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Caesar CXXXVII

Ides of March

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I really don't see how you can argue that the Republic was managing in a manner that could in any way, shape or form be described as "competent". Quite the opposite really: the system was being torn apart by numerous crisis'; economic, social, and political. Reform was desperatly needed, and reform was precisely what the ruling oligarchy had no intention of ever allowing to happen.

 

What a wonderful inversion of the truth! One wonders, for example, what would constitute a 'competent' form of government if not a system -- like the Roman republic -- that had managed to sustain itself over 500 years, growing from a tiny city surrounded by enemies to the undisputed power of the whole Mediterranean, evolving laws and establishing individual rights that even today would be the envy of many "republics", and protecting the growth of innovations (such as the system of clean, potable water) that today only about 50% of the world's population enjoys. If THIS were an incompetent system, I really do wonder what a competent one would look like!

 

It certainly wouldn't look like the system that rose up out of Caesar's destructive wake. That comparatively short-lived system was a very model of dysfunction. Indeed, if you count up the years between Octavian's principate to the fall of Rome, nearly HALF of the system's ruling executives came to power due to the murder or violent overthrow of the incumbent princeps/dominus/rex/whatever. In comparison, the republican constitution resulted in fewer than 5% of its successions following a similar course. I submit that a constitution that cannot change executives peacefully and without civil war is the truly incompetent system -- and that is exactly was the Roman people got when--beginning with Caesar's dictatorship--the constitution of the Roman republic was ripped apart and the people lost their power to choose their tribunes and magistrates by plebiscite.

 

I also wonder what on earth is meant by "ruling oligarchy". Can it really be that Divius Julius doesn't know the difference between the ancien regime of Louis XIV and the Roman republican system whom French revolutionaries sought to emulate? What possible meaning of "oligarchy" -- except the most tautological -- could be truthfully applied to the republic?? An "oligarchy" is a rule by the few. But let just one volume of Broughton's Magistrates of the Roman Republic fall on your foot to disabuse yourself of the fantastic notion that only a few ruled Rome! Oh, you might say, but the magistrates were the oligarchy. But then what form of government is NOT an oligarchy? A government not run by magistrates? And what then would run the government? Maenads? Of course not -- every government must be run by men, and the number of men is limited. What truly distinguishes an oligarchy from its antithesis is whether the same small number of men always rule the state -- yet this is exactly what one had under that Julio-Claudian dynasty. Only DJ's admiration for this dynasty could explain his willingness to ensorcel himself with the inversions of facts and language in the post above.

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I really don't see how you can argue that the Republic was managing in a manner that could in any way, shape or form be described as "competent". Quite the opposite really: the system was being torn apart by numerous crisis'; economic, social, and political. Reform was desperatly needed, and reform was precisely what the ruling oligarchy had no intention of ever allowing to happen.

 

I also wonder what on earth is meant by "ruling oligarchy". Can it really be that Divius Julius doesn't know the difference between the ancien regime of Louis XIV and the Roman republican system whom French revolutionaries sought to emulate? What possible meaning of "oligarchy" -- except the most tautological -- could be truthfully applied to the republic?? An "oligarchy" is a rule by the few. But let just one volume of Broughton's Magistrates of the Roman Republic fall on your foot to disabuse yourself of the fantastic notion that only a few ruled Rome! Oh, you might say, but the magistrates were the oligarchy. But then what form of government is NOT an oligarchy? A government not run by magistrates? And what then would run the government? Maenads? Of course not -- every government must be run by men, and the number of men is limited. What truly distinguishes an oligarchy from its antithesis is whether the same small number of men always rule the state -- yet this is exactly what one had under that Julio-Claudian dynasty. Only DJ's admiration for this dynasty could explain his willingness to ensorcel himself with the inversions of facts and language in the post above.

 

I would be inclined to support MPC on this point. All states are ultimately run buy an executive and therefore all are oligarchies in at least a tautological sense. This does not mean, however, that - a priori - all states are run by oligarchies. If oligarchy is rule by a few, it is not a self defining and rational statement to say that all states are oligarchies in the same way as all Englishmen are from England.

 

If the clock is turned back a couple of hundred years before the period in discussion here, some have pointed out that the same gens appear time after time on the fasti of magistrates. The Claudii, Cornelii, Fabii, Manlii and Valerii did dominate for a period but this does not constitute an oligarchy of a 'few' clans, if there can be such a thing. Many others from a wide variety of other gens saw their men rise to prominence.

 

However, a crude google search will deliver in excess of 31,000 entries against "Roman Republic Oligarchy". Does this mean that despite any thorough analysis of this point, there is simply wide acceptance that it was an oligarchy? This may mean that in common with many well defined terms, its use has been allowed to become undisciplined and loose. The current UK government has been referred to by some as a Scottish oligarchy because a disproportionally high number of executives have been Scottish when Scotland is home to only about 8.5% of the UK population. This may be an issue but it is not an example of an oligarchy.

 

The UK government, all democracies and the Roman Republic were governed by a large number of representatives and a few executives. The Roman Senate, anything between 300 and 600 hundred members was not elected in the same way as the House of Commons, the House of Representatives or the US Senate, but that did not mean that it was a meaningless talking shop under the sway of a true oligarchy.

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Indeed, oligarchy is too often defined negatively without understanding the nature of the ruling class throughout history and into the modern day. Modern "democracies" while certainly allowing for more opportunity and reducing the birthright entitlement may very well be defined as oligarchies by future civilizations. The bigger issue is that the oligarchy is often discredited as corrupt, patently unfair, or evil; thus leading to the conclusion that the alternative (usually tyrannical dictatorship/monarchy) is justifiable.

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I was wondering if anyone knew what happened to Caesar's remains? I thought they were placed at his temple, but I'm not sure. Is that the case? Are his ashes placed at the altar still?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This thread seems to be a grab bag of random topics about Caesar, so just a few thoughts:

 

(1) Parenti's book is terrible. He really doesn't have much of any background on ancient Rome, and the book is Michael Moore-ish in its cartoonish treatment of historical events. Clodius mentioned the socialist tone of the bio, but I don't even think Parenti is even competent at that. Presumably a consistent Marxist would celebrate Spartacus rather than the guy who bragged he enslaved a million Gallic men, women, and children... but then Marxists have always had a funny way of tolerating real slavery while shaking their fists at capitalist 'exploiters' ...

 

(2) PP and I had a long discussion of Caesar's birth date in a previous thread (HERE and HERE), and we came to the conclusion that 102 is more likely. Specialists on the late republic who wrote on the topic came to a similar conclusion as well.

 

(3) On the ides itself, I still highly recommend Nicolaus of Damascus' treatment. Of all the ancient historians, he comes closest to providing an eyewitness account.

 

(EDIT: included links to previous discussions.)

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