Alexander Lives!

(This piece is being published again in order that the participants at my talk on alternative history can read the full text on the alternate Alexander; a new post will take its place in a week or so.  The names in bold type are historical characters; for clarity the Greeks are given their original royal cognomina, though they do not apply in this history. Alexander’s son, born after his death, was named Alexander [IV]; here is named Philip [III].)

Our boy in fighting trim

Our boy in fighting trim

 

……..Once the fever had passed, Alexander’s first act was to order the construction in Babylon of a massive new temple of Marduk, whom he believed had saved his life. He then dispatched Craterus to take over the governorship of Macedon and Greece from the aging Antipater and made further arrangements for the training of 20,000 Persian youths brought west by Peucestas. The already planned expedition to circumnavigate Arabia then got underway, with the King accompanying the fleet, which would keep the land forces supplied. But the heat was debilitating, especially for the army, and it rapidly became more difficult to gather food and even water. Reaching the point where the Arabian Peninsula turns south and west and getting a better idea of just how big Arabia was, Alexander created a smaller squadron of ships, provided them with all the supplies that could be spared and sent them on. He meanwhile led the remaining forces back to Babylon, a march that many said outdid the Gedrosia in hardship.

Babylon

Babylon

Alexander and Craterus in their younger days

Alexander and Craterus in their younger days

Roxane and with her son Philip

Roxane and with her son Philip

Back in the capital the King was pleased to discover that his Bactrian wife, Roxane, had delivered a boy, whom he named Philip after his father, to the delight of the older Macedonian veterans, who were unenthusiastic about Alexander’s Asian ways. He attended to the administration of the Empire and the training of the new Greco-Persian units, one of those Asian programs so disliked by his soldiers. Towards the end of the year he traveled to the Phoenician coast to inspect the new fleet being assembled in the Mediterranean, then spent the winter in Alexandria, indulging himself in ordering new temples built around the Hellenic world, including a splendid monument to his father in the ancestral Temenid royal burial grounds in Aegae.

The royal tombs at Aegae

The royal tombs at Aegae

In the spring of 322 Alexander got word that his tutor, Aristotle, had died, and he ordered a period of mourning throughout the Greek world. He also dispatched a squadron of ships south in the Red Sea to meet the expedition coming from the east and spent most of the year mustering forces and supplies for a march west along the African coast. The Greek cities in Sicily, which had congratulated him on his return from the east, were now beginning to make dire predictions of what threats would emerge should the Carthaginians seize the entire island and consolidate their position there. The King, who had always wanted to bring all the Greeks into the Empire, agreed and began preparations for an expedition against Carthage. Meanwhile, Craterus was compelled to take an army north to deal with the Paeonian tribes that had renewed their traditional raiding south into Macedon.

Alexandria (Egypt)

Alexandria (Egypt)

The African army began its march westwards in the spring of 321. The coastal towns of Cyrene had submitted to Alexander when he entered Egypt a decade earlier, but the heat and constant need to feed and water his forces without devastating the area’s inhabitants meant fairly slow progress. At the site of modern Benghazi the King left a force to build yet another Alexandria and continued westward along the coast with the bulk of the army and navy, driving into the territory of tribes nominally allied to Carthage. Sandstorms and constant harassment by the desert tribes, who seemed to spring out of nowhere, slowed progress greatly, however, and with growing supply problems Alexander decided to turn back and winter at the new Alexandria Kyrenaea. The western desert had proved a much greater challenge than the Sinai had back in 332.

During the winter the King learned that the fleet sent around Arabia had sailed up the Red Sea to Egypt, and he ordered that bases be established along the route to facilitate trade. He had been sending out mounted units to reconnoiter the African coast, especially regarding water supplies, and contact the tribes along the route. With the treasure of the old Persian Empire at his disposal buying the Libyans away from Carthage was easily done, and when the army was ready to march in the spring, he sent to the Punic capital demanding an alliance and the evacuation of their troops from Sicily. Their answer, delivered a few weeks later, was a surprise raid on Alexander’s fleet, during which his transports suffered heavy damage and his Phoenician crews revealed an extreme reluctance to attack their Punic cousins.

A rooky trireme going into battle with its mast still up

A rooky trireme going into battle with its masts still up

Triremes under sail

Triremes under sail

Sending the Phoenicians back to Alexandria with instructions that new crews and more warships and transports were to join him as soon as possible, Alexander characteristically moved quickly, trusting his new Libyan allies to provide information about the enemy and the land. By summer’s end he had reached Lepcis Magna, well into Carthaginian territory. The extremes of heat and cold had once more taken a toll on his army, and he decided to rest here where supplies were plentiful and await the reinforcements coming by sea. Soon enough the Carthaginian navy reappeared, this time in greater numbers, and Alexander was forced to beach his supply vessels and guard them with troops while his outnumbered and out rowed warships were so roughly handled that they were soon fleeing and heading for the shore. The enemy fleet departed, and the next day the King sent the surviving naval units east to meet the reinforcements and continued the march to Carthage. Despite the naval defeat morale was high, since the men knew that if the King could take an army though the Hindu Kush, he could certainly traverse this region.

A week’s march from Carthage his way was blocked by the enemy army at Bararus. The force was larger than his and composed of Libyans and mercenaries, most of them veterans from the Carthage’s Sicilian campaigns, and cavalry from Numidia. Ptolemy Soter suggested that the King simply buy the army from its Carthaginian leaders, but he replied “I will not purchase a victory.” While some of the King’s newly raised units performed poorly and his smaller cavalry force had a time of it with the Numidians, his Macedonians and Greeks broke through the enemy center, at which point the Numidians fled and the subject and mercenary infantry surrendered. Alexander promptly hired the mercenaries and gave the Libyans the option, eagerly taken, of joining his army.

Ptolemy Soter

Ptolemy Soter

Within a month Carthage and the other Punic towns had surrendered. Knowing that he could not yet deal with their navy, Alexander had offered terms that left the Carthaginians in possession of their emporia, excepting in Sicily, and their commercial empire, but they were bound in an alliance. They in turn supplied ships to transport Alexander’s disabled troops east and to find his long overdue fleet, which in fact had turned back due to storms. He meanwhile continued west to accept the surrender and alliance of the Numidian king, who agreed to supply cavalry to the King’s army. Taken once more by his pothos, his “longing,” which had compelled him to cross the Danube and the Gedrosia desert, Alexander wished to continue on to the Pillars of Heracles, named after his ancestor, but Ptolemy and the other Companions managed to convince him that after three years on the march he needed to return to the heart of the Empire.

The Pillars of Heracles

The Pillars of Heracles

In 317 Alexander was back in Babylon, once more replacing failed governors, as he had in 324 upon his return from the east. Later in the year he returned to Pella for the first time in seventeen years, there to meet his mother, Olympias, and host massive banquets celebrating the Macedonian achievement. He also celebrated by taking a small army into Illyria, which had been conspiring with the Dardani to invade northern Macedon. Completely surprised, the Illyrians were easily defeated, and the King established a chain of fortresses to watch over them. The following year he took a larger force north and was joined by several Thracian tribes eager to benefit from the campaign against the Dardani and Triballi, who were duly crushed and scattered. More territory was awarded to the Thracians, and Alexander settled old veterans in a new city on the Danube, Alexandria Istria.

Ruins of Pella

Ruins of Pella

Ruins of Pella

Ruins of Pella

The Queen Mother Olympias

The Queen Mother Olympias

The King decided in 315 to begin preparing an expedition to settle affairs in Sicily, where the removal of the Carthaginian menace had led to a destructive free-for-all among the Greek cities, Syracuse leading the way as the strongest player. A new fleet was ordered from the Phoenicians and the Athenians, who were reminded of the humiliation they had suffered at the hands of Syracuse a century earlier during the Sicilian expedition, and Alexander himself attended to training a younger generation of Macedonians and Greeks. Late in the year, however, word of trouble in India finally reached the west. An Indian adventurer, Chandragupta, having established himself along the Ganges, had engineered revolts in the northern Indus valley and was pressing Alexander’s one time foe and now ally Porus. Engaged in the preparations for Sicily, Alexander dispatched his Companion Seleucus Nicator with a largely Asiatic force with a strong contingent of Greek mercenaries.

Seleucus Nicator

Seleucus Nicator

Porus surrendering to Alexander

Porus surrendering to Alexander back in the day

Chandragupta

Chandragupta

Having intimidated the Italian Greek cities of Tarentum, Croton and Rhegium into alliance, in 314 Alexander, recovered from another bout of malaria, invaded Sicily, where Syracuse under the tyrant Agathocles had formed a coalition of Sicilian cities to resist the invasion. By 312 he had defeated several Greek armies and gained the entire island except Syracuse, which was put under siege. It took almost a year to take the city, after which Alexander organized the Sicilian cities into a confederation similar to that of the Greek cities in Asia Minor. Now, most all the Greeks, except those in Italy, were under Macedonian control, and Alexander began planning an incursion into Italy, where the fledgling Roman Republic was still dealing with the Samnites in the central highlands. Alexander of course saw this as another step in his dream of reaching the Pillars of Heracles.

Agathocles the tyrant

Agathocles the tyrant

Ruins of Syracuse

Ruins of Syracuse

Late in 311, however, the King learned that Seleucus had been unable to stop Chandragupta, whose forces were pressing Porus and threatening to seize the passes west into Afghanistan. Alexander determined, with no little enthusiasm, that it was time for him to return to India. The Macedonian-Greek forces destined for Italy instead moved to Babylon, where they were joined by newly raised Asiatic troops. The army spent the winter of 309/308 in Ecbatana, where Alexander discovered that the Scythians had poured across the Jaxartes and were plundering Sogdiania and Bactria. In the spring the King moved into these provinces and after months of pursuit finally drove the major Scythian force into a battle, where it was annihilated. He wintered in Kabul, where he was joined by Seleucus and the remnants of his army and informed that Porus had sided with Chandragupta. In 307 Alexander moved east, dividing the army into three contingents, as he had done almost two decades before. Debouching into the north Indus watershed, he once again faced Porus, who was once again defeated. This time, however, the Indian prince was sent west under guard, and the area was placed under the control of Seleucus, who was left with a substantial garrison of Greek mercenaries.

Once more Alexander built a flotilla and proceeded down the Indus, meeting Chandragupta’s huge army not far south of Porus’ kingdom. Thinking wistfully of the battles against the last Persian king, Darius III, the King took on an Indian army at least twice the size of his own and as at Gaugamela won a crushing victory. And once again the leader escaped, fleeing eastward. Alexander repeated his journey down the Indus, reestablishing garrisons in the major towns, and then followed the route west taken by Craterus years before. In 304 he was back in Babylon, where the news was uniformly bad.

He learned that two years earlier Antipater’s son Cassander had procured the assassination of Craterus and proclaimed Philip Arrhidaeus, the halfwit son of Alexander’s father, king of Macedon, asserting his pure Macedonian blood in contrast to Alexander’s son, who was only one quarter Macedonian. The King’s most able governor in Asia Minor, Antigonus Monopthalmos, had promptly marshaled his forces and marched on Europe, where he defeated and killed Cassander in a particularly bloody battle and having little choice, had the pathetic figure of Arrhidaeus executed. The King’s position in Macedon had been restored, but his long absence in the east and the coup in Macedon had led to the revolt of Syracuse and Carthage, which had regained its Sicilian fortress of Lilybaeum.

Antipater

Antipater

Cassander

Cassander

Philip Arrhidaeus

Philip Arrhidaeus

Antigonus Monopthalmos

Antigonus Monopthalmos

 

Alexander immediately moved to Pella, where he found that Cassander had executed his mother, Olympias. Overwhelmed by grief and anger dwarfing that following the death of Hephaestion in 324, Alexander killed everyone even remotely associated with Cassander and then took an army northeast to slaughter every barbarian he could lay his hands on. In 299 he invaded Sicily a second time, this time accompanied by his son, and after another siege captured Syracuse again in 298, this time to make the streets run with blood, seemingly a sacrifice to his mother. Carthage was next, and while an army marched from Alexandria, the King landed his Sicilian army to the west of Utica, his warships, led by the Rhodians, fending off attacks by the Punic navy. A Carthaginian army of Greek and Italian mercenaries was easily defeated, and united with the force from Alexandria, he besieged the Punic capital. It took the almost two years to take the city, and the final assault would be long remembered, as Alexander was treated to a stiff dose of Semitic fury. The devastated city was settled with Greeks and renamed Alexandria Hesperia.

Ruins of Carthage

Ruins of Carthage

It was now 295 and Alexander returned to Babylon to spend two years dealing with administrative problems and inspecting the new facilities being built at the head of the Persian Gulf. In 292 he dispatched his son Philip to occupy Kolchis and the southeastern shore of the Black Sea, while he traveled to Alexandria to attend to affairs in the “second capital.” The following year he again prepared for the invasion of southern Italy, moving his fleet and army to Epirus. He assembled a force of some 35,000 infantry and 3000 cavalry while making contact with the Samnites, the Greek cities in the south and the Gallic tribes settled in the Po valley. In 290 the expedition crossed the Adriatic with no opposition and landed at Tarentum, which had agreed to an alliance on the promise of new territory. Other Greek cities joined, seeking aid against the local Italic tribes, the Lucanians and Bruttians, and the King and received word that the Senones and Boii were preparing to cross the Appenines, but chastised by the just concluded war with Rome, very few Samnite communities revolted. The fleet went on to Messana to ferry a Sicilian Greek army to the mainland.

The Senate meanwhile had been negotiating with the Lucanians and Bruttians, offering them new lands to be taken from their traditional Greek foes, while Samnite loyalty was buttressed with promises of land in Apulia. Two legions and allies under the consul P. Cornelius Rufinus were sent north to overawe the Etruscan towns and join a Ligurian army hoping to acquire land from the Senones. His colleague, M’. Curius Dentatus, raced south along the Appian Way with two more legions, picking up some Samnite units along the way. A fifth, understrength legion was hastily raised and sent south along the coast to make contact with the Lucanians.

Dentatus telling the Samnites to shoved it

Dentatus telling the Samnites to shove it

In the north Rufinus marched to Arretium, which was being besieged by an army of Senones, which was obliterated in a set battle outside the city walls. Intimidated, the Boii hesitated, only to be overrun by the Ligurians moving east into their lands. Establishing a few key garrisons and leaving the Ligurians to sort things out, Rufinus headed back south. Almost 500 miles to the south the King moved his army to Thurii to confront a Lucanian horde converging on that city and defeated it with ease at the Battle of the Sybaris River, leading the major Bruttian tribes to open negotiations with him. Using his mercenaries as garrison troops and taking the meager forces of his Italian Greek allies, Alexander then began the march up the recently extended Appian Way, awed by the Roman engineering. To his surprise he learned that Dentatus had already passed Maleventum on his way to the Roman colony of Venusia. Leaving his Greek allies to straggle, he undertook the kind of forced march that had surprised Thebes forty-five years earlier, but he himself was surprised to find Dentatus and his army encamped south of the city. Never had he encountered a foe who could move as fast as he. Further surprise came when the consul refused to withdraw into the city though outnumbered by as much as a third. The resulting Battle of Venusia was a victory for Alexander, but while the legions could make little headway against his phalanx, they seriously cut up his Greek infantry before being flanked by his cavalry. Dentatus lost his life, and less than half his men made it into Venusia, which refused to surrender. With winter coming on the King returned to Tarentum and sent his son back to Macedon to gather more troops.

Venusia

Venusia

Via Appia

Via Appia

Appian Way

Appian Way

The following year Alexander sent the Sicilians up the western coast, while he again traveled the Appian Way, his army augmented by replacements from the east. Harassed constantly by bands of Lucanians, the Greeks met the now reinforced legion from Rome near Paestum and despite the presence of Macedonian officers were roughly handled and headed back south. The defenses of Venusia had been strengthened, and leaving a covering force, the King marched on Maleventum, where a gate was betrayed and the Roman garrison massacred. Continuing towards Capua, Alexander ran into three legions under the consul M. Valerius Maximus Corvinus, and the Battle of Caudium was fought. This time the Senate had dispatched all the cavalry they could find, but though holding out longer and actually damaging the phalanx, the Romans were sent reeling back to Capua, which the King prepared to besiege. The Senate began discussing negotiation, but the blindold censor Appius Claudius Caecus shamed them with his outrage that they dare talk peace while an enemy was still on Roman soil.

Appius Claudius chastising the Senate

Appius Claudius chastising the Senate

Maleventum

Maleventum

Caudium

Caudium

Meanwhile, Alexander discovered that the other consul, Q. Caedicius Noctua, was approaching Venusia with two legions from Apulia, and abandoning the siege of Capua, he rushed south to deal with the threat to his communications, passing Venusia before Noctua arrived. With his army damaged by two major battles, facing yet another Roman force and worse, learning of troubles in Asia, he made the hardest decision of his impetuous life and sent envoys to Rome. Exhausted, the Romans agreed to stay out of Sicily in return for the King’s evacuation of Italy. Alexander returned to Macedon, and the following year on his way through Thrace he succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 68.

Roman legions vs. Macedonian phalanx

Roman legions vs. Macedonian phalanx

The world held its breath, and Philip III succeeded his father as ruler of the oikoumene, the Greek-speaking world. The body was taken to Aegae, where the tribute of an Empire reaching from Numidia to India was spent to inter Macedon’s greatest king. Across this vast landscape Macedonian soldiers wept as they received the news of his death and consoled themselves with the thought that he was now a god, looking down upon them from the heights of Olympus. The greatest hero since Achilles was dead.

But not everyone grieved, and the new King was immediately faced with revolts from Sicily to the far east. Philip sent Antigonus’ son Demetrius Poliorcetes to deal with Sicily, while he moved east to deal with revolts by his governors in Media and Bactria and reached the Iranian plateau in 285. Media was easily pacified, but there he encountered Greek troops fleeing the occupation of the Indus valley by Chandragupta and learned that Seleucus had been killed. The King made a momentous decision and sent envoys to recognize Chandragupta’s conquest and Bactrian independence, deciding to withdraw the frontiers of the Empire west to a line from the Caspian Gates south along the eastern border of Persis. Seleucus’ son Antiochus Soter, was made viceroy of the entire Persian heartland.

Antiochus Soter

Antiochus Soter

Demetrius

Demetrius Poliorcetes

Back in Babylon in 283 Philip decided to move the capital to Alexandria and ordered the Old Royal Road west of Babylon refurbished and a spur built south to Egypt. With the Empire momentarily at peace he turned to domestic activities, especially Hellenization, and began a program of encouraging poorer Greeks to settle in western Asia, particularly Syria-Palestine and along the route to Babylon. Because of continued Macedonian resistance, his father’s experiment with joint Greco-Iranian units was abandoned, and Asian troops were henceforth used almost exclusively in the east. Despite calls by his more aggressive generals to revive the Italian campaign, the King decided to postpone it in favor of more consolidation. Then suddenly he was dead, killed when thrown from his horse in 280.

The heir, Alexander IV, was still in his early teens, and Ptolemy Philadelphos, son of the Alexander’s Companion of the same name, was established as Regent. Until his death in 262 Ptolemy continued to advise the King, even after he achieved his majority, but Alexander was not cut from the same cloth as his predecessors and fell into a life of indolence, the court filling with sycophants. The administration of the Empire fell upon the shoulders of its governors and viceroys, who began passing their power on to their own sons. Revolts, all stirred by Greek and Macedonian adventurers, were successfully suppressed with little direction from Alexandria. In 263 the viceroy in Macedon, Demetrius’ son Antigonus Gonatus, having spent the later 260s smashing Gauls on both sides of the Danube, foolishly decided to expand his power by “liberating” the Greek cities in Italy, which had by now fallen under Roman control. Experienced only in fighting barbarians, however, his poorly led army was twice defeated by the Roman legions, and the enterprise was abandoned. Intimidated by the Macedonian fleet in the Adriatic, Rome was content with repelling the invasion, but was now clearly eyeing Sicily, whose garrisons were beefed up by Antigonus.

Antigonus Gonatus

Antigonus Gonatus

Ptolemy Philadelphos

Ptolemy Philadelphos

Alexander died in 248 and was succeeded by his son Perdiccas III, who after three years of incompetent rule was assassinated, perhaps by his younger brother, who succeeded him as Philip IV. Philip is generally considered the last of the great Temenid kings, and during his long reign the Empire was as united as it ever would be. While he confirmed the position of many of the governors inherited from his brother, he attempted to regain control of the offices, fearing any long tenure of power could provide a dangerous local power base. Unfortunately, that was already the case in Macedon and Babylonia, and for all his ruthlessness Philip hesitated plunging the Empire into civil war and tolerated the powerful Antigonid and Seleucid families. He signed a treaty with Rome delineating spheres of influence: Spain and Gaul, where the Romans already had colonies, would be off limits to the Empire, and while both parties were free to send raids into the area north of the Alps and the Adriatic, neither could establish any permanent facilities. Apart from punishing various barbarians off the northern and eastern frontiers and an expedition up the Nile, he refrained from serious military operations and oddly, patronized the arts.

Incredibly, Philip ruled until 199, dying at the age of 80, still loved and feared by his subjects. He had outlived all his sons, and a nephew took the throne as Alexander V. Trouble began almost immediately. In Pella Philip, grandson of Antigonus Gonatus, contested the succession, asserting that the Macedonian troops did not accept Alexander, and in 198 he began moving forces into Asia Minor, replacing the local governors with his own men. Alexander mustered what forces he could and moved north to bar the Cilician Gates, summoning Antiochus Megas, great great grandson of Seleucus, from the east, where he was embroiled with the troublesome Parthians. Fortunately for the King, whose hastily collected forces would have serious trouble facing Philip, the Illyrians, quiet for several generations, poured into Macedon and more threatening, Syracuse was said to have appealed to Rome for liberation from the Macedonian yoke. Leaving what forces he could, Philip rushed back west and sent his fleet back from the Aegean to Sicily to block any attempt by the Romans to cross to the island.

Antiochus Megas

Antiochus Megas

Philip

Philip

Coming west, Antiochus affirmed his loyalty to the King, if only to see the rival Antigonids crushed, and 197 was spent clearing Asia Minor and raising new troops. The following year Alexander invaded Europe, while Antiochus returned to the east to deal with a Parthian invasion of Media through the Caspian Gates. The Illyrians had been subdued, but now outmatched by the King, Philip retreated into the Macedonian highlands and offered the Gauls land in Thrace if they aided his cause. This caused the Thracian tribes to enthusiastically support the King, and soon Philip’s Macedonians were deserting in ever increasing numbers. He fled to Italy and sought asylum with the Romans.

Alexander spent two more years in the ancestral homeland and the lands to the north, repairing the damage done by Philip and executing every member of the Antigonid family he could get his hands on. In early 193 came news of a usurper in Alexandria claiming to be a surviving son of King Philip and raising an army, his funds most likely supplied by Antiochus, now surnamed Parthicus. The following year the King easily defeated the usurper, who had been unable to secure Gaza and had remained in the Delta, but he was killed in the battle under suspicious circumstances. Alexander’s youngest son, still a boy, was proclaimed King as Alexander VI by the Macedonians in the army, while his eldest brother, serving as viceroy in Pella, was elevated as Philip V by his Macedonians and immediately began collecting an army. With a promise of autonomy he recruited Alexandria Hesperia and Numidia to his side, raised troops in Sicily and sent several delegations to the Parthians.

Antiochus collected his forces from his eastern frontier and marched toward Anatolia, while Philip secured the Ionian cities and cleared the Cilician Gates. Remembering the destruction of Carthage, the Phoenician cities declared for Antiochus, who had reached the upper Euphrates by 190. But the grand battle never materialized. From east and west came the news: the Parthians were swarming into Media and the Romans had invaded Sicily. Antiochus agreed to recognize Philip as the true King, and Philip in turn formally ceded all the territory east of the Euphrates to Antiochus and guaranteed his right to recruit from the Greek cities. King Antiochus I returned home to face the Parthians, the Phoenician cities submitted and Philip’s boy king brother was dead by the time his men reached Alexandria. Philip took his army back to Macedon, where he confirmed that the Romans, never very good at siege craft, were bogged down before the walls of Syracuse. Ignoring the lessons of a century earlier, he began assembling in Macedon forces from all over the Empire and demanded that Rome evacuate Sicily or face war. Delighted with being presented a casus belli and opportunity to deal with the threat across the Adriatic, the Romans declared war.

The invasion came in 187, after Rome spent the previous year securing its position in Sicily and dealing with problems in the Po valley. A new Roman fleet with new boarding tactics cleared the way across the Adriatic, and four legions were shipped to Greece. It took the Romans almost three years to break into Macedon, and there they met Philip at Dion in the biggest battle ever fought: P. Claudius Pulcher and L. Porcius Licinus led more than 40,000 men against Philip’s 55,000. By nightfall Philip and his Companions lay dead on the field, along with perhaps 25,000 Greeks and Romans. The King’s eldest son, now Alexander VI, fled with his remaining troops to Anatolia, where a number of revolts had erupted. The Romans declared the Greeks free and placed the exiled Philip on the Macedonian throne. The Empire had lost the homeland and all its European possessions.

The dynasty began a downward spiral. Alexander was assassinated in 183 while on campaign in Cappadocia, to be followed by Alexander VII, Perdiccas IV and Alexander VIII in scarcely two decades. Although the Romans kept Philip and his successor Perseus on a short leash during this period, a Gallic invasion of Anatolia and internal revolts, some prompted by Rome, were chipping away at the Empire. Adding to the troubles were the Seleucids, who seized control of Syria-Palestine when they were finally driven from Mesopotamia by the Parthians. By the middle of the century the Alexandrine Empire, once stretching from Numidia to the Indus, had been reduced to Lower Egypt, Cyrene and the fortress of Gaza and under the child King Philip VI was being governed by a constantly scheming coterie of advisors. Prematurely aged from his sybaritic life, Philip died suddenly in 132 and a nephew was elevated as Alexander XII. Within the year he was dead, the victim of a coup launched by a Sicilian Greek mercenary, who promptly proclaimed himself Sosistratus I, ruler of Egypt. The ancient Temenid dynasty was at an end.

Perseus

Perseus

In the century following the demise of Alexander the Great’s Empire the Romans slowly moved into the lands of the oikoumene, ending the second Antigonid dynasty in Macedon when its kings refused to stop meddling in Greece and then occupying Anatolia and Syria in order to prevent the Parthians from doing so. Thus, the Romans became rulers of the Hellenic world, and while the Alexandrine Empire had disappeared, the work of the Temenid kings in Hellenizing Anatolia, Syria-Palestine and Lower Egypt remained. The urban centers and even some of the rural populations of these regions were thoroughly Greek; even the curious and obstinate Judeans, having lost the most fanatic zealots of their invisible god in a failed revolt, were Hellenized. The Romans would preserve this inheritance for another half millennium and pass it on to Europe.

Finally, there has long been speculation about the course of Western history had Alexander the Great conquered Rome. The destruction of Roman power would certainly have left Hellenism dominant in the Mediterranean, but there is little reason to believe, given the history of the post-Alexander III oikoumene, that a Greek Mediterranean could produce the long-term stability that allowed the Roman Republic/Empire to establish classical civilization so well in western Europe that its core could survive the devastation of the barbarian migrations. And in any case, it was essentially Hellenic civilization that was passed on by Rome.

What a guy!

What a guy!

Advertisements

For Sale: Slightly Used Country; Needs Work

(Well, I certainly hope macho dentist Walter “Small Dick” Palmer is returned to Zimbabwe to enjoy a few years in one of their prisons or better, shot.)

 

The non-American readers out there may be a bit in the dark concerning the government of the United States, inasmuch as it is virtually unique among the great powers. (Well, in addition to electing some truly stupid people to office.)  Unlike the parliamentary systems in Europe, where the actual head of government, the Prime Minister (or Chancellor), is elected by the members of the assembly, the parliament, the US has a presidential system, in which the head of government (who is also head of state), the President, is elected by the people (well, more or less). The Prime Minister generally remains in power so long as he holds the support of the parliament, either through his party or coalition of parties, whereas the American President serves a fixed term of four years and can be reelected once. There are many variations on these two basic systems, but the result is that the US has a representative democracy very different from those organized along parliamentary lines.

A Chancellor

A Chancellor

The President

The President

A Prime Minister

A Prime Minister

One major difference is the essential separation of the executive from the legislative assemblies, the Congress, which means the President and his party may not control the legislative bodies (as is presently the case). Many feel this is something of a virtue, since the two branches can check one another, and given the composition of Congress these days, getting nothing done may not be such a bad thing.
On the other hand, the system lends itself well to an increasingly powerful executive, who does not depend upon the support of the assembly to stay in power, at least for the next four years. He can veto any legislation, and while his veto can be overridden, it takes a two/thirds vote in both houses of Congress, not an easy task. Congress can impeach and throw out the President, but this is extremely difficult: only two Presidents (Andrew Johnson and Bill “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton) have had Articles of Impeachment passed against them. In both cases the motives were blatantly political, and both were acquitted.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson

Meanwhile, the power of the Presidency has grown steadily, both because of the changing nature of the country and world in the last couple of centuries and because no political institution, particularly an executive, is going to surrender any power if it can help it. And crises like World War II and 9/11 always result in new powers that are virtually never given up – the President can unilaterally send military forces into combat and more recently, execute without trial anyone deemed an enemy, including American citizens. Further, the President can game the system established by the Constitution: Executive Privilege, for example, is routinely abused, and the Executive Order, whose Constitutional basis is vague indeed, allows him to circumvent Congress.
The other big difference is the fixed term, which means loss of popular support has no immediate effect on the incumbent. After the experience of FDR the President was limited to two terms, a wise decision (despite my admiration for Roosevelt), but no such limitation exists for the Congress, and big money, citizen stupidity and the power of incumbency almost guarantee lifetime tenure, especially in the Senate with its six year terms. And regularly scheduled elections mean non-stop campaigning and money-raising.  No country in the history of the world has a campaigning period even remotely as long or expensive as America now does; it is at present more than a year to the general election and the candidates are already out in full force.  Members of the House of Representatives serve only two years, which means these guys are already sniffing out new money and prostituting themselves the moment they are elected. The single most important event in the life of a Congressman is not the vote but the fund raiser.
Along with being familiar with British parliamentary government, the Founding Fathers were also steeped in classical history and looked to Greece and Rome for models of democracy. They rejected the Athenian democracy, in which the assembly had the absolute last word on everything, as too inclined to instability and mob rule and favored the Roman Republic, which was successful over a half millennium. The Republican government was in practice an oligarchy of wealth centered in the Senate, but it was structurally democratic in that the citizens, through their assemblies, elected and legislated. This might actually be a description of the American government, except that the American oligarchy of wealth is not a group within the government but rather individual billionaires and corporations, who are essentially interested in their own concerns. The Roman Senator was of course motivated by enhancing his image and influence, but for four hundred years that came from actually serving the state.

Just right (the Senate did not look like this)

Just right (the Senate did not look like this)

Too democratic

Too democratic

Besides, for all their democratic inclinations the economically successful men who wrote the Constitution did not completely trust the common folk. They knew what had happened to Athens. So, there would be a “people’s” assembly, the House of Representatives, where members would serve only two years, mimicking the amateur assemblies of Athens and Rome and insuring the body reflected the changing ideas of the common folk. The Senate would be more akin to the like-named body in Rome (and not so much the House of Lords), and serving for six years, the Senators would constitute a wiser and more capable group of legislators. (And also a somewhat less than representative body: every state has two Senators regardless of population.)
Further, the President (and Vice President) would not be directly elected by the often uneducated and easily misled people, but by electors selected in some manner by the states, presumably from the pillars of the community. There was apparently also some anticipation that the process would not always produce a clear winner, allowing Congress to make the final decision.
Finally, there was the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, which essentially states that there are areas where even the theoretically sovereign will of the people cannot go – at least without incredible difficulty. This of course limits the power of the people and makes the state less democratic, unlike fifth century Athens, where a majority in the assembly, which any citizen could attend, could pass any law it pleased. Period. Now, that is really putting your faith in the political wisdom of the people. I am, however, unwilling to trust my free speech to religious zealots, politically correct airheads, professional patriots and above all politicians.

The greatest political document ever

The greatest political document ever

Well, a marvelous and incomparable document, but it did not all work out as the Fathers had hoped. Parties rapidly emerged and the growing need for money followed, gradually producing more or less professional politicians (but not necessarily good rulers), even in the so-called people’s House. Gerrymandering, party power and economic clout conspired to make even a seat in the House a potential life-time job, for which one needed to continually campaign. Incidentally, in Republican Rome once the candidates were formally announced – only twenty-four days before the election! – a candidate seeking votes identified himself (as if the huge entourage were not a clue) by wearing an artificially whitened toga; it was candidus (lustrous white), and he was a candidatus.
For reasons not entirely clear to me – the winner takes all rule and the broad ideology of the parties are certainly important – the United States has essentially developed a two-party system. It is extremely difficult to achieve federal and even state office if you do not run as a Democrat or a Republican, and third party challenges seem only to guarantee one or the other of the two major parties wins the White House. This locks out differing ideas, since although there are factions within the major parties, they after all are parties, with a national party line. The parliamentary system provides a venue for new groups to appear and influence decision-making in the legislature, and the need to form coalitions schools the representatives in comprise, which is desperately lacking in the American system.
In the United States it is almost as if the Democratic and Republican parties were part of the governmental structure. They are the only parties to regularly hold state primaries, which are paid for by the taxpayers, even though many of those citizens will not be permitted to vote in them. Further, the two earliest primaries, which attract immense media attention, are in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are primarily rural, white and well off, hardly representative of the country as a whole. And Iowa is apparently packed with Tea Party and Christian screwballs, compelling the Republican Party to make stupidity part of its platform.
In fact, in some ways the United States is a one-party state. True, the underlying ideology of the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans is different, especially when their less moderate members are considered, so their legislative agendas differ. Yet, the basic concern of the vast majority of the politicians of both parties is getting reelected, which means raising money. There are a few, like Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, whose money comes primarily from the small folk, but this is extremely rare, and most all candidates are going to head for the big teats, which means billionaires and corporations, especially the latter. Granted, George Soros is not going to give serious money to a conservative nor Rupert Murdoch to a liberal, but corporations are not so fussy and will dish it out to anyone who might aid their business environment, which appears to include people in both parties.

Sheldon Adelson - part owner of the Republic Party and Israeli agent

Sheldon Adelson – part owner of the Republic Party and Israeli agent

Koch brothers - majority owners of the Republican Party

Koch brothers – majority owners of the Republican Party

George Soros

George Soros

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

The American democracy is being bought and sold every election cycle, while candidates who have accepted millions from this or that individual or business are claiming such does not make them beholden to the donor. Sure, multi-nationals love to throw away money.
How did it come to this? The Fathers created a wonderful document in the Constitution, one that with some revisions has carried the nation through two centuries of dramatic change in the world. They were on the verge of the industrial age and knew serious developments were afoot, but one thing they apparently did not completely fathom was the potential impact of marketing. In the eighteenth century marketing was hanging a sign outside your pub or placing a simple ad in a newspaper; candidates marketed themselves with rallies, speeches and broadsheets. As mass marketing developed in the twentieth century, especially with the advent of radio and television, politicians had no choice but to take advantage of it – and the cost of trying to get elected skyrocketed.
Further, large corporations began emerging in the nineteenth century and businessmen certainly appreciated the advantage of political influence, especially when the government began attempting to regulate them in the late nineteenth century. The development of multinationals has made matters worse, inasmuch as they control huge amounts of wealth and are to a good degree stateless. They consequently have even less reason to be concerned with the interests of any host county, and buying politicians, however self-serving, ignorant or destructive to the country they might be, is now part of doing business. What’s good for General Motors (or Exxon or Goldman-Sachs or Bank of America) is clearly not what’s good for America, but since the Supreme Court decided corporations are “persons” they are entitled to contribute staggering sums of money to candidates who will help them makes America a better place – for shareholders.

Some of the good folks whoPfizer.svg[1] are bringing you America:200px-Boeing-Logo.svg[1]Apple_logo_black.svg[1]250px-Bank_of_America_logo.svg[1]300px-Lockheed_Martin.svg[1]Microsoft_logo_(2012).svg[1]250px-Time_Warner_wordmark.svg[1]Koch_logo.svg[1]Halliburton_logo.svg[1]New_Walmart_Logo.svg[1]ING_Group_N.V._logo.svg[1] Monsanto_logo.svg[1]194px-General_Motors.svg[1]222px-Exxon_Mobil_Logo.svg[1]150px-Goldman_Sachs.svg[1]150px-General_Electric_logo.svg[1]
My mother country is screwed.

Stuff from Way Back #34a: We Had to Destroy the Empire to Save It

 

(This essay follows Stuff from Way Back #33: Roma, We Have a Problem.  A note on Roman names: Romans – at least the elites – traditionally had a base of three names, the praenomen, nomen and cognomen, as in Gaius Julius Caesar.  The praenomen was the personal name, usually abbreviated, and by the time of the Principate there were only about a dozen in common use.  The nomen was the gens or clan name, and the cognomen was originally a modifier of the nomen, but could become hereditary, in which case it indicated the particular family in that clan.  Other cognomina might be added to express some achievement, such as P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus.  This arrangement crumbled during the Anarchy, and in the Dominate nomina [or a modified form of them] were frequently employed in the place of a traditional praenomen.)

 

Against all odds the Roman Empire had survived the Anarchy, but the Late Empire or Dominate bore little resemblance to the autocracy that Augustus had established three centuries earlier.  Most important, the political stability that characterized most of the history of the Principate was gone forever, washed away by the civil wars of the Anarchy and the corruption of the military.  The Empire was now facing continually growing barbarian pressure on the northern frontiers as the great German migrations to the west and the south got underway, while the effectiveness of the army had plummeted, allowing incursion after incursion into the provinces.  Economically, the Empire was in ruins, as the tax base shrank from devastated farmlands and declining commerce, while the state resources consumed by the army continued to rise.  The Empire had become an unpleasant place in which to live, and it may be assumed that any sense of loyalty to the state, which was now seen as an oppressor, had disappeared.

Maximian

Maximian

Diocletian

Diocletian

But Diocletian did bring a measure of stability, and the empire was relatively free of internal strife for the next two decades.  Having assumed the purple in 284, two years later he made another Illyrian, M. Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, his co-ruler, who would look after the west while he took up residence in Nicomedia in the east.  Diocletian had determined that because of internal troubles and barbarian invasions the Empire was now too big for one man to govern, and in 293 he established the Tetrarchy.  Each Augustus appointed a Caesar, Galerius Valerius Maximianus for Diocletian and Flavius Valerius Constantius Chlorus for Maximian, the idea being that each Caesar would succeed his Augustus in an orderly fashion.

In a way the Tetrarchy was a return to Augustus’ original plan for succession – the Princeps would train his successor and associate him in power – but it is doubtful that this complex structure of four rulers could have worked even in the halcyon days of the early Principate.  It certainly did not in the wake of the Anarchy.  The type of man likely to be an effective ruler of the problem-plagued Late Empire was likely also to be ambitious and reluctant to share the ultimate power.  Further, the natural son of an Emperor was not likely to be amused if someone else was named his father’s Caesar.

Constantine Chlorus

Constantine Chlorus

Galerius

Galerius

When Diocletian abdicated in 305 and compelled a reluctant Maximian to do the same, the Second Tetrarchy quickly collapsed into a new civil war.  For a variety of reasons Diocletian decided to pass over the sons of Galerius and Chlorus as the new Caesars, naming Flavius Valerius Severus and Galerius Valerius Maximinus Daia.  In 306 Chlorus died after crushing an invasion of Picts in Britain, and while Severus succeeded him as Augustus in Rome, the army elevated Chlorus’ illegitimate son, Flavius Valerius Constantinus, to Augustus, thus opening the floodgates.  Maximian came out of retirement, and he and his son, M. Aurelius Valerius Maxentius, became Augusti in 306, turning out Severus and causing Galerius to invade Italy, unsuccessfully.  Diocletian himself attempted to negotiate a settlement in 308, retiring Maximian again, outlawing Maxentius and naming Valrerius Licinianus Licinius Augustus.  There were now six Augusti: Galerius, Constantine, Maximinus Daia, Maximian, who refused to stay retired, Maxentius, who refused to go quietly, and Licinius.  It was now necessary to have a program to keep track of the players.

Licinius

Licinius

Maximinus Daia

Maximinus Daia

Constantine

Constantine

Maxentius

Maxentius

Severus

Severus

It got simpler.  Maximian was murdered, and in 311 Galerius finally died, removing the major player from the game.  The following year Constantine formed an alliance with Licinius in the east and invaded Italy to take out Maxentius, who was allied to Maximinus Daia.  At the battle of the Milvan Bridge outside Rome, Constantine, a better general with a better though smaller army, crushed Maxentius, having sought the aid of the Christian god by having the Chi Rho (the first two letters of Christos in Greek) painted on his men’s shields.  For the first time a Roman ruler had appealed to the new god.

Chi Rho

Chi Rho

Now there were three, and in 313 Maximinus Daia, who had received no cut of Maxentius’ territory, attacked Licinius, was defeated and died of sickness.  Licinius began to intrigue against Constantine, but in the wake of inconclusive military action they reconciled and in 317 named their sons as their Caesars.  The showdown came in 323, when Constantine chased raiding Goths into Thrace, Licinius’ territory, and the eastern Augustus responded by launching a war, which ended the following year in Licinius’ defeat and later execution.

Constantine was now sole Emperor and would remain so until his death in 337.  During this period he continued and in some cases completed developments that had been underway since the Anarchy and especially since Diocletian.  The exclusion of the civil authorities from involvement in the military, begun in earnest by Gallerius during the Anarchy, was now complete, and the Senate had essentially become little more than a municipal council and a ceremonial and honorary association.  The autocracy had become an absolute despotism, and Constantine ruled by the grace of god.  He adopted the diadem and an oriental style court, replete with ceremonial procedures, titles and orders of preference, and what had originally been an unequal partnership between the Princeps and Senate was now a traditional Near Eastern kingship.

Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

The Imperial bureaucracy continued its rapid growth, as the state attempted to control every aspect of the lives of the Empire’s inhabitants, and as much as was possible for a pre-industrial society, the Roman Empire became more and more totalitarian.  In order to prevent land from going out of cultivation, farmers were legally tied to their farms, unable to escape the increasingly oppressive taxation.  These bound farmers, the coloni, would form the basis of medieval serfdom.  Occupations, especially farming, were made hereditary, turning the Empire into a vast social prison and creating a highly stratified society, in which inequality was institutionalized in the law.  The elites, state and municipal officials, soldiers and veterans, were the honestiores; virtually all the rest of the population constituted the humiliores, who were subject to more restrictive laws and more brutal punishments.

These arrangements of course seriously injured agricultural productivity and especially commerce, and while Constantine reformed the currency, there simply was not enough revenue to support the military without crushing taxation, which further injured the economy.  The Empire was running out of silver and gold, and Diocletian’s attempt in 301 to freeze prices was, as one might expect, a complete failure.  Constantine had to accept taxes in kind, laying another foundation for medieval society.  Further, the maintenance of the Imperial infrastructure had traditionally relied upon liturgies, the voluntary contributions of the municipal elites, but these men were being now squeezed by the increasing taxation, which compelled the state to make such contributions mandatory.  The result was the deterioration of the middle income class, especially businessmen, who were at the heart of the non-agricultural economy, and it became harder and harder to find individuals willing to serve in the municipal offices.

Major changes were taking place in the military sphere.  Constantine created a Field Army that could be rushed to any crisis in the Empire, further emphasizing cavalry, which formed the core of the new army, while for the first time in Roman history infantry took second place.  The prominence of horse was not just a response to the Persians, who had excellent cavalry, but also because of its mobility in dealing with threats.  Meanwhile, the frontiers were increasingly dependent upon fortifications and border troops that were little more than local poorly trained militias.  From the point defense of the Principate and the elastic defense of the Anarchy the Empire moved to a defense in depth, in which multiple lines of fortified points would slow any barbarian invasion, providing the Field Army the time to move to confront the danger.  Finally, more and more barbarians were being recruited into the military, especially the frontier units, and entire tribes were being given land within the Empire in return for their military services.  This development was to a great degree a response to the declining population of the Empire, who were desperately needed in agriculture, but it nevertheless boded ill for the future.

Late Roman "Heavy" Cavalry

Late Roman “Heavy” Cavalry

Traditional Roman Infantry

Traditional Roman Infantry

Late Roman Infantry

Late Roman Infantry

Regarding that future, two of Constantine’s achievements were momentous enough to mark major turning points in Roman history – and that of the West in general.  Because of the Persian threat and the fact that the major barbarian pressure was along the lower Danube, he perceived a need for a “capital” in the east, and consequently the ancient Greek city of Byzantium on the Bosporus was rebuilt in 324 as Constantinople, the “city of Constantine.”  Constantine could hardly know it, of course, but the existence of a “New Rome” would certainly help facilitate the later separation of the Empire into two states and the emergence of the Byzantine Empire, which would carry on a Greek version of the Roman tradition for another millennium.

The other was even more world shaking, the establishment of Christianity as the favored and then official religion of the Empire.  I have tended to be cynical about Constantine’s conversion (which took place on his death bed, a not uncommon occurrence), but the more I look into this (I have always found studying the Late Empire depressing.) the more I think his commitment to the Church was genuine.  Most of the army was after all polytheist, and it is estimated that by the fourth century Christians only comprised about ten percent of the population, a weak base upon which to establish a new imperial policy simply for political reasons.  The stories of visions in the sky and dreams may be discounted, but it may well be that the success of his somewhat desperate invasion of Italy and the victory at the Milvan Bridge convinced him of the power of the Christian god.  His various efforts to preserve the unity of the religion, particularly the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which officially defined the Church’s understanding of the Trinity, strongly suggests a man who is personally concerned about the faith.

Whatever his motives, his conversion resulted in every succeeding Emperor but one being Christian, and Christianity thus rapidly became identified with the state and emerged as the official religion under Theodosius (379-395).  Constantine himself was generally respectful of the rights of non-Christians, but given the exclusive nature of monotheism and growing power of the Church, it was only inevitable that future rulers would become more repressive.  The persecution of the pagani would in fact begin under Constantine’s sons.  (See also Stuff from Way Back #14: The New God on the Block and Stuff from Way Back #15: These Christians Are Really Annoying.)

Constantine gained the appellation “the Great,” certainly deserved, for like Augustus he was one of the few individuals in history who single-handedly and dramatically affected the course of events.

 

285-337 Dominate I

284-305 C. Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus (abdicated)

286-305 M. Aurelius Valerius Maximianus (abdicated)

286 Peasant revolt in Gaul

297-298 Persian War

301 Edict on Prices

303-304 Edicts against Christians

305-306 Flavius Valerius Constantius Chlorus

305-311 Galerius Valerius Maximianus 

306-337 Flavius Valerius Constantinus 

306-307 Flavius Valerus Severus 

306-308 M. Aurelius Valerius Maximianus

                           M. Aurelius Valerius Maxentius 

308-324 Valerius Licinianus Licinius 

310-313 Galerius Valerius Maximinus Daia 

                   312 Battle of the Milvan Bridge

313 Edict of Milan/Toleration

324-330 Foundation of Constantinople

325 First Council of Nicaea; Constantine adopts the diadem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

 

 

Green Eggs and Cicero

I was of course surprised to discover that US Senator Ted Cruz was a cum laude graduate of Princeton University; he must have missed the class on rational thought.  Remember, this is the man who read all of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham during a filibuster.  In any case, in a recent speech he balanced this, I suppose, by paraphrasing an oration of M. Tullius Cicero, the In Catilinam (Against Catiline), delivered before the Roman Senate in 63 BC.  Cruz quotes the opening passage (I.1-3) of the first of the four Catiline speeches, adding and removing words in order to modify the oration into an attack on President Obama, whom he believes is threatening the American Senate and the Constitution.

T. Tullius Cruz

T. Tullius Cruz

M. Tullius Cicero

M. Tullius Cicero

L. Sergius Catilina (c.108-63 BC) was a familiar denizen of the Late Republic, politically ambitious and an increasingly desperate extremist.  The almost five hundred year old Roman Republic was in its death throes, and little more than three decades after Catiline it would finally give way to the Principate, the military autocracy established by Octavian/Augustus (see Stuff from Way Back #26: Image Is Everything).  These are the final days of the Roman Revolution, which had begun in 133 BC with the attempted reforms of Senator T. Sempronius Gracchus, who understood that in the wake of the Hannibalic War (218-201 BC) and the rapid expansion into the wealthy Greek east Italy had undergone massive demographic change that required reform.  Unfortunately, the Senate had become corrupted and resisted any challenge to their authority, even the relatively minor changes proposed by Gracchus.

The result was the Revolution.  Gracchus resorted to more revolutionary – perfectly legal but unprecedented – tactics by appealing directly to the citizen assemblies, which had generally been content to ratify anything the Senate recommended.  His success drove the Senate to more radical resistance, and Gracchus and his supporters ended up dead in a “riot.”  But they had demonstrated it was possible to challenge the Senate, and as the struggle continued, reform was forgotten as politically ambitious individuals entered the fray on both sides for their own reasons.  Within a half century violence had become endemic in the political arena and was finally formalized by the entrance of the legions, and Rome experienced her first civil war in 83-82 BC, resulting in the effective dictatorship of L. Cornelius Sulla.

Sulla actually retired after destroying the opposition and strengthening the position of the Senate, but he himself was the perfect role model for new men seeking power.  Seemingly restored, the Republic was already dead, and the second half of the revolution, though still witnessing political battles centered in the Senate, was essentially a contest among incredibly powerful men and ultimately their armies.  In the 60s BC those men were Cn. Pompeius Magnus, riding an inflated military reputation, and M. Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome and political patron of the up and coming C. Julius Caesar.  In 60 BC the three would form a coalition to dominate the state, the First Triumvirate, which would lead to a civil war between Pompey and Caesar in 49-46 BC.

Catiline was one of the minor losers in this environment.  In 63 BC he failed in his second bid for the consulship (the two annually elected consuls were the highest state officials, able to command troops), and seriously in debt and apparently abandoned by Crassus, he was now desperate enough to form a conspiracy to seize control of Rome.  While his associates in the city created chaos and murdered prominent leaders, including Cicero, he would raise a populist revolt in Italy and march on Rome.  This plan was doomed from the start, since even had he succeeded, the inevitable result would be the return of Pompey from the east with his army to restore order, something Crassus and Caesar certainly did not want to see.

L. Sergius Catilina

L. Sergius Catilina

As it happened, the conspiracy was discovered, and Cicero, one of the two consuls, persuaded the Senate to pass the consultum ultimum (“last decree”), a controversial mechanism that in effect declared a state of emergency and directed the consuls to take extraordinary measures to protect the Republic.  Catiline fled to muster his insurgents in Etruria, while his co-conspirators in Rome were arrested, which led to a hot debate in the Senate regarding their fate.  For his own political reasons Caesar argued that as Roman citizens they could not be put to death without a trial, a constitutional point that swayed the Senate, but up popped M. Porcius Cato Uticensis (the Younger), a man so conservative that even most Romans considered him off the deep end.  (The Cato Institute is well named.)  He argued that the conspirators, who were obviously guilty, were no longer citizens because they had plotted against the government and the Senate had to take bold action to nip any insurrection in the bud.  The Senate was persuaded, and the prisoners were executed.

Cato the Younger

Cato the Younger

Cicero before the Senate

Cicero before the Senate

Cato was of course wrong.  Catiline by now had taken up arms against the state and could be legally killed, but the others had taken no action.  In following the advice of the Senate, which he was not bound to do, Cicero had grossly violated basic laws of the Republic.  The news of the executions, however, caused Catiline’s troops to begin melting away, and he was easily defeated by the other consul, C. Antonius Hybrida.  Catiline fought to the death.

Thus, Cruz takes the role of Cicero, defending the Republic, that is, the Congress and Constitution, from Obama, an American Catiline who is threatening the state, not with an army and murder but with executive action.  Paraphrasing a speech of Cicero, the great orator and defender of the Republic, is clever on Cruz’ part, but the analogy is stretched past the breaking point.  Granted Catiline was a populist, seeking to capitalize on popular dissatisfaction with inept Senatorial rule, but he intended to assassinate members of the Senate and seize Rome by military force, hardly in the same league with an executive action.  Cruz argues that the action would be unconstitutional because Obama would be creating law, yet George W. Bush did the same thing, tinkering with the existing situation, just as Obama claims to be doing.

And it must be remembered that the Republic that Cicero was defending in 63 BC was already dead, and the Senate had become a corrupt body, filled with toadies belonging to Pompey and Crassus.  Perhaps here the analogy is correct, since Cruz is defending a Senate filled with members beholden to corporate financiers.  Further, in the interests of expediency this Senate was willing to violate a basic constitutional right (though the Republic had no written constitution) of Roman citizens in the interests of national security, something of course that resonates with the entire American government.

Though an incredibly vain man, Cicero was eloquent, extremely intelligent and a patriot who preferred to die with the Republic rather than flee.  Ted Cruz is a joke, a man of little dignity.  It is impossible to imagine Cicero tying up the Roman Senate with an extended reading of Viridia ova atque perna.

viridia ova atque perna

viridia ova atque perna

Stuff from Way Back #29b: Roma Aeterna

The last and most critical reason depends upon how one understands life in the Roman Empire, and there is much we do not know about life in the rural areas of the provinces. I am, however, convinced that it was basically good, convinced especially by the belief that the Empire could not have been generally so stable and last so long were its inhabitants generally oppressed. This of course comes close to making a circular argument, but the evidence appears to support the contention that at least until the Anarchy life in the Empire for the average free person was relatively comfortable or at least acceptable. Imperial structures based entirely on fear are simply not stable over the longer run – consider the Assyrian Empire.

 
Strong evidence that the Roman Empire was not such a bad place to live lies in the fact that apart from the Jews the Romans essentially did not have to concern themselves with the revolt of subject peoples. This strikes me as an impossibility were the Empire held together only by fear. There were of course revolts, which were suppressed with great brutality, but they all occur in areas that were recently or incompletely pacified: Gaul in the 50s BC, Illyricum in AD 6, Germany in AD 9, Boudicca in AD 59, Civilis in AD 69, Mesopotamia in AD 116. Once an area had been controlled for perhaps a generation Roman rule was accepted.

 
The one exception was the Jews, who undertook two disastrous revolts against Rome, the results of which were to forever change (and improve) the nature of Judaism by ridding the religion of the temple and all the rituals and sacrifices characteristic of polytheism and allowing it to become more introspective and spiritual. The Jews were a special case inasmuch as their monotheism prevented them from being assimilated into the polytheist Greco-Roman culture of the Empire as were all the other subject peoples. Understanding this, the Romans granted the Jews special exemptions from such things as any obligation to the imperial cult and allowed them more local autonomy, but friction was impossible to avoid. It was not just the religion, which affected every aspect of their society, but also the fact that this religion was inextricably entwined with the idea of a national state, given them by god. This was one thing Rome could not grant, given the strategic importance of Syria-Palestine.

It didn't work out

It didn’t work out

Generally Roman rule appears to have been accepted, certainly once the generation of the conquest had passed. The provincials, a least in the towns and cities, were easily assimilated and ultimately Romanized. The highly urbanized and Hellenized east fit readily into the urban Greco-Roman culture of the Empire; though Latin was the official language, Greek was the real lingua franca of the eastern provinces. In the west Roman civilization was simply at a much higher level of development than that of the Celtic and German tribes and naturally dominated, once again at least in the municipalities.

 
I believe that up until the Anarchy Rome gave more than she took. She obviously robbed the provincials of their nominal independence, but for many, especially in the Greek east, this was meaningless since they had already been under the control of someone else. Self-determination for the Greek states had essentially disappeared with the conquests of Alexander, but Rome had no problem allowing the Greeks and everyone else to run their own cities and communities. In fact, she had little choice but to allow a great deal of local autonomy, since administering the Empire at the grassroots level was beyond the manpower and financial resources of the state. Rome followed a traditional imperial pattern by making alliances with the local elites and drawing upon their experience by allowing them to govern locally under the auspices of the Roman officials at the province level. Such had the additional benefit of shrinking the imperial presence in the lives of the Empire’s subjects.

 
Rome of course also collected taxes. There is a great deal of dispute over what the tax burden was like for the average inhabitant of the Empire, but my estimation is that from the end of the Republic to the Anarchy that burden was not particularly onerous – in general. The civil wars in the first century BC saw the financial rape of the wealthy eastern provinces, but the return to stability and the systemization of provincial administration and tax collection seems to have produced a tolerable level of taxation. In any case, the Empire certainly prospered in the next two and a half centuries, suggesting relatively comfortable or at least livable economic circumstances for most inhabitants. With the Anarchy this changes rapidly, as continual civil war and barbarian invasion drives the government to extremes of revenue collection, which in turn begins to strangle the productive classes of the Empire.
In return the imperial subject received a number of things, the most important of which was peace and security. We tend to underestimate the value of peace because no wars have rumbled through the United States for a century and a half and we are used to it. For most human beings decades, let alone centuries, of peace is a highly compelling commodity. It is clear in the modern world that most people, even in places like America, would gladly trade some of their freedom and civil rights for security and comfort. So, that Gaul who fought against Caesar probably hated Rome, but his grandson would likely think more about the eight legions on the Rhine that prevented the Germans from trashing his farm every summer.

Better than Germans

Better than Germans

The Empire meant more uniform laws and more efficient mechanisms of justice. This is not to say that the average person was guaranteed justice – as today, money and social standing played a large role – but he certainly had a better shot at it. There were material benefits of course. Those military roads that knitted the Empire together could be used by anyone, dramatically enhancing communications and consequently commerce. In fact, take an area the size of the Roman Empire and guarantee more or less continuous peace for a couple of centuries, and the economy can hardly fail to prosper, assuming reasonable levels of taxation.

 
But far more important, second only to peace, was that the Roman Empire was an open society and became more so as it aged. Rome exported Romanitas, that is, her culture and language, though not through any state directed policy. In the east Romanitas dovetailed perfectly with the Hellenism that had helped shape it, while in the west it naturally overwhelmed the less sophisticated native cultures, at least in the municipalities, which were focal points of Romanitas. Speak Latin and act like a Roman, and few will worry about your Celtic blood.

 
Even the once precious citizenship was available to non-Romans. By the time of the Principate citizenship was politically meaningless on the national level, but municipal politics remained vibrant, and in any case the citizenship brought enhanced social status and some economic advantages. During the Republic, Rome was loathe to extend citizenship to non-Romans – the Italian allies had to revolt to get it – but this hesitation broke down rapidly with the advent of the autocracy. In AD 212 the emperor Caracalla granted the Roman citizenship to virtually every free male in the Empire. Now, he did it as a way to raise more revenues, and being a Roman citizen pretty much lost all its value when everyone was one, but the act is symbolic of the character of the Empire. Henceforth, a Roman who could trace his ancestry back to the early Republic had the same legal status as someone whose ancestors had painted themselves blue and fought Caesar. The conquerors had lost their special status in an increasingly cosmopolitan world. This points the way to the Late Empire, when Italy will simply be another set of provinces.

 
The city was one of the two primary mechanisms for the Romanizing of the Empire. They were the bastions of Romanitas, settled originally by Italians and bringing the trappings of Roman civilization to the provinces. And Rome had an unofficial policy of encouraging urbanization: the more urbanized a province was the more economically active it was and the easier it was to secure. Cities and towns of course also helped spread Romanitas, and they provided higher quality recruits for the provincial military units, who, incidentally, received the citizenship upon discharge.

A nice place to raise a family

A nice place to raise a family

The other major Romanizing element was the army, an irony considering that one rarely sees soldiers as a civilizing force. But half the Roman military establishment was composed of the provincial auxiliaries, for whom the army was a factory creating new Romans. One was not going to pick up the finer points of Roman culture in a legionary camp on the Danube, but the recruit learned basic Latin, the essentials of being Roman and came to think of himself as a Roman. It is estimated that during the first two centuries of the Principate the auxiliaries supplied a stream of about 15,000 Romanized provincials a year.

The Empire wants you!

The Empire wants you!

There was a two-way street connecting Rome to the provinces. As she exported Romanitas, she was also importing provincial talent, products of the Romanizing of the Empire. These were people whose bloodlines were not at all Italian but who did not for a minute consider themselves anything other than Roman. The emperors Trajan and Hadrian came originally from Spain, completely Roman but descended at least in part from Iberians. The emperor Septimius Severus hailed from North Africa, and during the Anarchy emperors came all over the Empire.

 
Despite Monty Python’s Life of Brian (the best and truest film ever made about Rome) most people think of the Roman Empire in negative terms – slaughtering Gauls, scattering Jews, oppressing Christians – but to my mind the Empire was perhaps the finest imperial structure ever, which accounts in part for its longevity. This was an incredibly cosmopolitan entity, a rare and seemingly successful multicultural state. The British Empire turned subjects into quasi-Englishmen, but Britain never relinquished its status as imperial master; one was not about to find an African or Indian in Parliament. Rome civilized western Europe and did it without the snottiness and hypocrisy of the British.

Welease Bwian!

Welease Bwian!

What have the Romans ever done for us?” Plenty.

Stuff from Way Back #29a: Roma Aeterna

(I am getting too carried away with these history pieces and must shorten them.  Consequently, this week’s post includes only the first half of the article, and you must wait to find out exactly why Rome was so cool.  I am traveling to Germany for two weeks, so you will have to wait even longer.)

 

 

The fall of the Roman Empire has long been the most popular question concerning antiquity, probably because Rome is the most widely known ancient state and because it is the premier empire.  At their peaks the Mongol, Spanish, Russian and British Empires all controlled far more territory than the Roman, but hands down Rome wins the prize for longevity.  (The Chinese “Empire” was essentially a series of relatively distinct Chinese states.)  Beginning as a tiny city-state on the Tiber, a miniscule platform for empire-building compared to the European powers, the Roman Republic methodically conquered and unified the Italian peninsula in two centuries and in another century eliminated every possible rival in the Mediterranean-European world.  The Roman Empire is thus established by the middle of the second century BC, though a great deal of real estate – most of the eastern Mediterranean, northwestern Europe and Britain – was yet to be occupied.

the big one

the big one

The Senate-dominated Republic collapsed in the first century BC, and though “restored” by Augustus in 27 BC (see Stuff from Way Back #26: Image is Everything), the reality was a military autocracy, the Principate.  In AD 235 the Principate gave way to the Anarchy, essentially a fifty year long civil war that vividly revealed the serious cracks in the imperial structure.  A measure of order was restored in AD 285, but in AD 378 the Empire permanently split into a western and eastern half, and the western empire disappeared in the next half century.  If the fall is marked by this final division, then the Empire had lasted some six hundred years; the city of Rome itself had remained unoccupied by a foreign army for eight hundred years.

 

The decline and fall of such a long-lived and high civilization is understandably a fascinating subject (it had nothing to do with immorality or Christianity), but equally fascinating is a far less frequently posed question: why did it last so long?  Incompetent and outright mad emperors, civil wars, barbarian invasions, military revolts, the Empire went on.  It even survived the Anarchy, a half century of more or less constant civil war, during which barbarians penetrated deep into the Empire, which actually fragmented into three parts at one point.

 

There are three broad reasons, two of them indisputable historical considerations, the third – and most important – in part a judgment call, though based on the historical evidence.

 

First, throughout the four centuries of the Late Republic and the Principate and to a lesser degree for another century after that, Rome had no seriously dangerous foreign enemies.  During this long period the Empire had two major foes.  The first was the Parthian Empire.  The Parthians were an Iranian people who established a kingdom in northeastern Iran in the third century BC and expanded south and west as the Greek Seleucid Empire declined.  The kingdom ultimately stretched from Iran to the frontiers of Roman power in eastern Anatolia and in Syria, where constant friction emerged during last century of the Republic.

 

Parthia was, however, more of a nuisance than a real threat, raiding and capturing Roman territory only when the Romans were distracted, as during the civil wars that brought down the Republic.  (See Stuff from Way Back #21: Antony, Cleopatra and Who?)  Parthia was a very decentralized state, with local governors possessing a great deal of autonomy, and the central government often wrestled with dynastic problems as well.  Unlike the Romans of the Principate, Parthia had no professional standing army, though it could quickly mobilize levies and raise effective horse archers and armored lancers, as M. Licinius Crassus discovered in 53 BC with his defeat and death at Carrhae.  Further, the Parthian king had his own problems with barbarians on his northeastern frontier and commanded far less economic resources than Rome.

next door neighbors

next door neighbors

The relative weakness of Parthia was constantly demonstrated when the Romans were able to easily deal with Parthian incursions even before solving their own problems that had led to the aggression.  Most vividly, there is the emperor Trajan’s rapid conquest of the Parthian heartland in AD 114-117.  That the entire area was immediately evacuated by his successor Hadrian is not a reflection of Parthian strength but a recognition that Rome did not have the manpower necessary to garrison a large area that could not be easily assimilated into the Greco-Roman culture of the Empire.

 

In AD 224 the declining Parthian Empire was seized by a new Iranian group, the Sassanid Persians, whose new empire was essentially a reprise of the Parthian.  The Persians did, however, develop heavily armored cavalry (but still no stirrups) and siege equipment and tactics, vital in fighting the well-equipped Romans.  The emergence of a new dynasty also generated a new aggressiveness, and this was at a time when Rome was on the brink of the Anarchy.  Still, even during the Anarchy and the frequent civil wars of the late Empire Persia could not permanently occupy Roman territory.  Actually, Persia’s greatest threat to Rome was simply being there, a new Persian Empire that constantly lured foolish and incompetent Roman emperors to attempt to emulate Alexander and launch expensive and pointless invasions of the east.

 

Rome’s only other enemy was not a coherent state but a category: barbarians.  The barbarians in north Africa were hardly noticed, and those in and around Britain were simply annoying.  The Germanic tribes were a lot tougher and prowled a frontier that stretched from the mouth of the Rhine to the Black Sea.  Nevertheless, they were never any problem for competently led legions, and even during the Anarchy, when tribes were able to penetrate deep into the Empire, they were soon mopped up.  Only with the great folk migrations of the late fourth century and later did they become a serious problem, and one suspects that had the government and army of the fifth century been equal to that of the first, they could have been routinely dealt with.

Thus was the outside pressure on the Empire minimal and relatively easily countered, and Rome could consequently indulge in bad government, a declining military and even a half century of continuous and devastating civil war and not lose it all.

 

The second factor is the development of an imperial bureaucracy.  The institutional history of the Republic, which built the Empire, was one of constantly adapting the political mechanisms of the old city-state to the demands of a growing and vastly larger political sphere.  The administration of the Empire consequently had an ad hoc and jury-rigged character, and the governance of provinces was in the hands of successful office-holders, frequently in debt because of their political career, and their personal staffs, which almost guaranteed corruption.  And the fact that taxation was privatized and in the hands of groups whose profit margin depended upon how much they could collect over their bid for the contract certainly did not help create could provincial government.

 

It is astounding that the extent, frontiers, garrisoning and administration of the Empire were not considered rationally and apolitically until Augustus and the advent of the Principate.  Not only did he approach the Empire in terms of grand strategy and Roman resources and regularize and depoliticize provincial governance, but he also laid the foundations of an essentially apolitical civil service.   From this grew an imperial bureaucracy that handled the day-to-day administrative affairs of Rome and the Empire.  In short, the administration of the Empire became routine, allowing it to continue functioning regardless of whether or not the emperor was competent or even in the event of civil war.  Rome could indulge herself in bad government and not lose it all.

Stuff from Way Back #26: Image Is Everything

 

In 31 BC Octavian (Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus), grand-nephew and posthumously adopted son of Julius Caesar, defeated Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra VII at the battle of Actium, ending the Roman Republic’s period of civil war.  Most of the people on the planet have likely heard of Antony and Cleopatra, but who has ever heard of Octavian?  The irony is that the romantic and celebrated couple are relatively unimportant figures when compared to the colorless Octavian.  They were simply another set of leading players during the last century of the Republic, while Octavian might be considered the most important individual in the entire sweep of Roman history.

 

By the middle of the second century BC the Roman Empire had been established, at least in the sense that there remained no power in the Mediterranean world that could seriously challenge Roman authority.  At the same time, however, the pressing need for reform in the state and military ran up against an all-powerful Senatorial class that had become corrupted and self-interested and resistant to even the smallest changes in the status quo.  The result was the Roman Revolution, which in the period from 133 to 30 BC saw the almost four hundred year old Republic gradually collapse into civil war and military dictatorship.  Ironically, the Republic was already dead when the dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla restored and strengthened the traditional Senatorial government in 83-81 BC and then retired from politics.  Putting the pieces back together again was no longer possible, and Sulla himself provided a role model for future ambitious men.  The second fifty years of the Revolution was dominated not by the Senate but by powerful men and their armies, resulting in two full blown civil wars: Caesar against Pompeius Magnus (49-48 BC), and Octavian against Antony and Cleopatra (32-30 BC).

 Loser

Loser

Loser

Loser

 

When the 33 year old Octavian returned to Rome in 29 BC, he faced a task that might make the battle against the happy couple seem easy.  The Republic was dead, and as the immediately failure of the Sullan Restoration had demonstrated, it could not be revived.  With some small alterations the machinery of the Republican government was essentially that of the 5th century BC city-state fighting for its life in central Italy, and in the long run it was politically and administratively incapable of running an empire.  Enjoying the complete support of the military, Octavian could establish a blatant dictatorship, as his grand-uncle did, and allow Rome to face a return to civil strife when he died.  As one of Rome’s greatest statesmen, however, what he wanted was to manage the inevitable transition from oligarchic republic to autocracy in a way that would create a stable and lasting governmental structure.  In doing this he would become a second Romulus, virtually re-founding Rome.

Winner and Princeps

Winner and Princeps

 

While he almost certainly began with a basic idea of what he wanted to do, the realization of that conception would involve much trial and error, and the process would be accompanied by the first real national propaganda campaign in history.  He realized, unlike any before him, that in the public and political sphere image was everything, that the reality could be more easily ignored and accepted if it looked like something else.  The reality was to be a military autocracy; the image was to be the Republic restored.  And it actually worked.  His creation, the Principate, would maintain a stable and prosperous empire for the next two hundred and fifty years and allow a declining Rome to stagger on for another century or so.

 

The basic problem was to maintain control of the military (which was finally fully professionalized), without looking like a military dictator, and he needed to find Republican precedents for all his arrangements.  He also needed to give the hitherto ruling elites, the Senatorial class, a real role to play in the new government without surrendering the ultimate power in the state.  This was tricky business.

 

The campaign began in January of 27 BC when with great fanfare he gave up all his illegal powers, declaring the restoration of the Republic.  The Senate, in part cowed by the obvious loyalty of the army to the son of Caesar, in part grateful and supportive of establishing a stable government, then proceeded in the following years to vote all those powers back to him.  He realized early on that continually holding one of the two annual consulships – the supreme office that provided imperium, the power to command troops – would not work.  Not only was this contrary to old Republican tradition and reminiscent of the years of the Revolution, but it also limited the ultimate political prize and administrative training ground that the consulship provided to the Senate.  Instead, by votes of the citizen assembly and the Senate he accumulated and exercised all the powers associated with the consulship and other state offices without actually having to hold any of them, thus being freed from the limited tenure of the actual office.  He subsequently held the consulship only on special occasions.  There was no office of emperor.  He was ostensibly a private citizen, but one possessing a vast amount of power.

Augustan propaganda: the Altar of Peace

Augustan propaganda: the Altar of Peace

Augustan propaganda: the Deeds of the Divine Augustus

Augustan propaganda: the Deeds of the Divine Augustus

 

The major support of his authority was a special grant of proconsular imperium over certain provinces designated as “imperial”: initially the Gauls, the Spains and Syria.  These would be governed by legates chosen by him, while the remaining provinces, designated as “senatorial,” would be governed as they were in the Republic, by Senators who had just completed their terms as consuls or praetors (the imperium-granting office just below the consulship).  He also had the authority to interfere in the senatorial provinces if necessary and to move provinces from one category to the other.

 

This arrangement provided a way to control the army without actually being a supreme commander, which would be very un-Republican and redolent of the civil wars.  The imperial provinces were precisely those where the bulk of the military was stationed, thus providing Octavian with indirect command of the legions.  Grants of proconsular authority dated back to the early days of the Republic, but the only precedents for proconsular power on this scale were found in the Revolution and thus not very good.  But it could not be avoided: he absolutely required “legal” control of the military or Rome would slide back into civil strife.  Consequently, the confirmation of this power, first for ten years and then for life, was done quietly.  Incidentally, governance of the imperial provinces was generally of a higher quality than in the senatorial.

 

The other significant power granted him for life was the tribunician authority, which provided him all the powers wielded by the tribunes of the people.  These powers were really not that important to him, but the grant was very significant in terms of image.  The tribunate was an ancient office, created back in the fifth century BC, during the political struggles between the commoners, Plebians, and the aristocrats, Patricians.  The original mandate of the ten tribunes was to defend Plebians from hostile actions of the Patricians, and consequently Octavian could showcase this authority to demonstrate his position as a defender of the Roman people.

 

Supplementing his legal powers was his unmatchable auctoritas.  Auctoritas, “influence,” came with dignitas, “prestige,” the quality associated with an individual who had served Rome in some capacity.  In the grand days of the early and middle Republic it was dignitas that Senators competed for, rather than wealth and power, though dignitas did bring a form of power with its accompanying auctoritas.  (Yes, for almost four hundred years the majority of the Roman Senate actually thought first of Rome rather than themselves.)  The man (or men) recognized to be covered with the most dignitas would be styled princeps senatus, the First or Dean of the Senate.  Prestige of course brings political influence in any system, but for the Romans it was a much more real and compelling power.  And Octavian, who had literally saved the Roman state and restored order and prosperity, had a measure of dignitas unparalleled in Roman history.  He had become the princeps romani, the First Citizen of Rome.  Romans would listen to his advice.

 

Rome had become a military based autocracy, but there was no actual office of autocrat, no emperor, inasmuch as that would hardly look republican.  There was instead a Princeps and thus the early empire (27 BC – 235 AD) is known as the Principate.  Octavian took the more impressive name of Augustus and became in effect the second founder of Rome and its first emperor.  To the Roman people he was Princeps, to the army he was Imperator and to the provincials he was king and the center of the imperial cult of Roma et Augustus.  In the year 2 BC, acting on the proposal of Valerius Messalla, who had fought against him at Philippi, the Senate named Augustus pater patriae, the father of his country.

Pater Patriae

Pater Patriae

 

The Roman people were delighted with the Principate.  There was peace and growing prosperity, and in any case libertas, the Roman concept of freedom, had for them never meant any political participation beyond attending assemblies and voting according to Senatorial advice.  The Equestrians, the traditionally apolitical business interests, were of course more concerned with stability and prosperity than forms of government.

 

It was the Senatorial families, the former ruling elite, that were Augustus’ real concern as a potential source of trouble.  So he made them partners in the new order, both to give them something to do and to reconcile them to the Principate.  He actual had no choice: he could not govern the empire without the pool of administrative talent that was the Senate.  They were of course junior partners, but while the Princeps was the ultimate power, the Senate administered the state and through its ex-officials the empire.  They could still compete for offices and honors, for dignitas, but now in the shadow of the Princeps, who worked to keep that shadow as small as possible.  He showed the Senate respect and listened to its advice, and with imperial patronage he aided the political careers of members of the old families, especially those who had been against him.  And the whole thing looked like the Republic.  In fact, Rome was still in theory a constitutional state, inasmuch as it was the Senate, representing the Roman people, that voted the Princeps his power.  Image is everything.

 

Augustus succeeded in his establishment of a military dictatorship for a number of reasons.  The Roman world was tired of instability and war; they had just emerged from a century of struggle and two recent civil wars.  There was no one left alive who knew the Republic as anything but disorder and strife.  There were no rivals left.  The Senatorial oligarchy had been drained, and all the powerful men were now loyal to Augustus.  And there was the Principate.  Anyone with any intelligence knew the restoration of the Republic was a sham and that Augustus was the absolute ruler of Rome, but the Senate had no choice but to accept it.  The legions were completely devoted to the son of the now divine Julius Caesar, so that while there might be conspiracies, there could be no real threat to the Princeps.  Besides, he gave them a real role in the governance of the state and left them with all the trappings of power, while he maintained a low profile.  He made it as easy as he could for the former rulers of Rome to swallow the bitter pill of autocracy.

 

Finally, he lived long enough, dying on 19 August 14 AD at the age of 76.  Some forty years of power had allowed him not only to construct the Principate but also to wean it from dependency on his guiding hand.  Power passed more or less smoothly to his adopted son Tiberius.

 

There were of course weaknesses in the structure of the Principate.  It was after all an autocracy and thus faced the age old problem: what do you do when you get a bad autocrat?  Augustus hoped that each Princeps would select and train the best candidate and gradually associate him in power, but autocracies almost inevitably become dynastic, even in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  This was virtually guaranteed in the case of the Principate since for the foreseeable future the Princps must be a Julian in order to secure the loyalty of the army.

 

The other problem was that the autocracy was based on the military, thus presenting the danger that the army would sooner or later involve itself in the making and breaking of emperors.  The remarkable thing about the Principate is that it took so long for the legions to actually do this.  When Nero, the last Julio-Claudian, died in 68 AD, several army commanders converged on Rome, and after a brief and limited conflict Titus Flavius Vespasianus became Princeps in 69 AD, establishing a new dynasty, the Flavians.  The legions then retired to their camps and did not get directly involved in the political arena again until the death of Lucius Aurelius Commodus in 192 AD.  There was another brief but more widespread civil war to select the next ruler, Lucius Septimius Severus, in 193 AD.  The army was subsequently favored but not pampered by the Severans and remained loyal to the empire.  It is only with the outbreak of the Anarchy (235-285 AD) that the military loses that sense of duty and becomes corrupted and interested only in itself and thus a major force in the ultimate collapse of the empire.

 

Augustus probably foresaw these problems, but what else could he do?  In the last century before Christ the Roman Republic was irretrievably dead, and the only option was an autocracy.  And the only real base of power for that autocracy was the military.  Given the circumstances and the evolution of Rome in the last century of the Republic, a military dictatorship had become unavoidable.  But it is hard to see anyone else who could have come even close to facilitating that transition and preserving Rome’s future as well as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.  Few men have made history on that scale.