The first time Rome fell.
|July 30th, 2017 at 9:01:28 AM permalink|
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Mike Duncan's book "The Storm Before the Storm," about the events leading up to the fall of the Roman Republic, is on pre-order. You can listen to the first chapter, red by the man himself, in the latest installment of his current podcast, Revolutions: http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/2017/07/the-storm-before-the-storm-chapter-1-the-beasts-of-italy.html
This chapter deals mostly with the rise and fall of Rome's first big-time populist, Tiberius Gracchus.
I already knew the basic issues, from all the way back when I first listened to The History of Rome, but here Duncan goes into greater detail on the politics and personages involved (and less detail on military battles).
Anyway, the problem was that Rome had grown rich for the first time in its existence rather recently, through the conquests of Carthage and Greece. Or rather the elites (ie the nobility) grew rich in consequence. Though the Romans had overthrown their king and had banished monarchy centuries earlier, nobility, in the form of the Patrician and Equestrian classes, remained. The rest of the people, the Plebeians, or Plebs, did not grow rich along with the nobility.
Instead the Plebs found themselves growing poor.
The Plebs were mostly farmers who owned their own land. But the nobility began to acquire that land, often pressuring the Plebes to sell. In addition, the wars in Carthage and Greece provided a large number of slaves in th form of war captives. So Plebs wound up as sharecroppers or homeless and unemployed.
There were other issues concerning ongoing wars in Iberia (modern Spain), which took the Plebs away from their fields for too long a time. The Plebs made up the bulk of the Legions at the time, with the rest raised from among the Italian allies.
A group of nobles, including Tiberius Gracchus, attempted to rectify the situation by passing the Lex Agraria. This would work in two parts: 1) enforcement of an existing law limiting the extent of public land a citizen could own, and 2) giving the land to displaced Plebs with a prohibition against selling such land (otherwise they might sell it back to the nobility and things would go revert to the status quo). Tiberius got elected as Tribune of the Plebs (two people served in such capacity) and attempted to pass the Lex Agraria.
The Nobility opposed this.
Now, there's much question whether the nobles associated with Tiberius wanted real reform and had the good of Rome in mind, or whether they were looking to institute their own field of political clients to gain power; and even whether these two goals were mutually exclusive.
What followed were a series of political and legal maneuvers on both sides that largely ignored precedent, custom and even current law. To begin, Tiberius introduced the Lex Agraria to the assemblies without allowing it to be considered by the Senate. His opponents dominated the Senate, so that makes sense, and there was no law requiring the Senate to consider a law first., so that was legal. but it broke with custom and precedent.
I'll spare you all the steps, listen to Duncan's first chapter instead. But I'll tell you the debacle ended with Tiberius being beaten to death by his political opponents. Literally he was clubbed to death. That was against the law. The person of the Tribune, while in office, was sacrosanct, meaning no one could even lay a hand on him.
On the way there both sides accumulated plenty of grievances against the other side. Recounting them, it almost doesn't seem to matter who did what to whom: they refused to vote on the law, they tried to appropriate the Senate's prerogatives, they were setting up a tyranny, they refused to fund the law's mandate, they went against all custom and precedent, they broke the law.
What this incident illustrates, and the reason I think it is important, is that the contents of the law are not as important as 1) the willingness of politicians to obey the law and 2) the urging of society that politicians obey the law and play by the rules, rather than passive acceptance of violations of the law and the rules.
Does any of this sound familiar?
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
|July 30th, 2017 at 9:18:49 AM permalink|
Member since: Oct 27, 2012
Of course. Laws are always used as shields and swords, hoops to tax your enemies resources, nothing more.