Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brutus

   For a period of about four hundred years the Roman Senate dominated politics.  There were checks and balances and all the various devices, term limits and so on, that allow debate to precede action and form the mainspring of both wise and unwise decision making.  Long and beautiful public debate, speech that inspired.  Certainly the Roman Senate as it gathered history looked less and less like a bunch of part time soldiers, who'd occasionally agree to protect the flock by warding of the more unpleasant neighbors. It began to comprise property owning gentlemen with the correct lineage, and here property included people and acres and ship yards and whole islands and maybe entire mountains covered with Grapevine and perhaps the complete toe of Italy.  As well during the time of the Roman Republic there was a powerful Plebian Council where the day to day matters were debated by non-patricians, or Romans who owned insufficient wealth and birthright to earn the title Senator. The Plebs were a  patriotic bunch who tied their fate to Rome's expanding empire, filled its legions and cheered.  They were raucous with shouting and passion, they greatly enjoyed spectacle, and probably much fun to be around.  Inevitably the Patricians defined them as common and subordinate and unsavory, as do some dictionaries today.

    But the Plebs were the middle class, they owned small farms, they made cheese, they were craftsmen, teachers stone masons, scientists, the list goes on, and as Rome expanded so did their standard of living. Then around 100 BC, following financial crisis and a massive increase in the slave population that had resulted from victory abroad, things began to go awry.  The Plebs lost economic power and their numbers increased. A Patrician Landowner, who once might have employed Plebs, no longer needed to.  Poverty forced Plebs to sell what they owned at bargain base prices to Patricians. And it turned out that slaves were harder working and much less expensive than cantankerous freemen who where constantly taking a break for snacks and maybe the occasional day off, and there is always the talking back which can be such a bind and you can't send freemen to die in a tin mine when they reach the age of about thirty.  Nor was there much call for military service, because  Rome had defeated her enemies, the Mediterranean was her lake, and increasingly, a powerful Roman, if he wanted his oats and a hob-knob with the pinnacle of career, would make war on another powerful Roman, rather than stress about Scythians and deserts and places too cold for the civilized to live.  Around 49 BC Julius Caesar, a general of the army, finally disobeyed the Roman Senate, he crossed the Rubicon with a military force and basically he became Dictator for Life. A Tyrant whose word alone was law. And for the next four hundred years if you wanted to get ahead in Roman politics you took your cue from Caesar, rather than dialogue and 'what if.'  As for me, I hope March 15th will see the ground well prepared for the warmer days.

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