Roman Life and Politics

I’ve recently done some research, well read research that others did, on Roman life. The additional bulwark of knowledge is useful in comparing American systems with Roman systems. It is also illuminates better the side issue of the United States in comparison to the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, which is always a recurring topic on the world stage.

The highlight of the Roman Republic era, when they took out the King and replaced him with two consuls, aediles, praetor (lawyer+judge+tax collector), and various other bureacratic functions responsible for running a Republic, was during the Punic Wars. First, a quick description of early Roman life and politics.

Rome was divided into two classes, more or less. You had the pleibians. and the patricia. The patricia was the upper class aristocracy and the pleibians were the commoners. Most Senators were from the patricus class. The pleibians also had some representation in the Roman Republic, such as sometimes one of the two consuls, commander in chiefs of the army basically, would be a pleibian. Each consul would have veto power over the law makers. Then you had the military tribunes, who were the ones that enforced the law in the army. They conducted court martial and, if need be, ordered the execution of the guilty.

In a later age, in the Eastern Roman Empire centered around Constantinople and the Greeks, the Senate itself would become a class. Now that the Senate was not a governing body, given Emperor Augustus’ reaction to Caesar’s assassination, it became what previous Romans called the patricus.

In the Roman Republic, there were times when pleibians were allowed to marry into the patricus class. As time went on, however, the pleibian power base eroded more and more as rich and powerful patricus families acquired more land through Rome’s conquest. And Rome’s conquests were done primarily by the legions, made up mostly of commoners.

This brings up back to the Punic Wars. The final end of Carthage was so definite that for thousands of years later, the descendants of the Romans would still call Carthage’s end by the vernacular words “punishment” and “punitive”. They became bywords for destruction, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two are still cities, but more and more those words will be used to describe an action in a time too far along to remember where the words came from.

The Roman Republic lost many battles early on. They rarely lost a war, however. Why? Because just like America in WWII, it takes a democracy or a republic time to acquire combat experience, which is necessary in order to conduct war well. Rome learned from their mistakes and their enemies as well. Rome adopted their enemies’ customs and tactics, when it suited Roman sensibility. Rome even changed their military equipment and tactics to better defeat Carthage. They had to, since if they did not, they would not have won the war. So Roman flexibility and their ability to accept some changes from foreigners, was their greatest strength. Just as it was America’s in WWII. America lost many battles early on because America was inexperienced at war. America, just like Rome, went from a drafted citizen army to a professional army of career soldiers and officers. Their casualties went down because fewer men and young boys had to die because their fellows were experienced and their officers crap. When they became elite, the Roman legions no longer needed to draft 50% of their own population in times of Total War. Thus, Rome began to conquer the world from a little peninsula shaped to the size of a modern high heeled boot for women. That or a cavalry man’s spurs. Depends on which millenium Italy was in, doesn’t it.

People may have heard of the Grachii family. They were reformists and revolutionaries depending upon who you asked. The Grachii, around the time of Caesar 50 BC, wanted to lessen the power of the Senate class and bring the pleibians more representation. The Grachii were assassinated because of this threat to the power of the patrician class. The Senate assassinated Caesar with their own hands, you think they won’t kill a handful of their own if their power and wealth were ever threatened?

This brings us to an analogy with modern times. Just as it was in Rome, so it is with the American Senate. Common and distinguished Americans fight in America’s army to ensure that America is protected. In return, the Senate tries to siphon funds from military projects for their own uses. Also, the Senate will undermine the army simply for political self-aggrandizement. The Roman Legions under Roman Emperors saw many such things during their time. The Western Roman Empire eventually decided that they might as well be the ones that chose the Emperors, since obviously the Senate and the people of Rome weren’t going to be able to pay the salaries of legionnaires. In this respect, it was the Roman Praetorian Guard, a palace guard perhaps started with Caesar’s 10th Legion, that stayed in the capital to protect the Emperor. Eventually the Praetorian Guard became nothing but parade soldiers. Good for show, not good in a fight. It was the local legions garrisoned in Britannia, Egypt, and Libya that were doing the work of actually protecting the borders of Rome from bandits and barbarians. Soldiers are no more immune to decadence than Senators. Perhaps this is why the Senators want to protect the soldiers from fighting and doing good work far away from the capital. So then the soldiers will size up the Senators and replace them. Save the rich and powerful from doing all the paperwork, you see. Of course the modern US Senate class claims that they will tolerate no political speech from the military, since it is the military’s place to obey the Senate. Emperor Augustus kind of disproved that in a way. So did Caesar. Caesar was only assassinated because he left his German bodyguard outside when he went into the building. Caesar trusted his own folk in the end. A sign of a megalomaniac bent on dictatorship? Or simply a soldier trying to go into politics? Can’t allow that, now can we. That would be a threat to the Senate’s guaranteed power and wealth that comes from making the laws and deals that run the Republic. Let’s now look at a society close to Rome.
The word soldier had connections to the Celtics (Keltics). The royal guard for Celtic kings were called soldurus. Essentially it means “Devoted Ones”. Devotion, however, only lasts as long as the loyalty is returned. Hitler betrayed the loyalty that Germans gave to him and thereby destroyed his nation. Emperor Hirohito proved worthy of the trust and loyalty of his people and thus his nation was saved the destruction of Germany. The partioning as well. And Communism too. This is one reason you might consider as the reason why American’s military did not really speak up and debate the war in Iraq in 2003. They were devoted and loyal to the American system. And that meant obeying orders, not arguing about them in public. However, when they saw that the politicians were tearing up their beloved country and also betraying their buddies in the front lines, then things changed. Then people spoke up. Petraeus released his own strategic version of how to combat insurgents. Others also began to speak up, from love of country as well as love of fame and money. But in the beginning, the only people speaking aloud criticisms were only those that loved fame and money. It is better now that the American people can listen to their own instead of just those out for their own self-aggrandizement. The elite Soldurus units pledged their lives to defend their buddy and their buddy returned this pledge. Should one of them return alive but not the other, the one alive would take his own life. None refused this honor. The US Marines are also big on the buddy system. It builds esprit de corps. Power comes from individuals, after all, not groups. The individual must be willing to fight and die to protect others. The Senate is very willing to let others die, but they are very unwilling to return such loyalty. That goes double for KKK Kleagle Byrd and Into the River Kennedy.
On a different but related topic, the Carthaginians were an interesting people. For one thing, they used mercenaries for most of their army because they were rich enough (remember that the North African coast was busy with trade at that time) to afford it. They had some citizen soldiers such as the Poeni Infantry, who fought in phalanx form, but those were crap soldiers. Hannibal tried to use them in the Battle of Zama, the ending battle of the 2nd Punic War, and they were completely worthless. These citizen “soldiers” were lazy and completely without esprit de corps. Roman armies, in comparison, simply had crap commanders and officers. That’s why Hannibal Barca was able to obliterate an army of 86,000 at Cannae with only 50,000 mercenary and Gallic troops. Hannibal lacked heavy cavalry at the Battle of Zama because Zama was near Carthage, it was not on the Italian peninsula where most of Barca’s veteran troops were. And you know why Hannibal lacked enough cavalry to win at Zama? It was because of the anti-Barcid faction in Carthage’s ruling circles and councils. They kept the Sacred Band cavalry, Carthaginian volunteers that were actually worth more than a piss, away from Zama. Now you might think that with the Roman general Scipio “Africanus” on their doorsteps, the Carthaginians might start thinking about uniting, but you would be wrong. The entire time Hannibal was in Rome, the Carthaginian anti-Barcid faction was trying to make a peace deal with Rome by hamstringing Hannibal’s logistics. They wouldn’t even try to send out any fleet support to Italy. Even after Hannibal gained Capua, a port. (Capua was Samnite and didn’t like Roman rule even after many years. Obviously the Romans visited a harsh punishment upon them after the war was over) Too expensive to build a navy capable of challenging Rome’s navy, you see. Much better to attend to the African estates and territories from which most of the wealth of Carthage came from. Carthage counted greatness in coin. Rome counted greatness in victories. Guess who won.

You can see the obvious parallels with modern times I hope.

UPDATE: I corrected some spelling and grammar problems. I also added a new section to the end of the paragraph about the Celts. This should read much better now.

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