What was the Roman Imperial Cult?
Well, first of all, throw everything you know about separating religion and politics from each other out of the window. The Roman Imperial Cult is one of the most ingenious ways in global world history of keeping order in an empire. It was a mix of religion, politics and propaganda that is hard to grasp the extent of fully.
Who did they worship?
They worshipped the numen and the genius of the Emperor, but also the genii of the entire imperial family. A loose modern translation would be the life spirit and the soul of the living Emperor. The genius is something that everyone in the empire had, and you could certainly pray to your mother’s genius if you wanted to. The numen was unique to the living Emperor. It was thanks to the numen that the Roman Empire was such a great place. The reason for which they could hold back the barbarians on the borders, enjoy gladiatorial games, walk safely on the streets, and so on.
How did it work?
To keep this immense structure in a constant and working condition it required a mass of different priesthoods and priests, as well as governors who were determined to make sure that everyone followed suit. Very few decisions about they cult emerged from the city of Rome itself. Instead most of the decisions regarding the cult were decided on a local level, either regionally or within a municipality. Thanks to this we have altars showing Gaius and Lucius Caesar, despite them never actually becoming Emperors.
What about the deification?
Only certain Emperors did in fact get deified. Although all Emperors up to and including Diocletian were divus <name>, but only a few of them got the title divi <name> when they died. The case of divi is a complicated matter which has to do with the priesthood flamines. Flamines were priests that belonged to temples, and temples were only allowed to be erected for gods. Certainly not for living Emperors.
They exception to the rule is Tiberius, who refused to have himself treated as a potential god. A refusal that was only acknowledged in the West; the East had a different history of ruler worship and did not play by the same rules as the West. Emperors that were in fact deified were divus Augustus, divus Claudius and divus Vespasianus, among others.
Did any women get deified?
Yes! Most importantly Livia, the wife of Augustus, who died 13 years after her husband. When she died in 27 AD her son Tiberius was Emperor and it has been speculated that it played part in the defification. Nonetheless, Livia Augusta became diva Augusta when she died, one of few women to hold that title.
What did the propaganda look like?
My personal favorite is this statue, called Augustus of prima porta.
Notice they artwork on the breastplate, the stout facial features, the prominent stance and the combination of a breastplate and a toga. Now imagine that it was painted as well.
Most people in the Roman Empire would never have met or even seen the Emperor. Instead this, and images like this one, is what they would be seeing. On coins, statues or similar. What they see is the pater patriae, the father of the fatherland. The man that keeps peace and prosperity in the empire through his wisdom and intelligence.
So, what can we learn from this cult today? The Roman Imperial Cult is a prime example of how a politician can use various ways to get the people on his or her side. It is also a great example of how religion can be used to strengthen the power structure in a state. More than anything it shows us the power of something else, something that distances itself somewhat from both politics and religion – the sense of belonging.
Many people today have trouble finding their true identity. So were the case also when Augustus came to power in the Roman Empire. The Imperial Cult joined together (almost) everyone in a mutual cult worship that both meant that you were Roman and at the same time that the people across the borders were not Romans.
There are lots of things to learn from this cult, a cult that kept the Roman Empire prosperous for 250 years, before the importance of the cult started to decline in favor of Christianity. If you have a hard time imagining it working in modern times, I suggest you take a look at Vladimir Putin.
So… nothing, cracks me up like Ancient Roman graffiti of the sort found in Pompeii. It’s the sort of silly, raunchy, sometimes sweet, sometimes horrible, epigraphy that gives us a glimpse into the psyche of ancient peoples like very little else does. It shows how, though humanity’s circumstances may have changed, humans have not. And that’s the reason to study history, for me.
These are a few examples-
Here are some of the sweet ones:
I.7.8 (bar; left of the door); 8162: We two dear men, friends forever, were here. If you want to know our names, they are Gaius and Aulus.
I.10.7 (House and Office of Volusius Iuvencus; left of the door); 8364: Secundus says hello to his Prima, wherever she is. I ask, my mistress, that you love me.
V.1.26 (House of Caecilius Iucundus); 4091: Whoever loves, let him flourish. Let him perish who knows not love. Let him perish twice over whoever forbids love.
VII.2.48 (House of Caprasius Primus); 3061: I don’t want to sell my husband, not for all the gold in the world
A few of the silly or random:
II.7 (gladiator barracks); 8792: On April 19th, I made bread
III.5.1 (House of Pascius Hermes; left of the door); 7716: To the one defecating here. Beware of the curse. If you look down on this curse, may you have an angry Jupiter for an enemy.
VI.11 (on the Vico del Labirinto); 1393: On April 20th, I gave a cloak to be washed. On May 7th, a headband. On May 8th, two tunics
VII.1.40 (House of Caesius Blandus; in the peristyle of the House of Mars and Venus on the Street of the Augustales); 1714: It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times
VIII.7.6 (Inn of the Muledrivers; left of the door); 4957: We have wet the bed, host. I confess we have done wrong. If you want to know why, there was no chamber pot
VIII.2 (in the basilica); 1904: O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin.
And the raunchy ones:
VIII.2 (in the basilica); 1882: The one who buggers a fire burns his penis
I.2.20 (Bar/Brothel of Innulus and Papilio); 3932: Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!
III.5.3 (on the wall in the street); 8898: Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog
V.5.3 (barracks of the Julian-Claudian gladiators; column in the peristyle); 4289: Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls
II.7 (gladiator barracks); 8767: Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.
VII.9 (Eumachia Building, via della Abbondanza); 2048: Secundus likes to screw boys.
Herculaneum (bar/inn joined to the maritime baths); 10675: Two friends were here. While they were, they had bad service in every way from a guy named Epaphroditus. They threw him out and spent 105 and half sestertii most agreeably on whores.
People don’t change. We scratch our names into a wall and hope someone remembers us – we try to make each other laugh, or make each other mad, and all we’ve managed to do with modern technology is find new ways to do that. But when it comes down to it, we’re one step up from scratching “Figulus loves Idaia” on the House of the Vibii. How can that idea not make you smile?
So…slavery. It’s one of the most touchy words in the English language because…well…..it’s slavery, right? And it’s an institution that’s been around for literally thousands of years. The Romans used slaves to an absolutely INCREDIBLE extent – one that would be mind-boggling to us today. You know how the Civil War was fought over slavery? Well …in Rome, they were an integral part of society. However….strangely enough as it might seem, “slave” was a VERY general term. There was a MASSIVE difference between a “house slave,” or even a “city slave” and a slave who worked the fields, the mines, or the ships. The former were seen as soft and pampered by the rest, the hard-working, hard-bitten, short-lived slaves. The city slaves lived a relatively cushy life for slaves. They earned money, they could eventually buy their freedom, they were teachers, maids, butlers, messengers, bodyservants, cooks, etc. Essentially…for an analogy and perspective. They were the equivalent to people who are paid minimum wage today. Now, some slaves got more (such as the bodyservants to the aristocracy, the teachers, etc), while some got less (the bath slaves), but they all lived relatively cushy lives. These are the examples that people give when they want to convince you that Roman slavery was cushy and that the Romans were wonderful people who wore togas everywhere and were the bestest and most culturedest people. Well….THEN you look at the flip side. The other slaves. The ones who kept flipping revolting for a reason.
These were the farm slaves. The slaves in the mines (Perspective on the mines of the Roman world. I say mines, you think….maybe a little mineshaft in the ground, etc? Well you’re SEVERELY underestimating the Romans when it came to industry. And when I say severely….their mining projects in Spain (for example) were unbelievable. Here’s a quote from Richard Miles’ Carthage Must Be Destroyed:
Furthermore, in order to increase efficiency and production, new techniques were brought in from the eastern Mediterranean. Large numbers of slaves, controlled by overseers [Who were also slaves], did the manual labour. Underground rivers were redirected through tunnels and shafts, and new technology was used to pump water out of shafts. The process by which the metal ore was extracted was laborious. First the rock containing the silver ore, usually mixed with lead, was crushed in running water. It was then sieved, before going through the same process twice more. The ore was then put in a kiln so that the silver could be separated out from the stone and lead before being transported, often by river, to the main cities on the coast. […] in the Roman period from the second century BC to the fifth century AD it was calculated that at any one time some 40,000 slaves toiled in the Spanish mines, producing 25,000 drachmas [approximately 107,000 grams of silver] of profit a day. Indeed, the colossal scale of both the Punic and the Roman mining operations can be ascertained by the 6,700,000 tonnes of mainly silver slag found at Rio Tinto that can be dated to those periods.
I used that quote just to give you an idea of exactly how extensive that one mining operation was. Spain was not the only place that Rome mined, but it was certainly one of the biggest. Those 40,000 slaves that had to work those mines? Yeah, they didn’t live long. Here’s an ancient writer named Posidonius’ take on that:
Originally any private person without mining experience could come and find a place to work in these mines, and since the silver-bearing seams in the earth were conveniently sited and plentiful, they would go away with great fortunes. But later the Romans gained control of Spain, and now a large number of Italians have taken over the mines and accumulated vast riches as a result of their desire to make profits; what they did was buy a great number of slaves and hand them over to the men in charge of the mining operations…
The men engaged in these mining operations produce unbelievably large revenues for their masters, but as a result of their underground excavations day and night they become physical wrecks, and because of their extremely bad conditions, the mortality rate is high; they are not allowed to give up working or have a rest, but are forced by the beatings of their supervisors to stay at their places and throw away their wretched lives as a result of these horrible hardships. Some of them survive to endure their misery for a long time because of their physical stamina or sheer will-power; but because of the extent of their suffering, they prefer dying to surviving.
Yeeeeeeeeah. Note that the vast majority of Roman slaves were not household, or even city slaves. They were mostly field slaves, under conditions like these. Here’s one about work in a flour mill – note, a work of fiction, but (As Charles Dickens showed), fiction is often based on fact. This is from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses:
The men there were indescribable – their entire skin was coloured black and blue with the weals left by whippings, and their scarred backs were shaded rather than covered by tunics which were patched and torn. Some of them wore no more than a tiny covering around their loins, but all were dressed in such a way that you could see through their rags. They had letters branded on their foreheads, their hair had been partially shaved off, and they had fetters on their feet. They were sallow and discoloured, and the smoky and steamy atmosphere had affected their eyelids and inflamed their eyes. Their bodies were a dirty white because of the dusty flour – like athletes who get covered with fine sand when they fight.
Masters could essentially do whatever they wanted to slaves – some were more lenient (Seneca has writings on this in particular), while some (obviously) were more brutal. Interestingly enough, a middle ground would be the slaves who we find most interesting today…the infamous Roman gladiator. Like all other slaves, they were…well…slaves. They were subject to their master’s whims, they could…well…this piece of graffiti from the time period says it all:
Take hold of your servant girl whenever you want to; it’s your right.
^ That. Know what that means? Yeah, you can have sexual relations with your slave whenever you want – they’re a slave, it’s what slaves are for. Gladiators were used just like all the other slaves – except their use was also a blood sport. They (like other slaves) weren’t allowed to get married, however they kept the winnings from their fights. They were relatively pampered (fame and fortune – think sports superstars combined with Hollywood icons), however they were forced to fight for the entertainment of the Roman citizenry. The man sitting across from them over supper could be the man who killed them the next day. (NOTE: One misconception that I see ALLLL the time. See this bullshit? This would NEVER HAVE HAPPENED. Rather, this one would be what you would see. And you know what the thumbs up means? It means death for the loser. MINE = BLOOOOWN. Back to the story.) Also – the gladiators were housed in what amounted to prison complexes. They were detached from cities, walled, with guard towers, walls, you name it.
(Most of my context here was provided by Barry Strauss’ book The Spartacus War, which provides a REALLY good rundown of what it would be like to be a slave.)
The Praetorians were the imperial guard of the Roman Empire. Created by Augustus to act as a special, elite force for his protection, they became a lasting influence upon Rome and its emperors.
The term Praetorian came from the tent of the legate of a legion in the field—the praetorium. It was the habit of many Roman generals to choose from the ranks a private force of soldiers to act as bodyguards of the tent or the person. In time, this cohort came to be known as the cohors praetoria, and various notable figures possessed one, including Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Octavian (Augustus). As Caesar discovered with the X Legion, a powerful unit more dangerous than its fellow legions was desirable in the field. When Augustus became the first ruler of the empire in 27 BCE, he decided such a formation was useful not only in war but also in politics. Thus, from the ranks of legions throughout the provinces, Augustus recruited the Praetorian Guard.
The group that was formed initially differed greatly from the later Guard, which would murder emperors. While Augustus understood the need to have a protector in the maelstrom of Rome, he was careful to uphold the Republican veneer of his regime. Thus he allowed only nine cohorts to be formed, each of 500 to 1,000 men, and only three were kept on duty at any given time in the capital. While they patrolled inconspicuously, in the palace and major buildings, the others were stationed in the towns surrounding Rome; no threats were possible from these individual cohorts. This system was not radically changed with the arrival of two Praetorian prefects in 2 BCE, Q. Ostorius Scapula and Salvius Aper, although organization and command were improved.
Augustus’s death in 14 CE marked the end of Praetorian calm. Through the machinations of their ambitious prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus, the Guard was brought from the Italian barracks into Rome itself. In 23 CESejanus convinced Tiberius to have the Castra Praetoria (the Camp of the Praetorians) built just outside of Rome. Henceforth the entire Guard was at the disposal of the emperors, but the rulers were now equally at the mercy of the Praetorians. The reality of this was seen in 31 when Tiberius was forced to rely upon his owncohors praetoria against partisans of Sejanus. Though the Praetorian Guard proved faithful to the aging Tiberius, their potential political power had been made clear.
On campaign, the Praetorians were the equal of any formation in the Roman army. Seldom used in the early reigns, they were quite active by 69 CE. They fought well at the first battle of Bedriacum for Otho. UnderDomitian and Trajan, the Guard took part in wars from Dacia to Mesopotamia, while with Marcus Aurelius, years were spent on the Danubian frontier. Throughout the third century CE, the Praetorians assisted the emperors in various crises.
From the death of Sejanus, who was sacrificed for the donativum (imperial gift) promised by Tiberius, the Guards began playing an increasingly ambitious and bloody game. At will, or for the right amount of money, they assassinated emperors, bullied their own prefects or turned on the people of Rome. In 41, Gaius Caligulawas killed by conspirators from the senatorial class and from the Guard. And the Praetorians placed Claudiuson the throne, daring the Senate to oppose their decision.
It is important, however, not to overestimate the place of the Praetorians in the imperial government. They could slaughter emperors but played no role in administration, as did the personnel of the palace, Senate and bureaucracy. Further, it was often the case that, after outrageous acts of violence, revenge by the new ruler was forthcoming. For example, in 193 CE Didius Julianus purchased the empire from the Guard for a vast sum. Later that year Septimius Severus marched into Rome, disbanded the Praetorians and founded a new formation from his Pannonian legions. Even Vespasian in 69, who had relied upon the disgruntled cohorts dismissed by Vitellius, reduced their ranks in number when ascending the throne. Unruly mobs in Rome fought often with the Praetorians in Maximinus‘s reign (ca. 235–236) in vicious street battles.
Diocletian, in 284, reduced the status of the Praetorians; they were no longer to be a part of palace life, as Diocletian lived in Nicomedia. A new corps of guards, the Jovians and Herculians, replaced the Praetorians as the personal protectors of the emperors, a practice that remained intact with the tetrarchy. By the time Diocletian retired in 305, the Castra Praetoria seems to have housed only a minor garrison of Rome.
In 306, when Maxentius, son of the retired emperor Maximian, was passed over as a successor, the troops took matters into their own hands and elevated him to the position of emperor in Italy on October 28. When Constantine the Great, launching an invasion of Italy in 312, forced a final collision at the Milvian Bridge, the Praetorian cohorts made up most of Maxentius’s army. Later, in Rome, the victorious Constantine abolished the Guard. The soldiers were sent out to various corners of the empire, and the Castra Praetoria was pulled down. For over 300 years they had served, and the extirpation of the Praetorians was a grand gesture, inaugurating a new age of imperial history.
The following list indicates the relationships between various emperors and their Guard.
ORGANIZATION AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE
Although there were obvious similarities, the Praetorian Guard was unlike any of the other legions in the Roman army. Its cohorts were larger, the pay and benefits better, and its military abilities were reliable. As conceived by Augustus, the Praetorian cohorts totaled around 9,000 men, recruited from the legions in the regular army or drawn from the most deserving youths in Etruria, Umbria, and Latium. In time, the pool of recruits expanded to Macedonia, the Spanish provinces and Illyricum. Vitellius formed a new Guard out of the German legions, while Septimius Severus did the same with the Pannonian legions. He also chose replacements for the units’ ranks from across the Roman Empire, undermining once more the primacy of Italy.
Around the time of Augustus (ca. 5 CE) each cohort of the Praetorians numbered 1,000 men, increasing to 1,500 at the time of Severus—a highwater mark. As with the normal legions, the body of troops actually ready for service was much smaller. The ranks of the Praetorians were, in ascending order:
Miles regular soldier
Immunes After five years, these soldiers were allowed to serve in the Equite singulares (cavalry branch) or asSpeculatores (special agents).
Principales legionary administrators
Evocati after 16 years of service, retirement was possible but most soldiers chose to stay in this honorary unit.
Tribunes officers, also from the legions and usually of the Equestrian class, who commanded a cohort. Centurions could (rarely) be promoted to the tribuneship.
Procurators a rank of the Equestrians
Prefects available to Vigiles and urban cohorts; the highest rank of the Praetorian Guard.
The training of Guardsmen was more intense than in the legions because of the amount of free time available, when a cohort was not posted or traveling with the emperor. It followed the same lines as those elsewhere. Equipment and armor were also the same, with one notable exception—specially decorated breastplates, excellent for parades and state functions. Thus, each Guardsman probably possessed two suits of armor, one for Roman duty and one for the field.
For what was expected of them, the Praetorians were given substantially higher pay. They were paid by a system known as sesquiplex stipendum, or by pay-and-a-half. Thus, while the legionaries might receive 225 denarii, the Guards received 375. Domitian and Severus increased the stipendum (payment) to 1,500 denarii distributed three times a year, in January, May, and September. Upon retiring, a soldier of the Praetorians was granted 20,000 sesterces (5,000 denarii), a gift of land and a diplomata reading “to the warrior who bravely and faithfully completed his service.” Many chose to enter the honorary evocati, while others reenlisted in the hopes of gaining promotion and possible high positions in the Roman state.
From: Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire, Revised Edition.
One of my favorite battles is the Battle of Pharsalus, it was the last battle between Gaius Julius Caesar and his rival, Pompey Magnus. Appian records their speeches marvelously – however, the accuracy of those speeches is, as with many ancient sources, questionable. To give you some context as to the speeches before I quote them, I’ll give a little background here. It’ll be short and sweet, I promise! Well. Ish.
So, the Battle of Pharsalus. One thing you HAVE to remember about Caesar is that he was a brilliant battle commander, and he’s especially renowned for two things: His INSANE speed in pushing his men (He was always two steps ahead of his opponents, appearing places faster than anyone could ever expect), and the INSANE loyalty they had for him. Seriously, when I say insane…he could quell mutinies amongst them with ONE WORD. The battle that had immediately preceded Pharsalus, Dyrrhachium) was a devastating defeat for Caesar’s forces. After it, his men were so ashamed that they apparently begged for decimation, the most infamous punishment of the ancient world. Another example of Caesar’s men’s INSANE devotion to him and his fame was exactly how far his soldiers would go for him in battle. Here’s Plutarch on that:
Such a man, again, was Cassius Scaeva, who, in the battle at Dyrrhachium, had his eye struck out with an arrow, his shoulder transfixed with one javelin and his thigh with another, and received on his shield the blows of one hundred and thirty missiles. In this plight, he called the enemy to him as though he would surrender. Two of them, accordingly, coming up, he lopped off the shoulder of one with his sword, smote the other in the face and put him to flight, and came off safely himself with the aid of his comrades.
However, that battle also brings up Caesar’s greatest fault – he was a piss poor organizer of logistics. He constantly outran his supply lines and then was all “Well, oops. Let’s win anyways.” Crazily enough, his luck was such that he was generally able to.
This brings us to Pharsalus, where Caesar had retreated to after Dyrrhachium. Pompey had followed, setting up camp just a few miles away. His leadership was crazy cocky right now (He had half the Roman Senate in the camp with him), and they were essentially harpies around him. Pompey had the right idea with what he was doing – he was keeping Caesar trapped at Pharsalus, and since Caesar had no supplies, his men were slowly starving. Whereas in Pompey’s camp, he had supplies coming in from EVERYWHERE. Hell, the senators, who had really lavish tents, set up feasts for themselves for after the battle. They weren’t exactly the most intelligent military tacticians themselves – and all they knew was that Pompey wasn’t engaging Caesar, he was keeping his authority over them, and they weren’t as comfortable as they liked being. So they ALL pressured him to attack Caesar – his troops outnumbered Caesar’s 2 to 1! Why was he not attacking? Was he a coward? Or was he keeping his power over them as long as he could? His soldiers were ALSO restless and eager to attack the enemy, and Pompey could only ride that bucking bull for so long.
In Caesar’s camp, again, the men were hungry. They were tired. They had just been routed from a battle. They were outnumbered and cut off. Not the best conditions for ANY army, really. However, they were zealous and they were desperate.
Make sure you keep those conditions in mind as I quote the speeches (as recorded by Appian) below.
Then each of the commanders assembled his soldiers and made an appeal to them. Pompey spoke as follows:
“You, my fellow soldiers, are the leaders in this task rather than the led, for while I was still desirous of wearing Caesar out by hunger you urged on this engagement. Since, therefore, you are the arbiters of the battle, conduct yourselves like those who are greatly superior in numbers. Despise the enemy as victors do the vanquished, as young men do the old, as fresh troops do those who are wearied with many toils. Fight like those who have the power and the means, and the consciousness of a good cause. We are contending for liberty and country. On our side are the laws and honourable fame, and this great number of senators and knights, against one man who has seized the government by robbery. Go forward then, as you have determined to do, with good hope, keeping in vision the flight of the enemy at Dyrrhachium, and the great number of their standards that we captured in one day when we defeated them there.”
Such was Pompey’s speech.
Okay so! Here are the points that Pompey is making to his men:
- They’re the ones who wanted to fight, not him. If they fuck up, it’s their fault because they’re not letting him be the general. A bit of a passive-aggressive statement there 😛
- Because they’re forcing this fight, don’t fuck it up. They’re twice the size of the enemy, they’re well-rested, they’re well-fed, they’re young, while Caesar’s men are tired, hungry, and old(er).
- Here’s one that sounds like the movies. “FREEDOM. FUCK YEAH.” No, seriously, that’s what he’s saying.
- You beat em once, let’s do it again!
….Okay, enough with that. On to Caesar! 😀
Caesar addressed his men as follows:
“My friends, we have already overcome our most formidable enemies, and are now about to encounter not hunger and want, but men. This day will decide everything. Remember what you promised me at Dyrrhachium. Remember how you swore to each other in my presence that you would never leave the field except as conquerors. These men, fellow soldiers, are the same that we met at the Pillars of Hercules, the same that we drove out of Italy. They are the same who sought to disband us without honors, without a triumph, without rewards, after the toils and struggles of ten years, after we had finished those great wars, after innumerable victories, and after we had added 400 nations in Spain, Gaul, and Britain to our country’s sway. I have not been able to prevail upon them by offering fair terms, nor to win them by benefits. You know that I dismissed them unharmed, hoping that we should obtain justice from them. Recall all these facts to your minds to-day, and if you have had any experience of me recall also my care for you, my good faith, and the generosity of my gifts to you.
Nor is it difficult for hardy and veteran soldiers to overcome new recruits who are without experience in war, and who, moreover, like boys, spurn the rules of discipline and of obedience to their commander. I learned that he was afraid and unwilling to come to an engagement. His star has already passed its zenith; he has become slow and hesitating in all his acts, and no longer commands, but obeys the orders of others. I say these things of his Italian forces only. As for his allies, do not think about them, pay no attention to them, do not fight with them at all. They are Syrian, Phrygian, and Lydian slaves, always ready for flight or servitude. I know very well, and you will presently see, that Pompey himself will not assign them any place in his line of battle. Give your attention to the Italians only, even though these allies are running around you like dogs trying to frighten you. When you have put the enemy to flight let us spare the Italians as being our own kindred, but slaughter the allies in order to strike terror into the others. Before all else, in order that I might know that you are mindful of your promise to choose victory or death, throw down the walls of your camp as you go out to battle and fill up the ditch, so that we may have no place of refuge if we do not conquer, and so that the enemy may see that we have no camp and know that we are compelled to occupy theirs.”
Phew. Caesar was long winded as FUCK. Lemme summarize below.
- First two words. “My friends.” That just shows HOW good he is with his men. He never EVER referred to his soldiers as anything but “comrades” or “friends.” That’s an awesome general right there. Anyways.
- You guys have already beaten the real enemies of being starved. Those guys out there are just cleanup duty.
- You guys promised me after you ran away that you would never do that again. You promised EACH OTHER that.
- We’ve beaten these guys back time and time again.
- The guys in charge of this army are the same ones who’ve tried to say that you guys are worthless, even after you spent ten years fighting for Rome. Kick them in the nuts.
- I let these guys go because I loved Rome. They’re fighting against me now. What assholes.
- I LOVE YOU GUYS <3333 (Yea, he seriously says that.)
- You guys’ve got this. Those kids over there are undisciplined idiots while you’re a buncha badasses.
- Pompey’s a pussy.
- It’s only the Italians you have to worry about. The rest of them are worthless.
- Victory or death! Break down the camp so it really IS victory or death.
Cool, huh? Needless to say, Caesar won the battle.
Now, please note that, obviously, many of our sources are old (Livy, Plutarch, etc), and therefore not considered 100% reliable. It’s our job to read between the lines! Secondly, to understand the third Punic War… you have to understand what lead up to it. So our story actually begins long before the Third Punic War….we’ll start with the end of the Second. Or pretty much what ended up being the end….you get the point. Let’s jump straight in!
So. Hannibal Barca is probably a name you know rather well. You know, that crazy general who led his mercenary army across the Alps, spending the next 15 years ravaging Italy without any significant support from the Carthaginian government…THAT Hannibal Barca! So, small problem with him being in Italy – Rome had literally beaten Carthage back everywhere else. And they had a trump card of their own – who went by the name of Scipio (later) Africanus. This guy had won the war in Sicily, in Spain, and was now in North Africa, kicking Carthaginian ass. So Carthage, panicking a bit because he’s making eyes of “Oh helLO there babe” at her, sent envoys to Scipio, trying to organize a truce until Hannibal could get back. Scipio (probably knowing full well what they were doing), decided to play along. He offered the following terms:
- The Carthaginians were to hand over all prisoners of war as well as Roman deserters and refugees.
- They were to withdraw their armies (And their authority with them) from Italy, Gaul, and Spain, as well asall islands between Italy and Africa.
- They were to surrender their entire navy with the exception of twenty vessels
- They were to provide HUGE quantities of wheat and barley (More on this later) to the Roman army
- They were to pay an indemnity of 5,000 talents of silver (Each talent was equivalent to the mass of water required to fill an amphora – a Roman talent was about 72 pounds. 5,000 x 72 = 360,000 pounds of silver. Today, that price comes out to about $101 million USD. Just for perspective!)
Now, Carthage knew that Scipio’s original intent was to completely destroy the city. So they agreed to all the terms – and sent another delegation to Rome to finalize the treaty (Once more, playing for time and trying to shift all the blame onto Hannibal). Hannibal, obviously, didn’t take the news that he was being recalled all that well. Here’s Livy’s description of his reaction (Probably not absolutely accurate, but gives you a good idea):
It is said that he gnashed his teeth, groaned, and almost shed tears when he heard what the delegates had to say. After they had delivered their instructions, he exclaimed, “The men who tried to drag me back by cutting off my supplies of men and money are now recalling me not by crooked means but plainly and openly. So you see, it is not the Roman people who have been so often routed and cut to pieces that have vanquished Hannibal, but the Carthaginian senate by their detraction and envy. It is not Scipio who will pride himself and exult over the disgrace of my return so much as Hanno who has crushed my house, since he could do it in no other way, beneath the ruins for Carthage.” He had divined what would happen, and had got his ships ready in anticipation. The unserviceable portion of his troops he got rid of by distributing them ostensibly as garrisons amongst the few towns which, more out of fear than loyalty, still adhered to him. The main strength of his army he transported to Africa. Many who were natives of Italy refused to follow him, and withdrew into the temple of Juno Lacinia, a shrine which up to that day had remained inviolate. There, actually within the sacred precinct, they were foully murdered. Seldom, according to the accounts, has any one left his native country to go into exile in such gloomy sorrow as Hannibal manifested when quitting the country of his foes. It is stated that he often looked back to the shores of Italy, accusing gods and men and even cursing himself for not having led his soldiers reeking with blood from the victorious field of Cannae straight to Rome. Scipio, he said, who whilst consul had never seen a Carthaginian in Italy, had dared to go to Africa, whereas he who had slain 100,000 men at Thrasymenus and at Cannae had wasted his strength round Casilinum and Cumae and Nola. Amid these accusations and regrets he was borne away from his long occupation of Italy.
Obviously, Livy sees Hannibal in a bit more of a negative light – however, you get the gist of what he was saying.
Needless to say – this treaty with Rome didn’t last long, as the Carthaginians, buoyed by Hannibal’s presence, acted much as if they were still at war. They pirated Roman supply ships, lynched Roman envoys, etc. Well, Rome didn’t take too kindly to that, and they told Scipio (still in North Africa) to engage. Scipio (this part’s important!) summoned his Numidian allies (They generally provided amazing cavalry and flipflopped to whoever had the most money.) to help him out against Carthage.
…from there – Rome beat Hannibal’s army (He only had a small core of veterans, whereas Scipio’s entire army was veteran), forcing Carthage into negotiations. Again. These ones were FAR more severe (obviously). In addition to all the previous terms (scroll up):
- Carthage was now forbidden from fighting any wars outside Africa. Additionally, if they wanted to fight any wars (read: Fight at all), they had to have permission from Rome first.
- The indemnity was set at 10,000 talents now (That number from earlier times 2), and they had to pay it over the course of 50 years.
- Carthage had to hand over ALL its war elephants and the number of ships she was allowed to have was reduced to 10.
So, those are the terms Carthage had to live under. REALLY not all that hot, but hey, the losers have no other choice, eh? Either way. Carthage was in deep shit. Luckily for them, they had the one person who was so amazing that he could dig them out. Hannibal fucking Barca. That guy that the Council of Elders hated to their very cores was the man who would turn Carthage’s fortunes completely around. He remained in charge of the remnants of his army, which he set to planting olive groves. He reorganized the government by making the membership to the Council of One Hundred and Four only last one year, and had that membership decided by popular election. He personally oversaw the audits of public revenues, where he discovered huge amounts of state funds (gasp!) were being lost to embezzlement. So many funds were lost, he found, that if duties were properly collected on property and trade, then there would be plenty of money to pay the yearly indemnity without resorting to higher taxes. Well. Guess who fucking loved Hannibal after this? The people! 😀 Guess who fucking HATED Hannibal after this? The aristocrats! 😀 He also rebuilt the residential quarter, supervised a TON of construction, and in general improved the quality of life in the city. Well, that lasted until Roman envoys headed to the city, saw Hannibal in charge, and were all “OH NO YOU DID NOT.” He was forced to flee into exile, where he remained hiding for the rest of his life from the vengeful arm of Rome.
Well, luckily for Carthage, their hero had put them on the craziest turn around in ancient history. The city which had been devastated by the Second Punic War staged a REMARKABLE comeback, and was even able to pay back that entire indemnity a mere ten years into the 50 year period. Rome, pretty shocked by this, immediately refused. Remember the grain that Carthage had to supply for Rome? Here are some numbers for ya! 😀
- Immediately after the end of the war, Carthage provided 200,000 modii (8.73 L per modius.) of wheat to Rome.
- In 191 BCE, Carthage was providing 500,000 modii of wheat and 500,000 modii of barley.
- In 171, it was 1,000,000 of modii of wheat and 500,000 modii of barley.
Carthage was fucking loaded. They didn’t have to worry about war anymore, just support Roman armies a bit. They didn’t have to worry about administering an empire and the costs that were associated there. What they DID still have were some crazy awesome trade networks – especially with Italy – that were SUPER profitable. On top of the tributes of agricultural products, their merchants ALSO sold a ton, as well as Carthaginian wine and other products. The construction projects continued, the most ambitious of which was a new port complex. Here’s Appian’s description of it (which is supported by archaeological evidence):
The harbors had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea seventy feet wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels, and here were collected all kinds of ships’ tackle. Within the second port was an island which, together with the port itself, was enclosed by high embankments. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. Above them were magazines for their tackle and furniture. Two Ionic columns stood in front of each dock, giving the appearance of a continuous portico to both the harbor and the island. On the island was built the admiral’s house, from which the trumpeter gave signals, the herald delivered orders, and the admiral himself overlooked everything. The island lay near the entrance to the harbor and rose to a considerable height, so that the admiral could observe what was going on at sea, while those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even the incoming merchants could see the docks, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchant ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards. Such was the appearance of Carthage at that time.
If you head to that source, he also gives a GREAT description of the actual defenses of Carthage – needless to say, the city was grand as SHIT. Here are some pictures that show you what the harbor actually looked like. The reason this is important is because it factors in later on – besides being a very obvious display of wealth. Notably, that harbor was entirely dug out. Which required about 235,000 cubic meters of earth to be excavated from a swampy marshland (no small feat, even today).
So. Now that we’ve established that Carthage was a rich fucking city (her walls were even lined with plaster, giving the city a magnificent white marble shimmering effect when seen from a distance), what do people do with rich cities that can’t defend themselves? Oh right. They get beaten up. Well, the Numidians (remember them?) started raiding Carthaginian lands (You know, the ones that had been set in that treaty with Rome). So, following the treaty, Carthage complained to Rome. Well, the Numidians sent envoys right along with them. And after much chin-stroking, the Romans (of course), sided with the Numidians. Despite the fact that it was Carthage that had been bent over. Well, of course, you give a man an inch, and he’ll take a mile. Numidia began deeper and deeper incursions into Carthaginian territory, taking over more and more land. Carthage complained and asked Rome for help over and over and over again, and Rome steadily refused, siding with the Numidians time and time again. Desperate, the Carthaginians finally put together an army to fight off the Numidians – an army that was promptly crushed, and the Numidians complained to Rome that the Carthaginians had fought back. DIPLOMACY 8D. Yeah, so guess who the Romans sided with? The Numidians! 😀 And they sent envoys to Carthage telling her to fuck off, forcing them to pay the Numidians 500 talents of silver. The Roman Senate didn’t like Carthage very much (could you tell?) – and the leader of that faction that REALLY hated Carthage was a crotchety old asshole (in his 80s) named Cato the Elder. He led the embassy to Carthage in 152 BCE, and he was terrified in his old man dangly bits over what he found. Here’s a quote from Plutarch about what he found: (A quick note – Plutarch was a biased fuck when it came to Cato.)
The last of his public services is supposed to have been the destruction of Carthage. It was Scipio the Younger who actually brought the task to completion, but it was largely in consequence of the advice and counsel of Cato that the Romans undertook the war. It was on this wise Cato was sent on an embassy to the Carthaginians and Masinissa the Numidian, who were at war with one another, to inquire into the grounds of their quarrel. Masinissa had been a friend of the Roman people from the first, and the Carthaginians had entered into treaty relations with Rome after the defeat which the elder Scipio had given them. The treaty deprived them of their empire, and imposed a grievous money tribute upon them. Cato, however, found the city by no means in a poor and lowly state, as the Romans supposed, but rather teeming with vigorous fighting men, overflowing with enormous wealth, filled with arms of every sort and with military supplies, and not a little puffed up by all this. He therefore thought it no time for the Romans to be ordering and arranging the affairs of Masinissa and the Numidians, but that unless they should repress a city which had always been their malignant foe, now that its power was so incredibly grown, they would be involved again in dangers as great as before. Accordingly, he returned with speed to Rome, and advised the Senate that the former calamitous defeats of the Carthaginians had diminished not so much their power as their foolhardiness, and were likely to render them in the end not weaker, but more expert in war; their present contest with Numidia was but a prelude to a contest with Rome, while peace and treaty were mere names wherewith to cover their postponement of war till a fit occasion offered.
In addition to this, it is said that Cato contrived to drop a Libyan fig in the Senate, as he shook out the folds of his toga, and then, as the senators admired its size and beauty, said that the country where it grew was only three days’ sail from Rome. And in one thing he was even more savage, namely, in adding to his vote on any question whatsoever these words: “In my opinion, Carthage must be destroyed.” Publius Scipio Nasica, on the contrary, when called upon for his vote, always ended his speech with this declaration: “In my opinion, Carthage must be spared.” He saw, probably, that the Roman people, in its wantonness, was already guilty of many excesses, in the pride of its prosperity, spurned the control of the Senate, and forcibly dragged the whole state with it, whithersoever its mad desires inclined it. He wished, therefore, that the fear of Carthage should abide, to curb the boldness of the multitude like a bridle, believing her not strong enough to conquer Rome, nor yet weak enough to be despised. But this was precisely what Cato dreaded, when the Roman people was inebriated and staggering with its power, to have a city which had always been great, and was now but sobered and chastened by its calamities, for ever threatening them. Such external threats to their sovereignty ought to be done away with altogether, he thought, that they might be free to devise a cure for their domestic failings.
Meh, fuck Cato. That’s actually what he was known best for – that one line. “Carthage must be destroyed.” Well, unfortunately, the situation between Carthage and Massinassa (Numidians) had descended into all-out war. And what did Rome say about Carthage going to war? Oh right. That was a no-no. Rome had JUST finished a couple of foreign wars, too, and oh hey, look at that city that’s super fucking rich and pretty much defenseless that’s…in Cato the old fuck’s words… “Only three days hence.” So in 150 BCE, Rome mobilized an army bound for North Africa.
Well, Carthage heard of this, and (obviously), they were preeeeetty worried about it. So they sent envoys to Rome, who were met rather frostily, and were informed that the army was already in Sicily. So they begged for how they could fix the problems…Rome’s response? “You must satisfy the Roman people.” Yeah, cause that’s not ominous at ALL. Cato, of course, was continuing the drumbeat of war – we only have fragments of these speeches, but here’s the climax of one of them:
Who are the people who have often broken their treaties? The Carthaginians. Who are the people who have waged war with the utmost cruelty? The Carthaginians. Who are the people who have disfigured Italy? The Carthaginians. Who are the people who ask to be forgiven? The Carthaginians.
So anyways. Rome started making her demands to Carthage – Terms to make Carthage NOT get destroyed. First off, Carthage, in 149, sent 300 of her noble children to Rome as hostages. That same year, Rome’s army of 80,000 infantry and 4,000 horse landed in Utica (North African city). The next envoys had to walk through the ranks of the legions to speak with the consuls (remember, Roman generals were all politicians, and the top dogs were the consuls – think the presidents – and they generally were the commanders in chief). The next terms were for Carthage to disarm herself – and the Carthaginians complied, sending a train of wagons with armor and weapons for 20,000 men to the Roman camp, as well as 2,000 giant catapults. Then, Rome summoned Carthage’s 30 leading citizens for their final term: All of Carthage had to move inland by at least 16 kilometres. The city itself was slated for destruction.
Yeeeeah, that didn’t go over well. Here’s Appian on that:
Consul Lucius Marcius Censorinus said to the Carthaginian envoys:] “Your ready obedience up to this point, Carthaginians, in the matter of the hostages and the arms, is worthy of all praise. In cases of necessity we must not multiply words. Bear bravely the remaining commands of the Senate. Yield Carthage to us, and betake yourselves where you like within your own territory at a distance of at least fifteen kilometers from the sea, for we are resolved to raze your city to the ground.”
While he was yet speaking, the Carthaginians lifted their hands toward heaven with loud cries, and called on the gods as avengers of violated faith. They heaped reproaches on the Romans, as if willing to die, or insane, or determined to provoke the Romans to sacrilegious violence to ambassadors. They flung themselves on the ground and beat it with their hands and heads. Some of them even tore their clothes and lacerated their flesh as though they were absolutely bereft of their senses. After the first frenzy was past there was great silence and prostration as of men lying dead.
The speech by “Banno, surnamed Tigillas, the most distinguished man among them,” is heartrending to read, and it’s right below that quote in the source. Seriously…the man says everything he possibly could to try to save the city – and it’s possible that that speech may be accurate. Needless to say, however, the Romans were all “Meh, fuck you guys.” Or, if you prefer a more literal quote, “We considered you to be Carthage, not the ground where you live.” Roman diplomacy involved being a huge dick, apparently.
Needless to say, those diplomats were torn limb from limb by an angry mob when they returned – and Carthage prepared for war. Every available space was turned into a workshop (we know this as total war today), in which both men and women worked side by side in shifts. Back to Appian!
The same day the Carthaginian senate declared war and proclaimed freedom to the slaves. They also chose generals and selected Hasdrubal for the outside work, whom they had condemned to death, and who had already collected 30,000 men. They dispatched a messenger to him begging that, in the extreme peril of his country, he would not remember, or lay up against them, the wrong they had done him under the pressure of necessity from fear of the Romans.
Within the walls they chose for general another Hasdrubal, the son of a daughter of Massinissa. They also sent to the consuls asking a truce of thirty days in order to send an embassy to Rome. When this was refused a second time, a wonderful change and determination came over them, to endure everything rather than abandon their city.
Quickly all minds were filled with courage from this transformation. All the sacred places, the temples, and every other unoccupied space, were turned into workshops, where men and women worked together day and night without pause, taking their food by turns on a fixed schedule. Each day they made 100 shields, 300 swords, 1,000 missiles for catapults, 500 darts and javelins, and as many catapults as they could. For strings to bend them the women cut off their hair for want of other fibers.
Total. Fucking. War. The Romans laid siege to the city, but again and again were driven back by the incredibly high and strong triple wall. Meanwhile, one of the Hasdrubals (The outside one) was wreaking havoc behind Roman lines, raiding their supply lines and their communications. Well…Rome wasn’t happy with how this war was being worked out, so they elected a new consul, Lucious Calpurnius Piso, who attempted to force Carthage to surrender by attacking the towns in the region that supported Carthage – hitting their supplies and reinforcements HARD. His second in command led an assault on a weak point in Carthage’s defenses, but was driven back after breaching the wall, and they were saved only because a certain young man had come to save the day with reinforcements….and to take over the campaign. His name was Scipio Aemilianus, who was the adopted grandson of Scipio Africanus. The same guy who had beaten Carthage over 50 years before. Scipio quickly had a mole constructed, blocking off the Carthaginian harbor and providing an avenue for the Roman troops right up to the weaker harbor walls – and that’s where he made his final assault. Interestingly enough, we have an eyewitness account of the final fall of Carthage – and his name is Polybius. Here’s an excerpt from his writings:
Turning round to me at once and grasping my hand Scipio said, “A glorious moment, Polybius; but I have a dread foreboding that some day the same doom will be pronounced on my own country.” It would be difficult to mention an utterance more statesmanlike and more profound. For at the moment of our greatest triumph and of disaster to our enemies to reflect on our own situation and on the possible reversal of circumstances, and generally to bear in mind at the season of success the mutability of Fortune, is like a great and perfect man, a man in short worthy to be remembered.
The desolation of the city lasted for six days. Scipio was forced to rotate his men into killing squads to preserve their sanity, and the only survivors of a city estimated to have anywhere from 400,000-700,000 residents were 50,000 people who begged the Roman general for their lives – and were granted this mercy by being sold into slavery.
Okay, first off, many people incorrectly use the term “Roman Empire” to describe “Rome in general,” but that’s like calling the Germanic states “Germany.” The name is similar, but it’s wrong at its core. For most of its existence, Rome was not an Empire – Rome was the Roman Republic, and that’s what people usually compare the United States to. Probably because the United States has stolen SOOOO much from Rome. The Senate? Yeah, that’s a Roman thing. How about a Republic? Yeah, Rome started that too, right? How about ‘Murica’s favourite symbol? Yeah, Rome started that too! So Rome and the United States are SO similar! Right? Riiiiiight? Well screw you and your cherry picking of history. You know what? I want to compare Canada to China. They both have C starting their name and they both are countries with lots of land and they both have slanty eyed people. Anywhoozles, let’s go into detail on why the US, while similarish to Rome, is nothing like Rome.
First off, let’s put things in perspective. The United States is almost 250 years old. When Rome was 250 years old, it was nothing more than a city. A city embroiled in a conflict that spanned a century with the Veii, but still just a city. The United States started off as a republic, absorbing the ideals of classical nation states to uphold blah blah blah. Rome started out as a monarchy, because FUCK DA POLICE! Depending on what story you’re looking at, it could have been a dude raised by a wolf who decided “ROME BE HERE,” which is considered a legend by most sane people, or you could look at archaelogical evidence that shows that Rome was built over centuries due to it having a fantastic position, both defensively and for trade. Farmers in the area banded together, eventually creating the city.
- First point against the similarities. Starting off, they were completely different.
Let’s look at some of the people Rome idolized – one in particular. His name was Cinncinnatus, and he’s commonly compared to the George Washington of Rome. To be fair, he didn’t have anything to do with Rome’s founding, didn’t save the country, didn’t fight in glorious wars or what have you. He fought one battle that he was famous for. But something that might differentiate him a bit from Washington….He was a dictator. To be fair, that word had a completely different connotation to the Romans of antiquity. Cinncinnatus was the model of a perfect Roman. He was conservative, he was an honest farmer who worked just like every man, he was called by his people to take over in time of need (dictator), and as soon as that need ended, he resigned and went back to his farm. He was only dictator for two weeks the first time, and one week the second. So comparable…ish to Washington? But then you realize that while Rome idolized a man known for poverty, Washington was one of the richest presidents of all time. Washington is frequently described as an unattractive man – even the flattering portraits don’t attempt to show him otherwise. He’s always depicted in his full dress clothes. Meanwhile, Cinncinnatus is rarely depicted in his full getup (toga), being more well known for his farming lifestyle – the only physical description we have of him is that he was hardy, but aging.
- So Rome and America idolize two different caricatures. One is a wealthy aristocrat, fighting against impossible odds, despite his own imperfections. The other is a poor man, coming to his people’s aid in time of need, immediately dropping the power as soon as that time of need expired.
Next – on to the system of governments. They’re both Republics though, right? What could POSSIBLY be different there! Well uh, just about everything, really. Let’s start off with a quick description of the system in the US. We have three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. They all have checks and balances on each other, and they all get along wonderfully, thanks to the framework of our constitution, etc etc etc.
Well, let’s check out Rome’s system of government. They had a Senate of 900 men, who were “elected” from the Senatorial class of Rome. In other words, you had to be born into the right family to get into the Senate. Now, I’ll know you’re thinking “Well, the US is a bit of an oligarchy too ’cause you have to have lots of money and contacts and stuff to run for office,” but the problem with that is that legally, anyone who meets the age and citizenship requirements can run for office. Not so in Rome. Heading the Senate, they had two consuls who were “elected” (again, mostly from the aristocratic patrician class – though plebians were allowed to run for consul), who were the equivalent of the President. They served one year terms, had the power of veto (including on each other, which made for fun politics, especially when they only served one year terms), they had administrative, legislative, judicial, religious, and military power. They would often lead the armies of Rome in battle, unlike US presidents – it was their duty to do so.
Rome had no “judicial” branch, per se. Heck, you couldn’t even pay someone else to defend you in court. However, someone COULD volunteer to defend you. So you could give them a gift for being such a good, close friend! Or you could give them a loan at 0% interest that they would never have to repay, just because they were in dire financial straits! So Rome had the best judiciary that money could buy – but for big cases (like the Good Goddess scandal), the Senate was the judge, jury, and executioner.
Taxes were also handled differently – I don’t believe the Roman tax system changed over much during the transition from a Republic to an Empire, (but I can tell you about how it was done during the Republic.) Simply put, the Romans used contractors.
There were quite a few different classes in Roman society – plebians, equestrians, the senatorial class, and the patricians.The ones that are involved with Rome’s tax system are the equestrians, who are sometimes called the “knight class” of Rome (The name hints at it a bit) They were also (generally) the “businessmen“ of Rome – essentially the wealthy guys who know they have power, but prefer to remain a bit behind the scenes with it. They don’t need to be involved in political battles, risking their lives (and fortunes) to try to achieve a political position.
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way! There were a whole BUNCH of different kinds of taxes – and not all of them were money as we might think it (over 300,000 long tons of grain were shipped from Egypt and North Africa to Rome ANNUALLY). The United States has the tribitum capitis, which was a tax imposed on the population of certain provinces. The tax was not equal, and was a tax either from property that wasn’t land or a poll tax levied as acapitatio (taxes paid per head, or per animal – these taxes were only paid by the lower classes who were not wealthy enough to pay taxes on their whole property as assessed by the census. Only healthy men who could work – 14-65 – were assessed, but not in equal measure.) *Remember, this tax was only for the colonies!
So, in Rome the Contractors would hold “auctions.” They would put…say…Gaul or Hispania up on the table and say “Ok! We have Gaul here! Who’s going to get the most money from them?” And the bidding would start off. Whoever promised the most money to Rome from the province was granted tax collecting privileges in that province. As you can imagine, this system was rather corrupt, and people made their fortunes off of it. Tax collectors would take TONS more money than was required of them and pocket some before sending it higher up to the man in charge. He would pocket all the extra and send the required amount to Rome. Tax collectors were Roman officials, so they had the local garrisons of legions on their side – and the subjugated people had generally learned their lesson. These guys were known as the publicani.
The Republic actually made the claim that it raised fewer taxes in provinces than the preceding Hellenistic kingdoms and did not introduce new ones. To be fair, that’s almost true – the poll tax that was started by Augustus was the only significant new tax imposed before the late third century. Granted, that’s not to say that the taxes that were paid were INEXPENSIVE…but hey, you can’t have everything, right?
Ah, but there’s another tax I hadn’t talked about! There’s the tributum soli, which is, in English, the land tax of Rome. They taxed all land, forests, croplands, ships, slaves, animals, and other moveable property. This tax was solid so long as the armies of Rome kept bringing in massive amounts of loot from their conquests, but it proved to be REALLY insufficient later on, when Rome stopped expanding. Later emperors increased taxes on the land, with the result being that farmers abandoned their less productive fields, slashing agricultural output. The emperors increased the frequency of collection, which eventually converted the tax into a sales tax.
Finally, you have another piece to the puzzle that The United States has nothing like. You have the tribunes. The tribunes are considered by some to be one of the major catalysts of the Fall of the Republic, and there are some good reasons for that. The tribunes had the power to veto anything (including each other, including each other’s vetoes), and they were elected by the people to one year terms. The well-known ones were either demagogues or puppets – sometimes they served the Senate’s interests, sometimes they served their own/the peoples’. They could propose laws directly to the people, whipping them up into a mob until the Senate was forced to submit. The most famous ones also had a knack for getting killed off.
- So, their governmental system was ALSO nothing like the United States. On the surface, maybe. In action? Not so much.
Another thing I want to point out is that the military system for Rome was completely different from the system of the United States, especially after the Marian reforms. Before the reforms, Rome didn’t really have a standing army – it had citizen levies. In other words, a glorified militia. Probably the best militia the world has ever seen, but still… not a standing, trained army (like the United States.) When the Marian reforms happened and the army became a standing army, their loyalty was not to Rome or to the consuls – it was to their individual generals, who were the ones who gave the soldiers their pay, land, rewards, loot, and comforts. Hence the constant string of civil wars, when the generals decided to use that power to their advantage.
Finally…the Fall of Rome. Both the Republic and the Empire. First off, the fall of the Republic. You can analyze the last century of the Republic and point to all the dominoes that fell, and sometimes make comparisons (you can compare the US to the Mongols if you really want to.) However, the last fifty years of the Republic was like nothing the United States has ever seen. It was the equivalent of the US being at war with South America, Europe, and China all at the same time, while being devastated by constant civil war. And when I say constant, I mean that Rome went through six civil wars in about sixty years. Yeah, that’s fucking nuts! The US went through ONE and is still recovering. The people of Rome were GRATEFUL for the centralization of power, just because it was an end to the chaos. Oh right, and Rome was completely bankrupt too – something that the US isn’t anywhere close to.
Now, the Roman Empire’s fall. The Empire had a WHOLE lot more against it than the Republic. First off, it was split in half ’cause it was too damn big. So the Eastern half was too far away to help the Western half when it needed it. And the Western half was facing random civil wars every few years whenever a general felt like being Emperor, revolts all OVER the place by the “barbarians” in those provinces, they cut Briton off because they couldn’t afford to keep it any more, barbarians were invading and plundering everything throughout the nation, AND Rome was so far beyond bankrupt it wasn’t even funny. Oh right, and famines were happening too (on and off from 400 to 800; may have killed 20 percent of the empire’s population.) And plagues (in the 500’s.) And earthquakes.
Yeah, it was way worse than the fall of the Republic, and that was WAY worse than anything the US has ever faced. Ever.
I’m not saying that there were no important similarities between Rome and the United States. Blanket, all-encompassing statements like that are just as bad as people saying that the US is the reincarnation of Rome. However, what I’m saying is that Rome and the United States are not comparable. The thing is, there are comparisons that can be made with any country, time period, government, or situation. That doesn’t necessarily make them accurate so much as it makes them people trying to construct a straw man to prove their point. The reason I explained Rome’s governmental system as I did was because most of Rome’s problems were caused by its government. And that government, strangely enough, was so alien to us that it wouldn’t even be considered a modern democracy. Which debunks most of the points people make right there. One of the few points I can sort of agree with is that many of Rome’s troubles (and downfall) were caused by incessant infighting by their political factions – the Optimates (conservatives) and the Populares (liberals.) However, that comparison can also be debunked a hundred different ways. First off, you’ll note the fact that I said factions rather than parties – there were no political parties. Secondly, Rome had no police force, so gang warfare was a huge element in these political machinations. Thirdly, technology has changed so much that it’s impossible to compare these speakers who could whip a crowd into a mob with their passionate language to “Yes We Can.” And the mob was a HUGE force in Rome, whereas today, you can just get your news from the TV. Of course, who were the ones whipping up these mobs in the first place? Generally, it was the tribunes. A position that the United States does not have.