Monday, April 21, 2008

The fall of the Republic

Today, I had a bit of a shock.

I'm listening to a book named "Imperium" by Robert Harris, on the way to work. It's the story of the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was a Senator and major orator in the last days Roman Republic. It's not always the most flattering of books, as it's told by one of Cicero's slaves, and the slave seems to view Cicero with a clear eye, for the most part.

The shock was towards the middle of the book. Cicero is summoned to the villa of Pompey the Great, along with several other people, notably Gaius Julius Caesar, who would later become dicator of Rome, displacing the republic in favor of a military dicatorship.

The thing that surprised me about this meeting, was that an act of terrorism caused a reaction among the military class in Rome. Pirates raided the naval port of Rome (I can't find the name of the city at the moment), and burned 19 ships in the harbor. It was a huge slap, for pirates to boldly attack Roman power so close to Rome itself.

The Pirates were unlike any enemy Rome had faced. They had no central authority. They had no treaties, no leaders, no one to negotiate with. They would take negotiations as encouragement to perpetrate their crimes again. It was unknown how many pirates there were, but they were said to be many of them. They had a vast, underground organization that allowed communication of intelligence and the trading of materials.

Sound familiar?

Pompey's solution was to divide the Mediterranian into 1e segments, each with a ruler who had absolute authority within 50 miles of the sea. Over these 1e men was to be a Supreme commander. That commander, of course, would be Pompey.

Cicero was apalled. The man was a Republican, and saw this for what it was, a power grab.

But, what struck me was the similarities of the situations around the establishment of this military power. An enemy "unlike any other". No central authority. The powers of a vast empire devoted to crushing it. The crushing being fairly easy (history tells us), and setting the authors of the destruction up for more usurpation of power. The Senate and the Tribunes (Rome's ruling bodies at the time) were to be denied much of their power in the process, in favor of a single decision maker. The fear that was marshaled to give that power (one of the things said was that the pirates could sail up the Tiber and attack Rome itself.)

It's... Uncanny. Like someone has read history, and is trying to repeat it.

It's a saying among gnostics that "The Empire never ended". Philip K. Dick said it first. The man may be a prophet.

The republic was never conquered, it was destroyed from within. So shall it be with our Republic.

"A lady asked Dr. Franklin 'Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy?' 'A Republic,' replied the Doctor, 'if you can keep it.'" - as told by Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention.


Daniel Wrexford said...

Hello Fr. Scott,

Ostia is the port of Rome you may be thinking of, it's just down the Tiber from Rome. The pirates raided many towns in coastal Italy during this period. An ancient writer, I forget which one (appian?, Plutarch?) mentioned that some pirated even kidnapped a Roman magistrate on the open road. Of course, they also kidnapped Julius Caesar around this time too.


Scott said...

It was Ostia. Thanks.