Statue of Livy?
Sunday, February 24, 2008


Books VI-X. The picture above is supposed to be Titus Livius, author of Ab Urbe Condita, the history of Rome that I’ll discussing most of this week.

One of the big issues that crops up throughout Books VI and VII is that the plebeians were subject to usurious interest rates. A footnote in the translation reveals that there is some uncertainty as to whether interest rates were calculated on a yearly basis (8.5% per year), or a monthly basis (8.5% per month). Apparently debtors could be sold into slavery. The plebs naturally regarded this as a very bad thing.

Book VI deals with two basic events. The first is the attempt by Manlius to stir up class warfare. The second is a continuation of the patrician/plebeian strife. Manlius attempts to use the dissatisfaction of the plebs to attain a kingly power, and is ultimately convicting of treason, and tossed from the Tarpeian rock. The strife between the patricians and the plebs is resolved through the passage of a number of laws, including some land reform. This limits holdings in land to 500 jugera, which is 300 to 350 acres.

Book VII focuses mainly on a number of battles and wars that had the eventual end of adding to Roman expansion in Italy. There is a comment in chapter 29 that is notable, “The Campanians had brought a reputation rather than actual strength to protect their allies; softened by luxurious living, they were routed in the territory of the Sidicini by people hardened by the use of arms, and then brought the whole weight of the war on themselves.” This seems applicable to various situations today. NATO in Afghanistan, or the overall reliance of Europe on the U. S. while the EU slowly succumbs to dhimmitude, and commits a slow suicide.

March 3, 2008—I’ve had computer problems for several days, but I hope I’ve got them resolved for a while at least.

Book VIII is of interest for three episodes. First is the episode from about 340 BC of Titus Manlius Torquatus and his son. Manlius gives an order that no man is to leave his post. His son disobeys the order, and conducts a successful skirmish against the enemy. Manlius orders his son executed. Livy doesn’t give all the gruesome details of execution, but apparently the youth was tied to a stake, and beheaded while standing in an upright position. The practice that we see in movies of the medieval or renaissance period is for the person to be in a more or less prone position with the head on the block. This might be due to the Roman use of a sword rather than an axe. Regardless of the method used or the reason for it, this action took place over the protest of the men in Manlius’ army, and did not earn him any points with the men.

The second episode of note is that enslavement for debt was abolished. The creditor still had a claim on the property of the debtor, but no longer had a claim on the person.

The third notable episode occurred in 325 BC. Lucius Papirius Cursor has been appointed dictator and Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus has been made Master of Horse. The Master of Horse is supposed to be second in command to the dictator, so he should have some authority for an independent command. Papirius, however, did not see things that way, and had ordered Fabius not undertake any independent action because “the auspices were ambiguous and religious duties in confusion.” This seems like merely specious reasoning in our more secular times, either that or outrageous superstition. The Romans were superstitious to a fault. Any group that can believe in sacred chickens can believe in just about anything.

The episode ends with Fabius throwing himself on the mercy of the dictator, who sees that the Senate and the populace are clamoring for leniency. So Fabius gets off.

I think in both the first and the third episode we see the advantage of not being overly harsh in discipline. In the first episode, Manlius loses the trust of the army, and is subject to intense resentment. In the third episode, Papirius manages, barely, to avoid the total alienation of Senatus populusque Romanus.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008—Book IX: The Caudine Peace. This occupies roughly the first 16 sections of Book IX. The Samnites have trapped a Roman army in a pass, and are undecided what to do. They are advised to make peace with the Romans, and to let them go. They fail to see the point of that, and ask again. Then they are told to destroy them to the last man. When they ask why they were given two contradictory pieces of advice they are told that they may either make peace with the Romans, and become their allies, which will have obvious benefits, or destroy the army so that the Romans will need a generation or two to recover. When they suggest a third way, of forcing them to submit, and pass under the yoke, they are advised that this will lead to resentment by the Romans and will endanger them. Naturally, they choose the third way, and sure enough the Romans eventually destroy them, and force their army to pass under the yoke.

So what exactly would Machiavelli do? Well, without having looked at his Discourses on Livy yet I can’t say, but I would think the option of making friends with the Romans would be more advantageous in both the short and the long run. On the other hand there are moments when it is more advantageous in both the long and the short run to pursue the enemy and complete his destruction, or in which it is better to use force.

The failure to demonstrate conclusively to the Germans of 1918 that they had lost the war, by massive occupation, led to a perception that the war had been lost through a betrayal of the army.

In 1979 during the hostage crisis, a carrier group was sent to the Persian Gulf, and as I recall did precisely nothing. Failure of the rescue mission, and the failure to make more attempts meant a surrender to the Iranian government. Now the Iranian government had, by seizing diplomatic personnel, effectively declared war on the US. By not pursuing a more aggressive policy against the Iranian government Carter signaled that aggression would not be met by retaliation. This led to the growth of Hezbollah, a destabilizing agency in the area, the attacks on the Marine barracks in Lebanon, and other outbreaks of terrorism. (Note: I’m not saying that Iran was directly responsible for these things, just that they sponsored terrorism, and that our failure there was a prelude to our failure elsewhere.) Had Carter taken action by stating that we were at war, and attacking targets within Iran, the course of the 20th century would have been different.

In 1991 we had an opportunity to go to Baghdad, or to support dissidents against Saddam. We were too upset by the apparent slaughter on the Highway of Death, and backed off from the total destruction of Saddam’s army, and his removal from power. Had we done so in 1991 when we had widespread Arab support, things would be smoother now

March 11, 2008–I started having problems again the other day. It appears that my RAM may have gone bad. I think it was fooling around with multiple ewes. I think it’s been fixed for now, and may not be so RAMbunctious.

Chapters 17-19 of Book IX are a consideration of one the “What ifs” beloved of historian and SF geeks. Could a Battlestar from BSG defeat a Death Star from Star Wars? Is Captain Kirk the greatest starship captain? (Yes.) Could Alexander’s phalanx defeat a Roman maniple? While I don’t know the answer to that question, Livy answers no. I think there’s a bit of Roman jingoism involved here. Livy’s patriotism is coming to the fore here.

Livy records some opposition to Appius Claudius, the censor, and there is a longish speech that reproaches him for a violation of Roman law.

Book X is largely a catalogue of more battles, and concludes with the effective destruction of the Samnites.

Next up, Xenophon The Persian Expedition, a.k.a. Anabasis.