What’s In A Number? Part Four
Once again, I must offer apologies for letting my posts fall behind. I was very ill this week, and was not able to formulate coherent thought, let alone post regarding political theory! So, I am sitting in front of the computer now and hopefully can make some headway on the articles I had planned to post so far. Let’s see how far we get!
The Second Realm
The nation has fallen into chaos. Warlords and political factions vie for control over slivers of territory. Suddenly a young republic steps in to stabilize the region and bring its own version of government with it. Sound familiar? It should. It is a template for passive expansion that is at the very foundation of our nation. While I could be describing Iraq / Afghanistan / insert-nation-in-trouble-here, I am speaking of the fall of the Greek’s and the Republic of Rome’s response.
Technically speaking, the Roman Republic was not actually “young” when they went to the “aid” of the First Realm in the 2nd century B.C. In our American minds, they were in full swing of adult hood. Rome actually began as early as the 8th century B.C. According to Roman legend, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus settled the city after a typical childhood being raised by a she-wolf (though some stories state that the “she-wolf” was actually a “shepherd’s wife”). Of course, staying true to the pattern of Greco-Roman legends, there was ample interaction from the gods. Specifically, the brother’s mother was said to have been raped by Mars, god of war.
While the half-deity brothers forming Rome makes for great storytelling, it is more likely that the area was settled by both the Latins and Sabines looking for ideal real estate. Regardless of the actual formations of the city state, it became a true republic in the 6th century B.C. Lucius Junius Brutus deposed the last of the Seven Kings of Rome (historically the first is labeled as “Romulus”) and helped to create a political system based on elected officials, representatives of various districts, and a constitution. Rome’s system of government had checks and balances, public representation, and even assemblies that decided specific issues (similar to our Defense Department or State Department).
Without going into a semester of college history classes, it should be noted that some key points can be seen in Rome’s early history as a Republic. They formed a government based on many of the principles the Greeks had employed. The early Romans were infatuated with the Greeks, and often sought to emulate them. The Romans then found ways to improve on the Greek’s ideas and provide more stability and longevity to their nation.
Another extremely important trait to be pointed out is that the Romans gradually expanded the size of their nation. It was not (initially) a quick land grab. It was a slow and methodical plan set into motion after considering key elements. They first began to establish colonies in strategic locations. This gave them influence and presence in areas they wished to allocate in the future. This strategy secured control over the Italian peninsula.
After securing their own peninsula, the Romans focused on Greece, Sicily, Hispania, and areas of Africa. Many wars were fought, though the Romans rarely made their conquests about a blatant land grab. Campaigns were often justified as proactive defensive acts. Others were to help a specific political faction in an area they desired. True, some wars were fought for revenge alone, though rarely was this directly cited.
The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire
With the conquest of the Greeks came the direct infusion of Greek culture into Roman. The emphasis on rural life was abandoned by the wealthy in exchange for a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. Luxury and comfort became the rule of the day, and the lack of an enemy caused internal turmoil amongst politicos. As the lower socio-economic classes began to see a sharp decline in their own incomes, more strife erupted. Gangs of the unemployed were found to be easily influenced by politicians with agendas. These gangs were used to intimidate and influence elections.
The turbulent internal times of the Roman Republic were causing the political system to break down. It was in its last days that Gaius Julius Caesar became the man of the hour. Caesar was an aristocrat by birth, though his family was not extremely wealthy. He was also a military man and identified strongly with the common man. He brokered an agreement between both of the opposing factions (the Roman Republic had broken down into two distinct political “parties”). The heads of both factions would rule alongside Caesar as Consuls of Rome. In effect, Rome had three leaders.
After Caesar defeated the Gauls, he became wealthy and powerful. Most importantly, he had earned the respect and loyalty of the legions which fought for him. This caused one of his fellow Consuls, Pompey, to become concerned. He planned to strip Caesar of his power, wealth and military status. However, Caesar preemptively invaded Rome, and secured his status as the one single ruler of the Roman people. Despite winning the support of much of the citizenry, the brazen invasion and upheaval of the elitist establishment ended with Caesar’s assassination.
Here we see the transition from a republic to an empire. Note that the massive expansions of the Roman borders were not commonly seen as offensive strikes by the people. First, strategy was used in gaining influence through presence. Second, defensive actions and “preemptive” actions were taken in the defense of the nation. With the initial transition of the government from a republic to an empire, the actual land mass of the empire did not change much. However, with the size and influence that was at the disposal of the new emperor, Caesar Octavian nearly inherited what was the greatest empire in human history (up to that point). However, the rule of the empire was still split between two other individuals (as a check and balance) similar to how Julius Caesar had ruled. This helped retain the image of being a republic, though the term empire was certainly more fitting.
Every empire, government, nation, group of humans will have its fair share of drama and turmoil. Rome was certainly no different. Political intrigue was the order of the day. People “woke up dead” quite often as Caesar maneuvered and positioned himself to be a supreme leader. Caesar Octavian finally accomplished this goal in 27 B.C. after Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Standing now as the sole ruler, Octavian changed his name to Caesar Augustus. This became the point where the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire is historically recognized.
As the life cycle of Rome progressed, the entity evolved. It always maintained some resemblance to the government from which it began, to include nods to the Greek’s system of politics. As the Roman Empire truly began, The Masses were given the sense of security that their republic was still in existence. Many of the vestiges of their former government remained, although Caesar Augustus assumed a role of sole authority amongst those remaining political bodies. The people still felt that they had a voice, and even believed that their voice was being heard by Caesar. Overall, the opinion was that the Empire was a safer and more successful nation than the Republic before it. People were happy, and Caesar used the content complacency of The Masses to gain a foothold towards complete dissolution of the republican values.
Augustus began a line of emperors (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) that were the primary force in causing the Roman Empire to secure its place as the dominant world power. This line of emperors also destroyed the last remnants of the republic to gain more power. Nearly every time, the evolution towards dictatorship was sold to the people as a benefit to security, national prominence, and prosperity. Of course, Caligula and Nero were bumps in the road. Certainly even the blind masses did not approve of horses being made senators or burning live humans for a light source in gardens. However, as a whole, this line of rulers accomplished tremendous goals.
This pattern of rule lasted until the 3rd Century A.D. Rome had been on a roller coaster of political strife and financial woes. As the largest empire in the known world, they extended themselves without giving due regard to their actual strength. By the 3rd century A.D., the Roman Empire was facing invasions, economic depressions, civil wars, pandemics, and changes in popular religion. This proved too much for the weakened and over extended nation. It began to split and crumble.
The Life Cycle of a nation can be a mischievous and tricky thing. While it may show all signs that indicate one outcome, it will often pave the way for an opposite outcome. With Rome, after the crisis period of the 3rd century, it appeared that destruction was imminent. However, hard times often produce people who are determined to right the wrongs and lead their people from the precipice. Constantine took the reins of the ailing empire and reunited it. It was a slow process to recovery that had been started by Constantine’s predecessor Diocletian. Under Constantine the Roman Empire regained its strength, size and unity. He became the sole ruler of the Empire and gained support of a significant portion of the people by legalizing Christianity.
After the rule of Constantine, the Empire again began to fall into complacency and internal turmoil. As a result, it broke into two separate empires. The Western Empire fell first, after 1,200 years of existence. The Eastern Empire remained a power for another 1,000 years, until the rise of Islam eventually toppled the now Christian Roman Empire.
Crusaders from the West
As the Byzantium Empire toppled, the Islamic aggressors limited Christian access to the Holy Land. The base of Christianity had relocated westward to Europe. By now, the middle ages were in full swing and the Britains and Gauls (once former Roman territories) were now a primarily Christian culture. These nations banded together to mount tremendous crusades against the Muslims occupying the Holy Land. Many of these crusaders were from what would become the Third Realm. The British Empire.
In part 5 of this arc, I will discuss the final ancestor responsible for the DNA of our nation. Stay with me. History can be dry, but I promise to bring all of these lessons to a fine point soon. Even as I write these words I see the patterns of the Life Cycle. I see the history of those that we were born from. Through that history I see several possible futures for America.
Defensor Patriae, Defensor re Publica