Antiquity 3: Reading “Rubicon”

I’m almost done with Tom Holland’s “Rubicon”.  Close enough to the end — we are at the point of Caesar’s showy campaigns in Gaul and the collapse of his first Triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus — to see how the stories are going to work out.

I know now how to a break the spirit of a citizen of the Roman Republic: pour shit on his head.  Or, more to the point, exile him from Rome.  The latter was apparently enough to break the spirit of Cicero, who goes from “pretty square guy” to “mouthpiece for Pompey and Caesar” after just a bit of exile.

(I’m being flip.  How would any of us react to exile, forced separation from our families, the country that gave us life and defines us, etc. etc.?  Not well.)

But a lot of the work of destroying the Roman Republic wasn’t done by threats or blows or exile alone but by the ceaseless slow work of corruption.  Holland tells us the same story a dozen times: a member of the Roman Senate is scared by threats and then seduced by a lucrative governorship or proconsul stint.  He forgets his civic virtues (or, worse, re-imagines his civic virtues to consist of the very things he is doing to betray them).

A pretty potent parable.  Makes me think our Republic doesn’t have much of a chance.


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