Roman Republic & USA
- Roman Republic And The USA
September 29th, 2010
Caesar said that he liked having a reputation for leniency because it inclined his enemies to surrender rather than fight.
(From Page 50 Lintott "Violence in Republican Rome")
Cicero said "For when we see or hear of some atrocity being committed every hour, even those of us who are most gentle by nature lose all sense of humanity from our hearts, when distress is ever present."
(Ibid Page 51).
When Caesar gave his apologia for starting the civil war he claims he had to fight because he and the tribunes had been treated unjustly. Since the rights of the tribunes depended ultimately on the self help of the Plebs, and as their protector it was Caesar's duty to fight. I am paraphrasing Lintott here. in his book on Roman Violence.
In the Roman Republic the principal of self help was one that was developed in a society without a police force. Amicitia, vindico, ultio, tutus and dignitas or friendship, vengeance, punishment, expediency, and dignity all played into how justice was achieved. Force could be used to achieve ones goals as long as they did not go overboard in disrupting the civil peace and god forbid, endanger the Roman Res publica. The Civil Wars did that and led to the imperial reign of Augustus.
Romans saw nothing wrong with seeking to punish those who had personally wronged one. It was the private realm crossing over into the public realm that from the time of the death of the Gracchi brothers had gradually gathered steam until the final destruction of the Republic in the Civil Wars. Although at the time it may not have seemed so to the average man in the street. For them it was just the way things were done. It was the complaints of the weary soldiery or the famine aggrieved citizenry in times of prolonged warfare that meant something to the man in the street or the plebeians.
For the patricians, the civil wars meant the end of a way of life. Property and lives were proscribed by the Second Triumvirate seeking revenge for those responsible for the death of Caesar, the man of the people. This Lex Titia was the final end of the Republic when critical powers of the Senate and the Consuls were given to the Triumvirs.
Ultimately the end of the wars with the victory of Octavian resulted in a relieved citizenry. No major rebellions came after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra. The consensus seemed to be that the smartest dog had won and the Romans were all about success in battle. With the capture of Egypt, Octavian had the biggest prize of all, the wealthiest nation of Alexander's descendants. The party was on and Rome was enriched with the wealth of the spoils.
What does this have to do with America in the 21st century. Well there was a time when to be considered an educated person you learned Latin and Greek. Tacitus, Livy, Herodotus, Thucydides, Virgil, and Horace were all read. A well educated person could quote from these Greek and Roman Classics and reference them in poetry and literature. Skill in rhetoric was the ultimate goal of education in the classical world and again in the early days of America when the colonies were considering independence.
Excerpts from an article on the Founding Fathers of the USA:
"The typical education of the time began in what we would call the 3rd Gradeat about age eight. Students who actually went to school were required to learn Latin and Greek grammar and, later, to read the Latin historians Tacitus and Livy, the Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides, and to translate the Latin poetry of Virgil and Horace. They were expected to know the language well enough to translate from the original into English and back again to the original in another grammatical tense. Classical Education also stressed the seven liberal arts: Latin, logic, rhetoric (the "trivium"), as well as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (the "quadrivium")."
"These men," says Simmons, discussing the Philadelphia debates in 1787, "had read and digested Polybius, Aristotle, and Cicero, and they used the ancient luminaries to frame and illustrate their ideas before the assembly These heated yet erudite debates, along with the Federalist Papers, fairly pullulate both with subtle classical allusionswith which Madison, Hamilton, and Jay assumed readers to be tolerably familiarand direct references to the leaguesAmphictyonic, Achaean, Aetolian, Lycianformed by the ancient Greeks in order to achieve political and physical security."
Not only are the Federalist Papers replete with classical references, but the pseudonyms each of the writers chose for themselves were all taken from the writers of classical times."
More can be found below.
I was unfortunate. In my elementary school they stopped teaching Latin and Greek. I was taught Spanish, at the time a language I had no use for. Who spoke Spanish in 1960's New England?
I am attempting to read this "Violence in Republican Rome" and it is replete with quotes in Latin. I can barely grasp what the author is saying. It was written in 1968 at Oxford, when apparently the modernist revolution in languages and education hadn't arrived. I pick up a current history book and it is a rare phrase that is left in the original Latin or Greek.
So what am I saying? The age of giants has left us behind? Are we like Augustian Rome, a sham Republic? It seems so. We have entered our own imperial period, or perhaps we are about to. The Roman Republic lasted in our eyes about 500 years. In Roman eyes it ended with the fall of Rome, or perhaps Constantinople. But the ideals of the Republic lingered on and people through history have looked to Rome and Greece as models for democratic and republican governments. Certainly the founding fathers did. It would behoove us to look to history and the lessons of that time when Caesar crossed the Rubicon and defending the people from the elites destroyed the Republic upon which the freedom of the Roman People depended as faulty and creaky as it was.
Are we about to see the same happen here? Or has it already happened. Are we a Republic only in name? Many are those who call this nation an oligarchy from both the right and the left. The parallels are not exact, but they could be close. Rome kept a proforma Republican government for centuries after it had no longer existed, at least in modern eyes. The consensus was that if it worked then don't knock it and it worked for over 1000 years. That is a hell of a long time. The USA has only existed for 234 years as an independent entity.
It is an interesting subject. The fall of the Republic. There was for centuries the belief that a King was the only defender of the liberties of the people that could be relied upon. The theory was that someone had to be above the `interests' to defend the people and only a king could do that. Interesting how that theory has come into disrepute ever since the Americans hung old King George in Effigy. Even before that when King Charles lost his head. The modern world is built upon the shoulders of the generations before us. We cannot forget that. If we are to keep a republic, socialist or capitalist, either system, but with rule by the people then the `interests' cannot be allowed to prevail. By interests I mean the corporate elites. Otherwise we might as well have a king and trust in his ability to defend our rights.