure of the Republic, and its several centuries of stability and success, as well as the underlying causes of its ultimate downfall.

The hammer-blows that rained down on the Republic from the existential dispute between Senatorial oligarchs on the one hand, and Roman plebeians and Italian allies on the other, came in five episodes:

1. The Gracchus brothers – in the 130s and 120s
2. Saturninus – approximately 100 BC
3. Marius and the Italian civil wars 90 BC
4. Marius, Cinna, and Sulla 90-80 BC
5. Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar 50-40 BCIn this part I make a *brief* summary sketch of the first four of the above five episodes. The fifth will be described in the next part.

As each of the above five episodes occurred, there were further and further deviations from the “mas maiorem,” or customs, that underlay the Republic, and increasing problems with legions or private “brownshits” giving their allegiance to their military leader rather than to the Republic itself.

1. The Gracchus Brothers

Tiberius Gracchus was the more temperamental and passionate of the two brothers. Following the passage of the secret ballot in 139 B.C. the Assembly elected him a Tribune in 134. Violating custom, he did not consult with the Senate before bringing an Italian land reform bill to redistribute vacant land (much of which was illegally being farmed by oligarchs including those in the Senate), before the Assembly. A fellow Tribune, who had been bought off by Senate oligarchs, vetoed the bill. Tiberius than vetoed all other bills to try to force his fellow Tribune to relent. When that wasn’t enough, he introduced a bill to strip the obstructing Tribune from office – another violation of norms. Both bills passed when Tiberius packed the Assembly with his supporters.

The Senate, with the power of the purse, voted not to fund the Commission necessary to carry out Tiberius’s land reform. Then, in a twist of fate, a king in Asia Minor passed away without heir and willed his treasury to Rome. Tiberius proposed another bill that the Assembly could disperse the moneys in the will, thus funding his Commission.

At this the lead Senator, the “Pontifex Maximus,” Publius Nasica, led an armed mob of Senators to the Assembly and murdered Tiberius and 300 of his supporters. The Senate followed up by establishing a commission to put Tiberius’s supporters to death, despite the fact that only the Assembly was allowed to impose the death penalty for offenses.

Tiberius’s younger brother, Gaius, was more cerebral, thoughtful, and strategic. He was elected Tribune in 123 BC. He proposed an entire program of reforms, including offering Roman citizenship to the Italian allies, forbidding the Senate from establishing tribunals unless allowed by the Assembly, giving the land redistribution commission final say in boundary disputes, proposing new Italian roads and colonies for settlement, ending the deductions for expenses from soldiers’ pay, a grain dole for Rome’s urban plebeians, and replacing Senators with Equines from the merchant class on juries.

Once again the oligarchs employed another Tribune, Optimus, to veto the entire program. when Gaius ran for an unprecedented third term as Tribune – another violation of the mas maiorem – he was deemed defeated. Unwilling to accept defeat, he organized a demonstration by his followers to intimidate the Assembly. When a follower murdered a Senator’s servant, the Senate gave Optimus dictatorial power to crush the uprising, resulting in 250 killed including Gaius Gracchus.

Two things are important about Gaius Gracchus: (1) the Senate oligarchs refusal to compromise with his program served to exacerbate the inequalities and radicalize future reformers; and (2) gave those future reformers a blueprint for how to put together a coalition of anti-oligarch “populares.”

Interlude — 1.5 Gaius Marius and His Armies

Gaius Marius was a pivotal figure in the demise of the Republic. He was a “novus homo,” or “new man,” who came from the rural areas outside Rome, I.e., not a blueblood – think of Bill Clinton as a modern analog. Despite this, he was a military genius, who won almost all his battles, and defeated foreign enemies in Gaul and North Africa. In short, he was the kind of leader the Republic would turn to in a military crisis.  In the course of events described below, he broke yet another tradition by becoming consul for five successive years in the 100s.

Most significantly, in 107 B.C., the Senate made a fateful mistake. As noted previously, Roman legions typically were raised from farmers who had at least some property. The demise of so many small farmers since the overseas Greek and Punic wars meant that this particular resource was nearly exhausted.

There was a revolt in North Africa, the details of which are not important. What *is* important is that the Senate gave Marius permission to raise an army on his own. He recruited especially from the urban and rural poor and landless, who saw the chance to enrich themselves with substantial plunder, and by allying themselves with Marius to have him reward them with land after the war was over. In other words, this was basically a private army whose primary allegiance was to their commander and not to the Republic.

And indeed, after Marius’s successful North African campaigns, as we will see below, his veterans formed a potent political bloc, the appeasement of whom could reap rewards for an able politician.

2. Saturninus and Glaucia

The Roman Republic might well have recovered from the violence associated with the Gracchi brothers. But the reign of terror by the demagogue Saturninus 20 years later started the true downward spiral of violence.

Saturninus was similar to Tiberius Gracchus, in that he was a “populare” demagogue, but he was much more prone to threatening and using physical violence, organizing mobs to intimidate adversaries and advance his causes. As a Tribune in 103 BC, he arranged for criminal trials of deposed “optimates,” had the Assembly pass a law estalishing a permanent corruption and treason court, and along with Glaucia, proposed land grants for thousands of successful legionnaires of Gaius Marius (more on him later), organized a mob to prevent the election of an adversary as consul.

His ally, Gaius Glaucia, a populare Senator, was elected a praetor in 100 BC. He tried to revive the coalition of Gaius Gracchus by offering a similar program benefiting the urban plebaiens, rural farmers and Equestrians, Italians, and legionnaire veterans. Unfortunately for Saturninus and Glaucia, once Marius’s soldiers got their land grants, neither they, nor more importantly, Marius himself, had no further interest in helping with the rest of the populare agenda.

Saturninus ultimately organized another mob to try to keep himself from being expelled from the Senate. The Senate responded in 99 BC by appointing Gaius Marius dictator and authorized him to restore order. Marius arrested Saturninus, who was ultimately beaten to death himself by a mob. Glaucia was also dragged from atop his horse and murdered.

3. Marius and the Italian ‘Social War’

In 91 BC, consul Marcus Livius Drusus, a Senator, again proposed reforms similar to those of Gaius Gracchus. This appears to have been an honest attempt at compromise. Equestrians were offered membership in the Senate if they gave up commerce. He also proposed a new grain dole for the urban plebeians, and citizenship to the Italian allies. He was opposed by Lucius Crassus, who had been consul in 95 BC. Although Drusus appeared to have majority support in the Senate, he was murdered.  Afterward Crassus had all of Drusus’s proposals repealed. This sparked a revolt by the Italian city-state allies, as their attempts to obtain citizenship were always abrogated at the last minute by conservative “optimates” in the Senate, usually by expelling them from Rome on the eve of elections by the Assembly. (In other words, preventing “illegal aliens” from voting!).

Once again, the Senate turned to Gaius Marius, who was broadly a “populare,” to put down the rebellion. As noted above, he was called upon by the Senate to crush Saturninus and Graucia. In 98 BC he “retired,” but could not restrain himself from continuing to seek the spotlight.

To cut to the chase, Marius (who supported Italian citizenship) came through again, defeating the Italians in the Social War three years later, in 88 BC, but the Senate had been sufficiently unnerved that the cost, to bring some of the Italian city-states back onside, was granting the Italians their long-sought citizenship.

4. Cinna, Marius, and Sulla

The violent convulsions which started in about 100 BC reached a climax in the 80s.

Sulla was an “optimate,” and another brilliant military commander who had learned at the feet of Marius. He was consul in 88 BC and was selected to lead a military expedition to Asia Minor. Once again, his troops counted on plunder and a post-war reward of land to follow him. Instead Marius, who had just won the Social Wars, had the Senate strip him of his command. In this Marius was aided by a wealthy politician named Sulpicius, who raised his own private army of 3,000 and handed it over to Marius. Fatefully, when Sulla and his legions learned of this, he called them together and asked them to declare their loyalty to his orders personally. Once again, with visions of plunder and land distributions from a successful campaign as inducements, they agreed. Sulla turned his army around, and for the first time in the Republic’s history, marched on Rome itself.

In response, Marius armed slaves to protect the city, and assassinated allies of Sulla.
Despite this, because Sulla had his legions behind him, and Marius had none nearby to command, Sulla won. He declared 12 men to be “enemies of the State” to be executed on sight, including Marius, who fled in true Huckleberry Finn style (too long to narrate), winding up in North Africa. Sulla declared that he sought to restore the “constitution of the elders,” including that the Senate must approve of any bill passed by the Assembly, and voting rights only for major landowners. To buy off the Equestrians, he added 300 of them to the Senate. Then, surprisingly, he left Rome and returned to his eastern military expedition.

As soon as this happened, yet another demagogue, Lucius Cinna, was elected consul in 87 BC and continued through 84 BC. By now, the tradition by which consuls only served for only one year was shredded.

Sulla had the newly elected consuls, including Cinna, swear an oath not to disturb his reforms. But as soon as Sulla left Italy, Cinna reneged. He organized his own partisan gangs, indicted Sulla for the murder of Romans, and proposed a voting gerrymander in the Assemblies that would give the new Italian citizens overwhelming power.

Needless to say, the urban plebeians who would suddenly find themselves outvoted reacted with fury and revolted. Cinna was stripped of his consulship (another violation of old norms) and fled the city. But he then raised his own legions of Italians and launched his own military attack on Rome, aided by Marius, who had returned to Italy with  6,000 troops of his own. Cinna was restored by the Senate as consul and had Sulla declared an enemy of the State. He also proscribed at least 14 prominent Romans, including the murder of 6 former consuls in five days.

Unfortunately for Cinna, the military genius Marius finally succumbed to age, and as he prepared an attack on Sulla in the east, he was murdered by a centurion as a tyrant.

The enraged Sulla marched his personally loyal legions on Rome yet again as soon as he finished his campaign in Asia. This time he proscribed hundreds of Romans, including a young Julius Caesar, who escaped execution due to the intervention of family friends. Many of those executed were simply large landowners whose assets were coveted by Sulla’s military allies. Sulla again “refounded” the Republic, most importantly stripping the Tribunes of virtually all their power, and forbidding them from holding higher office. It seemed that the “optimates” had finally triumphed. Sulla officially stepped down as consul in 79 BC, but continued to wield power behind the scenes until he died the next year of natural causes.

By 78 BC the Republic was dead on its feet. Virtually all of its norms of office-holding had been swept away. Political mobs using violence to get their way had become chronic. Even worse from a long-term point of view, prominent politicians of wealth were raising private armies that they themselves paid, and whose loyalty was to them rather than to the Republic, culminating in 3 separate military marches on Rome in short-lived dictatorships.

For the next 30 years, however, the Republic had a brief “Indian summer.” Plebeian agitation led to the reinstatement of most of the Tribunes’ powers, the continuation of the bread dole, and the integration of the new Italian citizens into public life. But the problem of politicians having the ability to raise powerful private legions remained, and Rome remained militarily defenseless against them, with no home guard with loyalty to the Republic itself.

(Continued in part 3)

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40 comments

  1. Lee

    Came across an article on the role of slavery in the demise of the republic: https://www.unrv.com/slavery.php

    The Roman conquests of Carthage, Macedonia and Greece in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC altered what was once a luxury and privilege for the ruling elite into the predominant factor driving both social and economic policies for the Republic as a whole.

    The mass influx of slaves during this time period first was a sign of great wealth and power, but later destabilized an already fragile Roman class system. Farms originally run by small business families throughout Italy were soon gobbled up and replaced by enormous slave run plantations owned by the aristocratic elite. Cheap slave labor replaced work for the average citizen and the rolls of the unemployed masses grew to epidemic proportions.

    These issues had a great destabilizing effect on the social system which had a direct role in the demise of the Republic. As the rift between Senatorial elite (optimates) and social reformers (populares) grew, the use of the unemployed, landless, yet citizen mobs were an overwhelming ploy grinding away at the ability of the Senate to govern.

    Though there are many factors involved in the Fall of the Republic, slavery and its effects rippled throughout every aspect of that turbulent time period.

    Also, under what theory of money were they operating at the time? In an example cited, the ability to go forward with a state funded reform requiring funding is made possible by a royal gift to the treasury. It would appear that the state was revenue constrained. If another limiting factor was the availability of certain metals, were mines state owned or the dispersal of their product regulated to control the amount of money in the system?

    The histories of famous names and their minions is all well and good but what’s up down in the dirt among the unwashed masses is also worth a mention.

    Reply
    1. Maurice

      The Roman establishment used slaves free work to ruin small Roman peasants, the very hardcore of the army. Consequently, barbarian mercenaries had to be used to defend the empire instead of the vanished Roman peasants (who by the way lost their plots of land to big owners).

      And guess what? The empire crumbled of its own weight, the establishment being unable to understand why.

      So much for the political acumen of the Roman establishment. Happy are we to have better establishments!

      Reply
    2. Adam Eran

      One other corollary to your observation that the slaves started farming plantations: the quality of Italian soil deteriorated. Previous Roman (small) farmers were of the permaculture variety, but the deterioration of the slave-farmed soil meant the Italian peninsula could no longer feed itself. They then had to rely on North African grown food. When the Visigoths conquered the Iberian peninsula and North Africa, they cut off that food supply and that was the end of Rome (See Peter Heather’s The Fall of the Roman Empire for a summary of the latest archaeology, and David R. Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations)

      One other historical observation: the American Civil War was largely fought over whether the slave plantations could farm the newly opened Western U.S. Slaves are not known for caring much about the soil they tend, so the pattern in the South was to farm until the soil played out, then move west. The Civil War was a result of the South’s need for new, fertile land, just as Rome depended on North Africa.

      As for the money…I’ve read that Roman coins’ value was more than the weight of silver. So the “theory” of money was that its usefulness in paying taxes and fees was significant in determining its value. Also: Coins from ancient Rome were discovered as far away as India. The farther they were from the taxing authority, the more closely their value corresponded to the weight of silver in the coin.

      Reply
  2. The Rev Kev

    An excellent description this if sad reading. You read this and you think, gee – the elites won. They stomped down heard on political change, murdered all their opponents and enlarged their wealth. The Senatorial Order won the big game. Well, no. It did not work out that way at all. In the following years there would be mass cullings of Senators through proscription and new Senators would have to be recruited to take their place. You want to know what it was like? It was like Game of Thrones where Cersei said “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
    The Romans were great organizers but in reading this you can see them come unstuck where player after player decides to play fast and loose with the rules and try to get away with murder – literally. And the order of the Republic broke down as a result. I agree where the author states that ‘Roman legions typically were raised from farmers who had at least some property’ and it was quite the occasion when there was a muster held. But not all of these farmer-soldiers were killed. Lots came back from the Punic wars to discover that their farm had been incorporated into the elite’s estates and that there was nothing that they could do about it.
    When Marius started to recruit these men for the new Legions it was a matter of necessity but it broke the bond between Rome and her armies. When it became obvious that Senatorial Rome did not care about these men and their families but that a General would, it did not take long for the men to decide where their loyalty lay. Imagine an American Army in Afghanistan loyal not to the Constitution but to a General like Petraeus. Yeah, it would be that bad. A Roman Trump could recruit an Army and do all sorts of damage to the Republic.
    I look forward to the third chapter of this series.

    Reply
    1. False Solace

      This is already happening. Billionaires have enough money to afford their own private armies. We see the CEO of Blackwater/Xi/Academi/whatever being courted by various politicians. Bloomberg thought it was neat that NYC’s police force ranked among the world’s largest armies. It won’t take long for billionaires to discover to the joy of conquest and overturn whatever parliamentary decisions they don’t like.

      Reply
      1. ChadH

        Cullen Murphy, in his book Are We Rome?, names privatization as a major factor in Rome’s eventual disintegration as a viable political entity.

        One core similarity is almost always overlooked—it has to do with “privatization,” which sometimes means “corruption,” though it’s actually a far broader phenomenon. Rome had trouble maintaining a distinction between public and private responsibilities—and between public and private resources. The line between these is never fixed, anywhere. But when it becomes too hazy, or fades altogether, central government becomes impossible to steer. It took a long time to happen, but the fraying connection between imperial will and concrete action is a big part of What Went Wrong in ancient Rome. America has in recent years embarked on a privatization binge like no other in its history, putting into private hands all manner of activities that once were thought to be public tasks—overseeing the nation’s highways, patrolling its neighborhoods, inspecting its food, protecting its borders. This may make sense in the short term—and sometimes, like Rome, we may have no choice in the matter. But how will the consequences play out over decades, or centuries? In all likelihood, very badly.

        https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/06/murphy200706

        Reply
      2. jsn

        It won’t take generals long to figure out MMT and turn on the billionaires.

        After a couple wars, the mercenary armies of the Renaissance city states turned on their Princes and made themselves the government.

        The corporate elite and our oligarchs can’t see that money derives it’s value from coordinated, collective action. Any good logistics officer would get it pretty quickly.

        Reply
  3. hemeantwell

    Thanks, Yves. Other than the then recent experience of the English Civil War I’m not familiar with the sources Hobbes drew on to argue for absolute sovereignty, but this would have served. In my reading about Rome it was painfully clear how weak the sources are, e.g. gauging elite interest in developing agricultural tech hinges on the writings of this or that patrician, standing in for a century or two. So it’s hard to understand what made elites so tight-fisted/avaricious about landholding. However, if land wealth converted to status and patronage power which, I suppose it would be of essential importance if conflict was always threatening to get bloody. But that gets self-reinforcing, fast.

    Reply
    1. mpalomar

      I thought political science gives Hobbes much of the credit for his exposition on the necessity of an absolute sovereign. Further it’s interesting that his proposed relation or contract between citizen/subject and sovereign provided the opening for Locke and others to opine on the social contract in a more balanced and equal arrangement.

      The foundational republic, with all its faults, was premised on citizen-farmer-soldiers, capped by the Cincinnatus mythology and its element of truth; by the time that model was replaced by professional soldiers, huge land holders and slave farmers the Republic’s number was up. Grain and the land to grow it on was always an issue and the cause or impetus of early expansion but by the end of the republic traders and politicians were importing grain from places like Sicily and as noted, using it as a patronage tool.

      Reply
    2. jsn

      What makes our oligarchs so avaricious and tight fisted?

      I think it’s the nature of unearned wealth, and no one ever “earned” a billion dollars.

      You can manipulate an asymmetry in economic power to shift the money sluice in your direction, but you can’t “earn” a billion!

      Reply
  4. Reality Bites

    Thanks for this series Yves. One quibble and comment. First, Pontifex Maximus was the head of the religious college. He oversaw the religious festivals and calendar. The Senate Leader was known as Princep Senatus.

    I actually think this part of the series could have been expanded. This was the period that truly killed the Republic even if the corpse marched on for awhile. Julius Caesar was actually related to Marius and cared for him after he had a stroke. He learned as much from Marius as Sulla did. When Sulla relieved Caesar froM from the job of Flamen Dialis, he is said to have regretted it and predicted that Caesar was 100 times more dangerous than Marius.

    Reply
  5. Joe Costello

    Most important things to think about in fall of Roman republic are first, the former distributed nature of the Roman economy in small farms was gradually concentrated and centralized into ever fewer hands with Rome’s imperial success.

    Second, was in the last decades the increasing dysfunction of Roman politics and the overturning of established procedures of governance, especially the addition of violence.

    Finally the use of the army as a domestic political tool, which however you want to define democracy/self-government, once the army’s in, it isn’t. It is one of the reasons American founders insisted the executive was Commander in chief.

    What’s interesting about today is what no one foresaw, the National Security State bureaucracy has become the tool for usurping an election, I suppose somewhere down our future path, if no reform, the troops will be brought in too.
    The Roman republic fell at the height of it’s economic and military power.

    Reply
    1. Lee

      I am leaning toward a labor arbitrage theory of collapse as can be inferred from the article I cite below, in which a lack of a material stake in a society’s fortunes breeds apathy, alienation, and hostility to TPTB among its citizens.

      Reply
  6. Lee

    Skynet seems to have gobbled up my comment so I’ll try again.

    Came across an article on the role of slavery in the demise of the republic: https://www.unrv.com/slavery.php

    “The Roman conquests of Carthage, Macedonia and Greece in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC altered what was once a luxury and privilege for the ruling elite into the predominant factor driving both social and economic policies for the Republic as a whole.
    The mass influx of slaves during this time period first was a sign of great wealth and power, but later destabilized an already fragile Roman class system. Farms originally run by small business families throughout Italy were soon gobbled up and replaced by enormous slave run plantations owned by the aristocratic elite. Cheap slave labor replaced work for the average citizen and the rolls of the unemployed masses grew to epidemic proportions.
    These issues had a great destabilizing effect on the social system which had a direct role in the demise of the Republic. As the rift between Senatorial elite (optimates) and social reformers (populares) grew, the use of the unemployed, landless, yet citizen mobs were an overwhelming ploy grinding away at the ability of the Senate to govern.
    Though there are many factors involved in the Fall of the Republic, slavery and its effects rippled throughout every aspect of that turbulent time period.”

    Also, under what theory of money were they operating at the time? In an example cited, the ability to go forward with a state funded reform requiring funding is made possible by a royal gift to the treasury. It would appear that the state was revenue constrained. If another limiting factor was the availability of certain metals, were mines state owned or the dispersal of their product regulated to control the amount of money in the system?
    The histories of famous names and their minions is all well and good but what’s up down in the dirt among the unwashed masses is also worth a mention.

    Reply
    1. hemeantwell

      As the rift between Senatorial elite (optimates) and social reformers (populares) grew, the use of the unemployed, landless, yet citizen mobs were an overwhelming ploy grinding away at the ability of the Senate to govern.

      It’s hard to parse causality here because the situation is so interactive. But this way of putting things tends to lose track of how the existence of the landless, who would have trouble becoming a proletariat because there wasn’t much industry to speak of, is what sets up the need for reform, and thus which sets the stage for their mobilization into mobs, aka assault forces, to be used by struggling factions who approach the question of landlessness with widely varying degrees of sincerity. I.e. do they actually get land or just a grain guarantee? And if they get land, will some landlord faction need to be offed in order to acquire it, or can they be moved into conquered lands? Gaul, here we come!

      I think we need to be careful about who gets included in the slave category. I believe that from time to time downward mobility for Romans could involve a slave-like status that supplemented the ranks of the conquered. This may have happened more in the imperial periphery and it may have gone on more in the later stages of the empire, when slave acquisition dwindled.

      Reply
    2. rtah100

      Enjoyable reading – probably more than you intended at one point because I think you meant “brownshiRts”. :-)

      Reply
  7. The Historian

    So far so good! This writer is following along with what most historians today believe about what happened.

    I do have a couple of quibbles.

    1) It was actually Marius and not Sulla that turned Roman troops against Romans first, albeit he did it at the behest of the Senate. So, note that it was actually the Roman Senate that called for using force against its own people and started the precedent of Romans fighting Romans.

    2) The general unhappiness of the people in Rome needs to be emphasized more because that was the crack that allowed men like Marius and Sulla to gain power; Marius used populism, Sulla used the traditional power of the elites who by this time were becoming afraid of the populists. The Roman poor were pitted against the freedmen, all Romans were fearful of their slaves, Romans were pitted against the Italians who wanted the same citizenship rights as Romans, the veterans were pitted against the landholders, etc.

    Greg Aldrete, a historian at UW at Green Bay asks an essential question in his Great Course Series on the Rise of Rome: Given that the Roman Republic was weakening, who did more to ensure its death? Maruis or Sulla?

    Reply
    1. animalogic

      Marius or Sulla? Tricky.
      I suppose Sulla’s two marches on Rome would be foremost candidates. Or Marius’ multiple consularships.
      What is interesting is the way luck & circumstances operate.
      Marius’ multiple consulships (7) were constantly renewed for the very good reason that 100,000’s of Germans were wandering around Gaul for years. That had already destroyed a number of Roman armies commanded by blue bloods. Rome was genuinely petrified.
      Similar, for Sulla. He marches on Rome, but can not stay to sort things out because Mithradiates has to be brought to heel. In his absence things go even further off the rails & demanding he essentially fight his way back to Rome on landing at Brundisium. (Incidentally the Rome troubles caused Sulla to conclude a hasty treaty — which allowed Mithradiates to be a pain in Rome’s side for more years)

      Reply
  8. Synoia

    I’m a bit puzzled at publishing this series on NC.

    Most of this history, if not all, was covered by many authors over many years. What is new with this new Author, and is it relevant to our situation today?

    The Cynic in me believes backstabbing is much the same, as are faction, concentrations of wealth, and use (or misuse) of Power.

    Is, perhaps the rational to demonstrate “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?”

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      “Minatory” is a good word. The Empire uses troops against citizens, for example the “dispersal” of the Bonus Marchers. Got to love the Wiki thumbnail that characterizes the Bonus Marchers vs. the IS Army as “Belligerants,” as they do e.g. Arab states vs. Israelites for the entry in the Six Days War.

      The Imperial military supposedly is constrained by the Posse Comitatus Act, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Posse_Comitatus_Act, barring use of the military to enforce government policies as against the “civitates.” But the military has on its bookshelf an “operational plan” or OPLAN that extends and grows “Operation Garden Plot” under which military forces can be used to “suppress insurrections” like the fun and games around the 1968 Democratic Convention and urban outbreaks in Detroit and Watts and such.

      I’m looking forward with trepidation and loathing to the possible reprise of “politics as a violent contact sport” along the lines described in this article. Not sure how well Pelosi and McConnell and others would do when the long knives are drawn.

      Naw, assassinations and proscriptions could never become a part of America’s political scene. Never.

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        “Naw, assassinations and proscriptions could never become a part of America’s political scene. Never.”

        Hah!

        My fear is that the current security state will overreact and just start arresting and killing people en mass if anything like the riots of the 1960s and early 1970s happen again. Even the peaceful mass protests of those days could cause such a reaction.

        Americans being Americans, the United States has had political street violence with concurrent suppression. Even Senator Joseph McCarthy’s McCarthyism or HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) was not a one time event. However, most of the leadership during those times had been exposed to traumatic events that gave them a different measure of what was disastrous and what was not. That gave them a different measure of what was the appropriate response to any crisis.

        What will our wealthy, comfortable, coddled elites responses be to any protests, forget violent protests, just peaceful ones on the scale of the past? How would they act towards the Anarchists of the early 1900s or the Weathermen of the 1960s today? We already have a society cranked up on fear because the elites are using the message of “Fear Everything! Terrorism! Deplorables! Guns! Something Darn It!” because that is how they can manipulate others including themselves.

        I am truly wondering when the next wave of assassinations, of unfortunate police homicides will occur again as it in did in the 60s and 70s. Perhaps child porn will be found in Bernie Sanders’ or some other troublesome person’s laptop.

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          Doesn’t have to be child porn. Read an article by an activist some time ago who thought that here laptop was doing some not-normal stuff. She had a computer-minded friend dig into it and he found buried deep in her files three government documents that were classified as top secret. If it ever became needful to arrest her at some time, you would be hearing on the news how so-and-so was arrested and was found to have classified documents on her computer she had stolen.

          Reply
    1. JBird4049

      I really hope not. Our republic is still somewhat functional and has gone through serious crises before that could have destroyed it. Unlike the Roman Republic we have managed to slip through them. We could easily be destroyed by our current march of folly, but there is still some time left.

      The scary part is not knowing just how close we are to midnight. It does make life interesting does it not?

      Reply
  9. Susan the Other

    I’m warming up to this. Today I appreciated Newdealdemo’s parenthetical comments. I think we gave the Romans more credit for being civilized than we should have. They were tribal all the way. Smart but tribal. I must have missed it, but where did the villa-ensconced elite come from – were they originally Etruscan? And whence the Etruscans? Or were they imports from Egypt and the Levant? From Greece after the Siege of Troy. I’m tenuous about the currents and tides of people and interests. And why some were peaceful and some were aggressive and looney. And why nascent democracy failed time and again.

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    1. JBird4049

      IIRC, no one knows just where the Etruscans originally came from. Their language was something like Basque which is a completely isolated language with no known relation to any others. It makes research on them difficult. Often something like the Rosetta Stone can be used as a start to figure out an ancient language, but if you cannot find another one it is just undecipherable gibberish.

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      1. JBird4049

        On Basque and Etruscan, I might be unclear. They are not related to each other. They are just not related to any other known language especially to ones near by.

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        1. LarsX

          Much more is known about Basque since people speak it. Not enough remains of Etruscan to make many comparisons with Basque. The Emperor Claudius wrote a thirteen volume history of the Etruscan language, but alas, the work did not survive.

          While we’re at it, I believe the Latin term the author used “mas maiorem” is correctly spelled “mos maiorum.”

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  10. Joe Costello

    lack of economic independence key, that was what Jefferson learned from it and why he promoted a Yeoman farm republic. He said someone who didn’t have economic independence couldn’t have political independence, that is be a citizen – more/less a direct quote.

    The small guys all lost their farms because of constant warring, growing debt, and failing to farm. But they were all citizens so moved to Rome, where they voted in people in the last decades who subsidized grain from N. Africa which Rome got with conquering Carthage, but from other areas too. Also they got subsidized housing, and then of course those who threw a good party – the circuses etc. The Newt Gingrich, who was supposed to be an historian. used to say the welfare state had been developed for the first time in last 100 years, hah the last decades of the Roman republic were a massive welfare state.

    The landless citizens who flocked to Rome were the infamous “proletariat”, who while far from a revolutionary class, could certainly be counted on to mix it up and always for the well timed riot, even burning down the Senate house in the republic’s final years.

    debt-relief was one of the bills Caesar enacted when he got to power, though much less than everyone wanted. A great book on the republic’s history is Mommsen’s History of Rome, written mid -19th century, very big at time, but disappeared middle of 20th for some reason.

    Mommsen’s best quote when asked why he didn’t write an account of Imperial Rome, “It’s too depressing.”

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  11. JBird4049

    I also think that one of the reasons for the violence was that the dispossessed did not necessarily want cheap housing and food. They wanted land or a trade that they could get a living from. If you, or your parents, had a farm for generations, or a shop or did blacksmithing, would you be happy being on the dole? How unsatisfying it would be. Being forced into welfare and then mocked by the very people who did that for doing so could make some unhappy.

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  12. Synoia

    Both the Romans and their successors, the Byzantines, had difficult Governmental succession processes.

    It’d not yet clear that our modern (gamed?) elections are better. Some would like to believe that our current system is not susceptible to “Roman Rot”

    That belief looks shaky, but I suppose the rot is only fully revealed when looking back, too late to make corrections.

    But, the Roman system persisted until the fall of Constantinople in the 1400s, and, even then one could argue that the Church & Byzantium continued their momentum through the Holy Roman Empire to the 20th Century empires to their WW1 destruction; and possibly the “Baton of Empire” then passed to the US — and may be in the process of being passed to China.

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    1. JBird4043

      The Roman Empire did last a long time, but a fantastic amount of resources including lives were spent insanely; first in stealing it from the majority which increasingly were fellow citizens after the first century; then in the many, many assassinations, massacres, coups, and civil wars trying to get or keep the purple.

      The Vandals found invading Italy easy because, unlike in the three Punic Wars, almost nobody wanted to fight them. Sometimes they were interested in joining instead. Most of rural populations were landless peasants, serfs, or slaves working the vast plantations of the tiny ultra-rich upper classes. Internal trade was permanently disrupted after the Crisis of the Third Century. I forget how many emperors were around in one year. Three or four maybe. Then there were the Byzantines who also similarly crazy although perhaps not as bad as the earlier regime. Still weaken themselves greatly.

      From what I understand, nobody wanted to end the Western Roman Empire. Not even those that conquered it. The people in charge of the various areas of that empire wanted to keep it going. They probably wanted to improve it. Perhaps bring it back up to what was. The Byzantines thought it was still was, or at least should be, part of the whole empire at the time.

      I think that there was not enough left to reconstitute into a viable civilization. There were still millions of people, even cities, but when you have gotten to were you cannot even repair something as fundamental as the city of Rome’s aqueducts, what’s left?

      Which, circling back to the problem of succession, and ultimately resource distribution, is that too much of everything else went into the creating, maintaining, and bribing the Roman legions; trade, infrastructure, education, everything needed for even a small village, forget a civilization of fifty million people, was ignored. That is also why you can see the quality of everything going down the older the empire was.

      So at least the Western Roman Empire was just a facade for something called an empire and still considered just one half of the “Roman Empire” but really was already dead like a gangrenous limb before the last emperor was deposed.

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      1. Susan the Other

        very interesting. and above too about “too depressing.” Escobar today has a piece out about the neoliberal mess in South America. He quotes David Harvey (?) referring to neoliberalism as “accumulation by dispossession.” A very old story.

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  13. 1 Kings

    Are we gonna let the Asian King just happened to die without an heir so he willed his everything to the Roman treasury bit..?
    Really? That is very convienent.

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  14. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Brilliant essay from Angelo Codevilla: [Can’t get link code to work]

    https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/culture-news/292763/angelo-codevilla?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=f2f322bd4c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_24_12_51&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-f2f322bd4c-207541509

    In place of the America that is described in history books, where Henry Clay forged his compromises, and Walt Whitman wrote poetry, and Herman Melville contemplated the whale, and Ida Tarbell did her muckraking, and Thomas Alva Edison invented movies and the light bulb, and so forth, has arisen something new and vast and yet distinctly un-American that for lack of a better term is often called the American Empire, which in turn calls to mind the division of Roman history (and the Roman character) into two parts: the Republican, and the Imperial.

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