The Classical World (#?+1)

This will be the last post about the book. I could easily write another, but this will have to do – I should have given you enough by now to make you realize whether you want to read it or not. Quotes from the remaining part of the book:

i.  “The years from 200 to 170 saw a surge of new Roman colonies in Italy which extended up into rich northern farmland near the river Po. It has been estimated that as many as 100,000 settlers were sent out to take up a million acres of land; great Italian sites like modern Parma or Bologna began their ‘Roman’ history in these years.5 The settlements were an outlet for poorer Roman citizens, who were a possible source of social tension at Rome. Once again it was a classic transformation of an ancient economy, in which war multiplied income and assets, and land-settlements changed the conquering state’s social profile. […]

Between 168 and 146 Roman power was forcefully exercised against remaining ‘enemies’, the king of Macedon (Perseus in 168), the Seleucid king in the Near East (Antiochus IV in 165), tribes on the Dalmatian coast (156) and both the Achaean league in Greece and the remaining territory of Carthage in North Africa (146 BC). The most important of these engagements was the defeat of the Macedonians, ending the power which they had enjoyed for nearly two centuries. […] When they declared war (as in 156 BC) they were careful to give out a ‘just’ pretext for public consumption, although the real reasons lay elsewhere. By following these pretexts, modern historians have sometimes argued that Rome was only drawn step by step into Greek affairs, that her attacks were usually in self-defence and that, as she did not immediately form her conquests into new provinces, she began with no fixed aim of exploiting them. Fascinating problems of chronology and evidence can be brought against this interpretation, quite apart from the reported views of contemporaries.”

ii. “Inevitably, the new fashions and new imports [from Greece] activated traditional Roman fears of ‘luxury’. Several laws to limit it are attested within fifty years, although they were not the first in Roman history. They fitted with deeper Roman attitudes. Austerity and parsimony were admired in the stories which were told about the receding seventh to fourth centuries BC. Roman fathers were expected to emulate them and educate their sons in restrained conduct. The censors, two magistrates, had acquired the duty of supervising public morals: when the lists of Roman citizens were periodically drawn up, they could place a ‘black mark’ against anyone whose behaviour had been disgraceful. […] We must remember Cicero’s comment: what Romans disliked was private luxury, whereas public display was munificence, and not disagreeable.”

iii. “During the second century BC Romans developed their rule over conquered peoples by sending out  magistrates as governors with standing armies to help them. These individuals became focal points for their subjects’ petitions and disputes. As always, many cases gravitated to a new source of justice which had suddenly become accessible in their midst. On the other side, however, the individual governors saw new possibilities of enrichment, and their misconduct was still very loosely regulated. Until the 120s the most they might suffer for ‘rapacity’ (‘extortion’) was a ruling that they should repay what they had taken. The new scope for gain abroad would have crucial implications for individuals’ capacity to compete for pre-eminence  back at Rome.

Most Roman warfare abroad in the third and second centuries BC had already had economic motives: one obvious result of victory for Roman individuals was ever more slaves and plunder. […] Collectively, too, Romans began to receive regular yearly tribute from their conquests. […] No single uniform system of tax was imposed as yet on all provinces, but from 146 onwards Rome’s subjects in north Africa are known to have paid a tax on ‘land’ and also a poll tax. Those two taxes would become the mainstays of Roman taxation in the early Empire: they were mainstays under Hadrian too.”

iv. “One result of this populist approach was a reform in the method of voting at Rome. Secret ballots were introduced, first for elections (139 BC), then for public non-capital trials (137 BC) and then for legislation (131/0 BC). […] In the Greek world, at Athens and elsewhere, secret ballots had been the accepted practice for particular types of trial, but the extension of them to votes on law-making is a Roman innovation.”

v. “Some 910,000 adult citizen-males were registered in the census of 69, about three times as many as in the 130s. The composition of the citizenry had also changed markedly. Even in Rome, very few of the citizens had any ancestral link with Roman voters of the fourth or third centuries BC; outside Rome, they now had none.”

vi. “In 51 BC a discontented Cicero found himself sent east to a miserable province, Cilicia, in southern Asia Minor […] through his letters, we have our first prolonged view of a Roman governor at work abroad, applying justice to the local affairs of his province.13 Cicero went on the customary assize-tours round the province’s main towns; he issued the usual ‘edict’ on taking office and chose to base it, wisely, on the edict of an admired predecessor, the lawyer Scaevola. In general, he wished the Greek-speaking locals to settle their disputes between themselves, but if he found that these disputes involved Romans or foreigners or points of importance under Roman law, he would judge them on the lines of the Roman praetors’ edicts at Rome.

By such piecemeal decisions, the Romans’ own laws on such topics as inheritance or defaulting debtors would come to apply to subjects outside Rome: there was no single act or decree imposing them.”

vi. “In the Italian countryside, the plight of the poor was certainly no better than in Rome, yet here too there were no ‘peasants’ revolts’ in the 50s [BC]. Rather, more and more of the poor were being recruited, or forced, into the army for a long service abroad. Soldiers’ wages, though meagre, did at least exist: the problem was that, once in the army, soldiers looked to their generals, not to any ‘republican’ values. What had ‘the Republic’ ever done for them anyway? Here, indeed, was a cause of crisis. […] tensions arose from the very conquests by which much of this empire was still being won.”

vii. “After the concluding banquet on the fourth day, Caesar, still in slippers, was escorted from his newly planned Forum by a popular crowd and even by elephants bearing torches. It was all hugely expensive, and when a few of his soldiers protested, they were put to death: the heads of two of them were nailed up by priests on the ‘royal house’ in the Forum. So it was as well that there were to be massive payments for the soldiers (an entire lifetime’s pay) and even a payment for every single citizen. Loot from the provinces was paying for them, not least the plunder which had been collected from Spain and Asia in the Civil War of the past two years. The spending was to exceed even the final year of Alexander the Great, a tribute to Caesar’s massive plundering.” [he doesn’t actually sound all that nice, does he?]

viii. I decided to quote quite extensively from chapter 41, ‘Morals and Society’, because stuff like this really makes you realize how much has happened over the last 2000 years, and how different life was like back then:

“The crowning law [of Augustus’ ‘morality laws’] was a notorious law against adultery. Previously, adultery had been a private matter, to be settled by the husband or father within the Roman household. In 18 BC Augustus made it a public crime, which was to be tried in court. The scope of this law is still disputed, but much of the detail is clear enough. The most extreme case was nicely considered. If a father caught his daughter and her boyfriend in the act on family premises, he could legally kill his daughter on the spot. […] Only if the father killed his daughter could he then kill the adulterer too (‘adultery’ is derived from the latin ‘to another person’, ad adulterum, not from ‘adult behaviour’). Husbands’ right to kill was even more restricted. If the husband caught the couple, he could not kill his wife. He could only kill her boyfriend if the offender was of ill-repute. […]

These extreme penalties were more hypothetical than an everyday reality. Much more importantly, the husband had to divorce his wife and prosecute her within sixty days if he had caught her in the act. Even so, without a head-on discovery, it might seem that couples could agree to live privately with their affairs and do nothing. However, a third party could prosecute within another four months if no action was being taken, and the husband could be prosecuted too. […] in some cases, husbands would have been condoning a wife’s affair so that they could take money or favours off her boyfriend in return. That sort of connivance was now made criminal. So was the aiding and abetting of adultery by providing a room, for instance, for the impatient couple. Similar penalties applied to men who had sex with a single woman of respectable status.

What was at stake here was not male fidelity. Like all ancient societies, Rome was highly stratified. If a man had sex with a slave-girl (or a slave-boy), a prostitute or a low-grade woman of infamy, he was not penalized at all. There was a ‘double standard’, one for men, and a stricter one for respectable women. […]

Husbands or wives convicted of adultery lost up to half their property (and part of the wife’s dowry) and were banished to an island. An adulterous wife was forbidden to remarry […]

Reported trials for adultery are quite rare in Tacitus’ histories, but the fact remains that the laws continued to be applied and clarified in connection with the ever-growing number of Roman citizens. In AD 190 more than 3,000 prosecutions for adultery were found to be pending in Rome.”


July 7, 2012 - Posted by | Anthropology, Books, History

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