Sunday, August 25, 2019

Crossing the Rubicon

Crossing the Rubicon is a piece of history that made its way into American popular culture --the saying describing a situation where there is no turning back.

The historical event that created the saying occurred on January 10th, 49 BC, when Julius Caesar led a single Roman legion across the Rubicon River in Northern Italy.

The Rubicon River in Eastern Italy and the Arno River in Western Italy formed the northern boundary of Republican Italy in the 1st Century BC, separating it from Cisalpine Gaul. Roman law required that that only city magistrates from Rome lead an army south of the two rivers and Pro-consuls who had military control of the provinces were not allowed to enter with an army. Violation of this law, meant the loss of Imperium to command troops and was an act of treason.

Caesar, through his agents in the Senate, which included the Tribune Antony, tried to negotiate an accommodation with Pompey and the Senate. Caesar requested a new provincial assignment in order to retain Imperium and avoid prosecution for bribery and theft in office. The Senate was unwilling to meet his demand and circumstances began to move toward a confrontation.

A resolution was introduced on the Senate requiring that both Caesar and Pompey give up their commands as an attempt to satisfy both factions. Caesar was in favor, but a small group of Senators vetoed the resolution because they suspected a trap. The Senate then introduced a resolution proposing that two of Caesar’s legions be sent to Syria. Pompey favored this attempt to declaw Caesar and Caesar complied.

In December 50 BC a second resignation resolution was proposed in the Senate, requiring Caesar to give up his command without requiring Pompey to do so. This was later amended, requiring both men to give up their posts simultaneously. The vote was 370 for and 22 against.

This action by the Senate was immediately rendered useless when a panic followed. Rumors started that Caesar was already matching on Rome, so the Senate granted Pompey command for the defense of the city. A resolution was introduced placing a fixed date on Caesar’s resignation, but this was vetoed by Antony. Then, on January 7th 49 BC, an emergency decree was passed, legalizing Pompey’s authority and requested that all major officials move to protect the state. Antony was forced to flee Rome or suffer penalties under this martial law. The Senate’s final act in this drama was to assign new governors for Gaul, replacing Caesar.

The Senate’s behavior convinced Caesar that diplomatic efforts were no longer possible and a show of force was necessary, so he crossed the Rubicon on January 10th. He divided his legion into two columns: one headed for Arretium and the other Ariminum.

The speed with which Caesar advanced astonished the Senate and Pompey, who were not convinced he would try to press an attack with one legion. By day three, Arretium had already fallen. Rather than resisting Caesar, the locals along his route opened their doors to him and even expelled Pompey’s garrisons from their territory. Surprised at this, Pompey retreated south to Capua, leaving Rome unprotected and forcing his allies in the Senate to abandon the city and join him.

Caesar arrived in Rome the first week of March with six legions. He had accumulated additional troops on his way south based on loyalty to his cause. There was some resistance, on the way, but little bloodshed because his enemies had melted away. Caesar impressed all with his leniency toward those who opposed him by setting them free.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sorry about going Dark

The blog has been down for most of July and all of August until today. The reason was that my site license did not get renewed correctly and the site was suspended. All is well now.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Capitalism in the Roman Republic

Capitalism is an economic system in which wealth, and the means of producing wealth, are privately owned and controlled rather than state-owned and controlled. Through capitalism, the land, labor, and capital are owned, operated, and traded by private individuals or corporations and investments, distribution, income, production, pricing and supply of goods, commodities and services are determined by voluntary private decision in a market economy.

A division of labor has always existed in human society. As a population grows, demand for goods and services forces the development of new skills. Capitalists show up in societies as salesmen or entrepreneurs who are clever at buying and selling, so they take opportunities for profit when they present themselves.

To hear modern historians tell it, capitalism began with the Enlightenment in the late 16th century. The break from the Catholic Church and authoritarian monarchs allowed people to exert their individual rights and take control of their lives. This new freedom, allowed citizens to form their own businesses, go to market, and make a profit.

The focus for today’s scholars may be on this new-found freedom of the Enlightenment, but that was not the origin of capitalism.

When Rome began it was strictly an agrarian society. The only asset considered valuable was land. In Roman society, wealthy patricians controlled the land and those without wealth or land were the Plebeians. Patricians considered mercantilism beneath their dignity and refused to engage in such low enterprise. Cicero once referred to all salesmen as liars.

As Roman trade evolved, laws were passed that prohibited senators from investing in shipping. That left the Plebeians to control that market. The same story happened with the Roman civil service. As it grew, the new positions were given to the lower class, and the resulting economic environment fostered the growth of a new middle class (the Knights). The first “businessmen” were called Publicans. They were employed by the state to manage public contracts: to collect taxes, manage mining companies, and oversee road construction. Contracts were awarded to bidders at auction and their duration was five years.

During the Punic Wars Publicans built ships for the Roman Navy and equipped the Roman Army. In 215 BC, three Publican contractors were censured because they provided financing to Spanish tribes, who were Rome’s enemy at the time. They scuttled their ships and sued the Republic for reimbursement.

The Senate chose to utilize the Knights commercially, instead of creating a civil service, but the power of the Knights grew, and they were able to exert great influence as a class. In 169 BC, the censor Tiberius Gracchus cancelled all Publican contracts because of corruption, but the Knights rebelled and accused him of treason against the state. Tiberius was acquitted, but all Rome now understood the power of the middle class.

By the fall of the Republic there were hundreds of corporations selling shares to investors. Manufacturing and trades flourished: including furniture making, leatherwork, weaving, metalworking, stone working, and food processing.

Many of the business terms we are familiar with today were in use in Roman times, including insurance, banks making loans, individuals owning shares in companies, competition, hoarding commodities to influence prices, investments, lawsuits, and monetary speculation.

There is one major difference, worth noting, between capitalism in the time of Rome and the Enlightenment Period. There was no industrial revolution in Roman times because there were no machines available for mass production. Those machines gave the Enlightenment a black eye because they led to worker exploitation and harsh working conditions. As a direct result, socialism was developed as an alternative to the evil capitalistic model.

This story suggests that capitalism is the default behavior in human society. The combination of a large and diverse population and the need for skill differentiation to efficiently supply goods and services to people, generates a market model.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review of Hannibal by Patrick N. Hunt

My usual reference for Hannibal’s campaign against the Romans (218-202) is The Punic Wars by Brian Caven, published in 1992. Of course, we also have Polybius and Livy who were closer to the action, but not contemporary to it. Polybius was born in 200 BC and was brought the Rome in 167 BC as a hostage. He lived there 17 years and was an eyewitness to the Third Punic War (149-146 BC). Polybius eventually published a history of all three Punic Wars, but most of his work is lost. Livy, starting in 30 BC, used Polybius and others in his own his own account of the time of Hannibal, looking backward 200 years.

Now we have a new biography of Hannibal by Patrick Hunt, archaeologist and historian from Stanford University. Dr. Hunt’s book equals and exceeds previous work on the subject. His scholarship is meticulous and thorough, and the story of Hannibal’s life is told as a straightforward narrative without unnecessary decoration.

Hannibal Barca was one of the greatest military commanders of all time, so his story is essential reading for anyone interested in military history. Son of one of the leaders of Carthage, and born after the Carthaginian defeat in the First Punic War, Hannibal came to power quickly. Accompanying his father Hamilcar and brother-in-law Hasdrubal on an expedition to Spain, he had to tolerate the drowning of his father and the assassination of Hasdrubal. Now commander and chief of the Punic Army at 26, Hannibal took control his own destiny and became the central player in the Second Punic War.

Most of us have heard the story of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in the fall of 218 BC which was a prelude to his attack on the Italian Peninsula. He defeated the Roman Army so soundly, in a series of battles, that the Romans were forced to fight a war of attrition instead of trying to defeat him head on head. Hannibal was loose in the Italian Peninsula for 15 years until he was recalled to Carthage in 203. He lost the Battle of Zama to a Roman army under the command of Scipio Africanus in 202 BC, and this defeat ended the second Punic War.

Professor Hunt documents Hannibal’s later years after he was exiled from Carthage in 195 BC. Hannibal acted as a military adviser to some heads of state in Asia Minor, but when betrayed to the Romans in 183 BC, he took poison to avoid captivity. The author goes to some length to lay our Hannibal’s legacy and influence, showing us why the general is one of the most significant figures during the age of the Roman Republic.

I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who wants to examine Hannibal’s life and his battles with the Romans. You will come away with a thorough perspective on the man and the general.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Landmark Julius Caesar

This is a review of a new book on Julius Caesar, published in The Wall Street Journal December 1, 2017. My bolded sections.

By James Romm

It’s astounding that so few fans of martial sagas like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” have found their way to the narratives of the Greek and Roman historians. In these works, too, one finds apocalyptic battles, ruthless political struggles and bizarre twists of fortune. They may lack dragons, but their intensity is amplified by the knowledge that the events they describe really happened. The story of Julius Caesar’s rise to power in the 50s and 40s B.C., first through the conquest of Gaul (modern France) and then by whirlwind campaigns throughout the Mediterranean, is as compelling as any televised drama, and indeed HBO and the BBC built the first season of their series “Rome” around exactly these events.

Who would prefer modern-day dilutions and screen adaptations to the surviving firsthand accounts of such episodes, narrated by great writers? Just about everyone, it seems, and perhaps the reasons are not so hard to find after all. The chronological gulf that separates us from the Roman world, and even more from the Greeks, can render the primary narratives blurry and indistinct. Opacities of nomenclature, geography, units of currency, measurements of distance and a dozen other pitfalls stand in the modern reader’s path. As a teacher I am always dismayed when undergraduates declare themselves bored by the Greek historian Thucydides, whose vividness as a reporter of the catastrophic Peloponnesian War ought to quicken their pulse. Despite my best efforts, some are simply unable to part the veil of time.

Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub
Pantheon, 793 pages, $50
Similar frustrations in teaching ancient history to disengaged students led independent scholar and businessman Robert Strassler to conceive the Landmark Ancient Histories. Beginning with “The Landmark Thucydides,” published by the Free Press in 1996, Mr. Strassler showed his determination to leave no reader behind. He supplied detailed maps on nearly every third page of text and clear, full annotation that removed potential stumbling blocks. Headings kept readers oriented in time and space, as did brief summaries, running down the book’s generously wide margins, of each stage of the action. Well-curated photographs of objects and sites turned a mere encounter with the Peloponnesian War into an immersion in classical Greece. Appendix essays set new standards for readability and point. An opening chronology laid out the events of the text in sequence, and a closing index, done in unprecedented detail, provided a precise means of finding whatever item one might be looking for.
Subsequent installments in the Landmark series added new features and enriched the old, as Mr. Strassler, with the help of the editors for each volume (this writer among them), tackled the major Greek historians in turn: Herodotus, Arrian and Xenophon. Now, with “The Landmark Julius Caesar, ” the series arrives for the first time at the gates of Rome and deals with a figure who is far better known—in part through his own writings—than any Greek or Macedonian. The huge volume of evidence surviving from this book’s time span, the years 58 to 45 B.C., posed a challenge for the Landmark series. Under the expert guidance of volume editor Kurt Raaflaub, with oversight from Mr. Strassler (who remains series editor), the challenge has been met with stunning success.
The tireless devotion of both Mr. Strassler and Mr. Raaflaub, professor emeritus of classics at Brown University, is evident right from this book’s table of contents. Caesar’s best-known work, the “Gallic War,” would by itself have made up a full and satisfying volume, but “The Landmark Julius Caesar” also gives us four other narratives, descriptions of subsequent campaigns, to make up the whole of what scholars term the Corpus Caesarianum, the body of contemporaneous accounts of Caesar’s wars. These five works, only two of which are Caesar’s own compositions, have not appeared together, in English, since the early 18th century, even though their dovetailing time frames makes the set a continuous whole. To see them here between one set of covers is truly inspiring.
We begin in Gaul, with perhaps the most famous sentence in Latin literature, Caesar’s marvelously low-key “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” The “Gallic War” relates, in Caesar’s own words, the series of campaigns (58-52 B.C.) by which Gallic tribes were either brought over to Rome’s cause or defeated, one by one, then finally smashed in the decisive siege of a collective resistance at Alesia (See my post on this)... Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar’s officers, composed a final segment to the “Gallic War” that covers some mopping-up operations in 51 and 50 B.C., bringing us to the next work, the “Civil War,” also written by Caesar himself.
The “Civil War” begins at the start of 49 B.C. with attempts by the Roman senate to strip away Caesar’s power and position, by which they felt increasingly threatened. In response, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his army, declaring his intention to march on Rome. The senate opposition fled across the Adriatic with their champion, Pompey Magnus, Caesar’s great rival in military brilliance. At Pharsalus (I also have a post on this), in northern Greece, Caesar put them to rout. The “Civil War” closes with a cliffhanger as Caesar, pursuing the defeated Pompey to Egypt, becomes enmeshed in a local civil war and besieged in Alexandria with his new ally and lover, Cleopatra.
That event marks the endpoint of Caesar’s own writings, but members of his staff, their names unknown to us (and their styles recognizably poorer), took up the tale. The “Alexandrian War” describes the daring moves by which Caesar broke the Egyptian siege, then swept through the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Italy in late 48 and 47 B.C., chasing opponents and firming control. After spending only a few weeks in Rome, at the end of 47 B.C., Caesar left for North Africa to deal with the unreconciled Pompeians Scipio and Cato, and the narrator of the “African War” follows him there. Despite the opposition of a local potentate, Caesar was again victorious and returned to Rome in the summer of 46 B.C. to a hero’s welcome and a grant, by a now compliant senate, of unprecedented power.
A final campaign, described in the “Spanish War,” brought Caesar to Spain to deal with new foes, Pompey’s sons Gnaeus and Sextus, in late 46 and 45 B.C. The Corpus Caesarianum ends abruptly in April of 45 B.C., with the text of the “Spanish War” breaking off in mid-sentence. But the Pompeys had by then been defeated and Caesar’s invincibility made plain to all.
The denouement of Caesar’s story was not recounted by any surviving chronicler, but it is well known today, thanks to Plutarch and Shakespeare. Once he had returned to Rome with his fiercely loyal army, Caesar’s political future posed a dilemma to what was still, in name at least, a republic. Some wanted him made king, but monarchy stood in ill repute in Rome, so he was instead appointed dictator for life, a marginally constitutional office. Senatorial foes, defeated once in Caesar’s war against Pompey but pardoned and restored to office, disliked the appointment and also feared the power that Caesar might accrue from a planned attack on the Parthians (based in modern Iran). Just before the launching of that campaign, in the spring of 44 B.C., they assassinated him.
To edit and annotate such a diverse collection of narratives, produced by several different hands, describing intricate military maneuvers and spanning three continents in their ambit, was, by any measure, a Herculean task. Mr. Raaflaub has surpassed even the previous high standards of the Landmark series by supplying full, expert and wide-ranging notes, almost all containing his own elucidations rather than showy scholarly references. This achievement is amplified by more than 40 appendix essays, all commissioned by Mr. Raaflaub and several written by him, addressing all sorts of literary, military and biographical questions. The amplitude of these essays is such that the volume prints only four essential ones and directs the reader to a website for the others. The dimensions of the book simply could not accommodate all the knowledge it seeks to convey.
It’s rare for a scholar of Mr. Raaflaub’s standing to annotate an ancient text translated for Latinless readers, and still more rare for him to translate it himself, as Mr. Raaflaub has done here. As its holiday-season debut implies, “The Landmark Julius Caesar” is his gift, and Mr. Strassler’s, to history readers everywhere and even to professional historians, who will find much original research between its covers. Among his other devoted efforts, Mr. Raaflaub, together with University of Illinois classicist John Ramsey, has made painstaking calculations of the distances and rates of travel involved in Caesar’s movements, such that the dates accompanying the narrative could be given not just by season (as in Caesar’s own reportage) but by month and, in some cases, by day. Such precision, if not something that readers would demand, adds to the steadying sense of authority and factuality that is the trademark virtue of the Landmark series.
History buffs, classicists, fans of television’s “Rome”: Do not pass up this gift. Whether you revere Caesar as a military genius or despise him as a butcher and a tyrant, “The Landmark Julius Caesar” is an indispensable way to read his writings and understand his rise to power.
—Mr. Romm is the editor of “The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander” and the editor and translator of “How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life,” to be published next month.
I own the Landmark Xenophon and can testify to the quality of the series.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Mike Anderson’s new book

I have my first book coming out next week. Three years in the making, it’s different from the typical focus of this blog. The title of the book is, The Progressive Gene: How Genetics Influence the Morality of the Left.

As you know, I’ve been talking about antiquarian political systems for ten years: Mostly Roman and Greek with a few others thrown in (e.g. Mesopotamia, Etruria). We all understand that the Roman and Greek governments were revolutionary, fundamental to the development of Western Civilization, and they influenced all political systems that followed. The American political system was originally a copy of the Roman Republic, with the additional feature of states included in the federation.

There has been significant research done in the past decade around political morality (party preference) and the factors that influence our choice. For example, research has shown that there are physical differences in the brains of Liberals and Conservatives. Liberals have a more developed area of the brain that handles decision making and choices. Conservatives have a more developed area of the brain that processes threats (fight or flight). The conclusions drawn from this are that Liberals desire change partly because they are comfortable with it. Change does not bother them. Conservatives are more cautious because risk is always on their mind, so they tend to opt for the status quo. These characteristics are genetically determined, like height and weight, and they exhibit a range of values matching the distribution of political points of view. Progressives on the left, independents in the middle, and Conservatives on the right.

As a social animal, man had to learn how to get along in a group by developing an external morality. He did that to take advantage of what the group had to offer (safety, shared resources, etc.), so his external morality had to be tuned to the morality of the group. In the egalitarian bands of humans in a primitive state, that worked well for a group size of 50-100. But the advent of agriculture changed everything. With a guaranteed food supply, man could now live together in densely populated groups. That structure demanded a new social model to maintain order, so, governments developed to help manage the social and economic stratification that came with it. Complex society has its own morality consisting of laws and social mores, which exists apart from the personal morality of individuals. It’s dynamic and adapts over time (e.g. changing views of Homosexuality).

The political systems of antiquity represent man’s initial efforts to deal with a new social dynamic. Mesopotamia, one if the pioneering cultures, started out as a theocracy but eventually became a monarchy. Rome and Greece were also profoundly influential models: Rome with its Republic creating a balance between social and economic classes and the Greeks with their Democracy.

My book is focused on Progressives and their unique political morality (a book on Conservatives comes later) and there is plenty of history to discuss. I have chapters on Mesopotamia and Greece and Rome. There are also chapters on the creation of the American political system and the history of the Progressive Movement.

All that history forms the basis of a discussion about the Progressives, their view of government, and they influence they exert over American politics today.

I will provide a link for viewing and purchasing the book once it becomes available next week.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Academic Position Opening

ERC-project REDHIS – position for a post-doctoral researcher:

"Studio delle opere giuridiche romane nella Tarda Antichità: manoscritti e papiri" "A study of Roman legal writings in Late Antiquity: manuscripts and papyri".

Deadline for application: November 27th, 2017

The research project REDHIS (“Rediscovering the Hidden Structure. A New Appreciation of Juristic Texts and Patterns of Thought in Late Antiquity”) is opening a position for a post-doctoral researcher. The appointment will be for two years.

REDHIS is an interdisciplinary research project hosted by the Universit√† di Pavia (Italy) and funded by an ERC-advanced grant (Principal Investigator: Prof. Dario Mantovani; Senior Staff: Prof. Luigi Pellecchi). The project studies the continued existence of a high-level legal culture in Late Antiquity, as shown among other things by the copying and continued use of the writings of the classical jurists. A comprehensive understanding of legal culture includes therefore the study of the transmission of these texts and the reception of their contents. To learn more about the REDHIS Project, visit our website at

In line with the goals of the project, the appointee will be asked to contribute several well-researched chapters, written in English, to an extensive collaborative volume on the circulation, use, and reception of Roman juristic writings in Late Antiquity. Depending on her/his precise qualifications, the appointee may also be asked to contribute to the project’s annotated corpus of juristic papyri.

In pursuing her/his research, the appointed applicant will be supervised by the Principal Investigator. She/he will collaborate with other staff and post-doctoral researchers in an interdisciplinary working group. Place of work: University of Pavia, Pavia (Italy).

Preference will be given to applicants who hold a PhD awarded by a University from outside Italy, with a doctoral dissertation in one of the following scholarly areas: Classical Philology, Palaeography, Papyrology, Ancient History, Latin, and/or Roman law. The doctoral dissertation has to show that the applicant is competent in and comfortable with applying a philological approach to the study of Roman legal texts, in Latin and Greek, in order to contribute fruitfully to the research objectives of REDHIS. We are looking for someone with experience in writing in (and translating into) English.

The closing date for applications is 27 November 2017. Applicants are advised to make sure that their applications comply with Italian regulations as laid out in the official “bando” of this post, which can be found in Italian and English at

In case you have any questions or require assistance of any kind with the formalities, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Matthijs Wibier (

Further informal enquiries may  be directed to Prof. Dario Mantovani (