T Nation

An Inconvenient History . . .

Pirates of the Mediterranean
Kintbury, England

IN the autumn of 68 B.C. the world?s only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome?s port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But history is mutable. An event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself.

Consider the parallels. The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: no nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. They were, rather, the disaffected of the earth: ?The ruined men of all nations,? in the words of the great 19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen, ?a piratical state with a peculiar esprit de corps.?

Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. To quote Mommsen again: ?The Latin husbandman, the traveler on the Appian highway, the genteel bathing visitor at the terrestrial paradise of Baiae were no longer secure of their property or their life for a single moment.?

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two men. Military commands were of limited duration and subject to regular renewal. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of ?Civis Romanus sum? ? ?I am a Roman citizen? ? was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year-old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law.

?Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone,? the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. ?There were not many places in the Roman world that were not included within these limits.?

Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman Treasury ? 144 million sesterces ? to pay for his ?war on terror,? which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of 120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was unprecedented, and there was literally a riot in the Senate when the bill was debated.

Nevertheless, at a tumultuous mass meeting in the center of Rome, Pompey?s opponents were cowed into submission, the Lex Gabinia passed (illegally), and he was given his power. In the end, once he put to sea, it took less than three months to sweep the pirates from the entire Mediterranean. Even allowing for Pompey?s genius as a military strategist, the suspicion arises that if the pirates could be defeated so swiftly, they could hardly have been such a grievous threat in the first place.

But it was too late to raise such questions. By the oldest trick in the political book ? the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as ?soft? or even ?traitorous? ? powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire.

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of ?serious? physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant ? all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.

An intelligent, skeptical American would no doubt scoff at the thought that what has happened since 9/11 could presage the destruction of a centuries-old constitution; but then, I suppose, an intelligent, skeptical Roman in 68 B.C. might well have done the same.

In truth, however, the Lex Gabinia was the beginning of the end of the Roman republic. It set a precedent. Less than a decade later, Julius Caesar ? the only man, according to Plutarch, who spoke out in favor of Pompey?s special command during the Senate debate ? was awarded similar, extended military sovereignty in Gaul. Previously, the state, through the Senate, largely had direction of its armed forces; now the armed forces began to assume direction of the state.

It also brought a flood of money into an electoral system that had been designed for a simpler, non-imperial era. Caesar, like Pompey, with all the resources of Gaul at his disposal, became immensely wealthy, and used his treasure to fund his own political faction. Henceforth, the result of elections was determined largely by which candidate had the most money to bribe the electorate. In 49 B.C., the system collapsed completely, Caesar crossed the Rubicon ? and the rest, as they say, is ancient history.

It may be that the Roman republic was doomed in any case. But the disproportionate reaction to the raid on Ostia unquestionably hastened the process, weakening the restraints on military adventurism and corrupting the political process. It was to be more than 1,800 years before anything remotely comparable to Rome?s democracy ? imperfect though it was ? rose again.

The Lex Gabinia was a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences: it fatally subverted the institution it was supposed to protect. Let us hope that vote in the United States Senate does not have the same result.

I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

However, the article “conveniently” misses some major points:

  1. Cilician pirates WERE a major threat to Rome. They were plundering rich Greek and Asian cities, not to mention raiding important trade routes. They threatened to cut the lifelines of the Republic.

  2. Pompey’s campaign against pirates was one of the most efficient and succesfull military campaigns in history, performed in a short time deemed impossible by contemporaries. A rare example showing how huge resources used wisely and efficiently can end a threat in a matter of days. Only those resources enabled Pompey to sweep the entire Mediterranean.

  3. After defeating the pirates, Pompey performed another brilliant stroke: he addressed the root cause of piracy (poverty) by pardoning most of the pirates and providing them with land in Asia Minor. The Mediterranean was the Roman lake for the next 400 years.

Based on this, one could draw completely different lessons than those listed in the article.

loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :slight_smile:

[quote]lothario1132 wrote:
loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :)[/quote]

Hahahahaha!

I’m inagining wreckless sitting in the corner with fingers in ears mumbling in a low, crazy voice “lala lala lala lala”

Who made you judge?

[quote]bigflamer wrote:
lothario1132 wrote:
loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :slight_smile:

Hahahahaha!

I’m inagining wreckless sitting in the corner with fingers in ears mumbling in a low, crazy voice “lala lala lala lala”

[/quote]

Well, we all know who made you a cheerleader? Your mama did.

[quote]bigflamer wrote:
lothario1132 wrote:
loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :slight_smile:

Hahahahaha!

I’m inagining wreckless sitting in the corner with fingers in ears mumbling in a low, crazy voice “lala lala lala lala”

[/quote]

Wreckless,

With every post, you prove how fucking crazy you truly are. If you think the burning of Ostia is comparable to 9/11, then…wow…

Seutonius is spinning in his grave.

Umm – I’m just going off the top of my head here, but Sulla had far stronger powers as dictator of Rome just prior to Pompey getting his military command to take care of the pirates. Sulla systematically got rid of his enemies (and perceived enemies) and annexed their property – and offered part of their property as payment to those who turned in the “traitors.” Prior to Sulla, Gaius Marius had quite a bit of power – and if I recall, went rather crazy and caused quite a bloodbath.

I believe historians think one of the main things that lead to this was the transformation of the Roman legions from volunteer forces made up solely of Roman citizens of a certain class into a standing professional army drawn more broadly from throughout the empire – including noncitizens who had little allegiance to Rome.

In other words, I don’t think your comparison is quite apt.

[quote]loppar wrote:
I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

[/quote]
I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you were trying to show the difference remember. So far, you’ve only mentioned similarities.

If this is a difference, does this mean you don’t consider terrorism a threat?

Well, I’ll grant you this. This is indeed a difference. Hey lotharia and bigflamer, are you listening? This is a differnce because Pompey’s campaign was well lead and succesfull. Dang, I’m in deep shit now.

Again, a difference. Not only was the campaign succesfull, there was even a political follow up. A nation-building strategy so to speak. Some might even call it a pull-out strategy. Oh boy, I’m loosing left right and center here.

And what would this lesson be? It’s good to be succesfull? It’s wise to think ahead?

[quote]loppar wrote:
I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

However, the article “conveniently” misses some major points:

  1. Cilician pirates WERE a major threat to Rome. They were plundering rich Greek and Asian cities, not to mention raiding important trade routes. They threatened to cut the lifelines of the Republic.

  2. Pompey’s campaign against pirates was one of the most efficient and succesfull military campaigns in history, performed in a short time deemed impossible by contemporaries. A rare example showing how huge resources used wisely and efficiently can end a threat in a matter of days. Only those resources enabled Pompey to sweep the entire Mediterranean.

  3. After defeating the pirates, Pompey performed another brilliant stroke: he addressed the root cause of piracy (poverty) by pardoning most of the pirates and providing them with land in Asia Minor. The Mediterranean was the Roman lake for the next 400 years.

Based on this, one could draw completely different lessons than those listed in the article.
[/quote]

Dang, should have scrolled down further before posting - nice job.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
bigflamer wrote:
lothario1132 wrote:
loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :slight_smile:

Hahahahaha!

I’m inagining wreckless sitting in the corner with fingers in ears mumbling in a low, crazy voice “lala lala lala lala”

Wreckless,

With every post, you prove how fucking crazy you truly are. If you think the burning of Ostia is comparable to 9/11, then…wow…

Seutonius is spinning in his grave.

[/quote]

It’s similar, in the overall picture. A dominant nation was attacked in a way it didn’t think was possible. And they overreacted.

If you don’t see that, you must be a fucking retard.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
loppar wrote:

Based on this, one could draw completely different lessons than those listed in the article.

Dang, should have scrolled down further before posting - nice job.[/quote]

You should have scrolled down further still.

I told you it was an incovenient history. That’s why stupid people choose to ignore or dismiss it.

You guys never learn from history, do you? Why keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again? Don’t you have the creativity to make new mistakes every once in a while?

[quote]Wreckless wrote:
bigflamer wrote:
lothario1132 wrote:
loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :slight_smile:

Hahahahaha!

I’m inagining wreckless sitting in the corner with fingers in ears mumbling in a low, crazy voice “lala lala lala lala”

Well, we all know who made you a cheerleader? Your mama did.
[/quote]

Wreckless,

You are a shining example of one of the great benefits of free speech. The more you talk, the more you expose yourself as a childch fool.

Please, keep talking.

[quote]Wreckless wrote:
loppar wrote:
I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you were trying to show the difference remember. So far, you’ve only mentioned similarities.

However, the article “conveniently” misses some major points:

  1. Cilician pirates WERE a major threat to Rome. They were plundering rich Greek and Asian cities, not to mention raiding important trade routes. They threatened to cut the lifelines of the Republic.

If this is a difference, does this mean you don’t consider terrorism a threat?

[/quote]

Umm…you do realize I’m talking about Rome, do you? I’m just showing how putting a political spin on history can be done both ways.

And that’s why I hate such grossly inaccurate and oversimplified comparisons.

This has happened before with the Greek/Persina Wars, the Maya Collapse, The Crusades etc.

Here’s another example of such , Iraq:

“pro intervention” historical comparison:

“The Brits pacified Iraq in the 1920-ies. They lost over 3000 (mostly Indian) soldiers and when situation became so desperate they even considered using gas. However, they ultimately prevailed in bringing peace and stability to the region, after the collapse of the evil Otomman rule. This shows we have to remain committed.”

“pullout” historical comparison:

“Iraq was and always will be a quagmire. Take the British mandate in the 1920ies and 30ies. Mass revolts, bombings, atrocities, even a pro-German mass revolt during WW2 which almost suceeded shows we have no moral reason to waste our boys there”

But you obviously have some agenda in mind so I won’t trouble you further.

[quote]loppar wrote:
Wreckless wrote:
loppar wrote:
I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you were trying to show the difference remember. So far, you’ve only mentioned similarities.

However, the article “conveniently” misses some major points:

  1. Cilician pirates WERE a major threat to Rome. They were plundering rich Greek and Asian cities, not to mention raiding important trade routes. They threatened to cut the lifelines of the Republic.

If this is a difference, does this mean you don’t consider terrorism a threat?

Umm…you do realize I’m talking about Rome, do you? I’m just showing how putting a political spin on history can be done both ways.

And that’s why I hate such grossly inaccurate and oversimplified comparisons.

This has happened before with the Greek/Persina Wars, the Maya Collapse, The Crusades etc.

Here’s another example of such , Iraq:

“pro intervention” historical comparison:

“The Brits pacified Iraq in the 1920-ies. They lost over 3000 (mostly Indian) soldiers and when situation became so desperate they even considered using gas. However, they ultimately prevailed in bringing peace and stability to the region, after the collapse of the evil Otomman rule. This shows we have to remain committed.”

“pullout” historical comparison:

“Iraq was and always will be a quagmire. Take the British mandate in the 1920ies and 30ies. Mass revolts, bombings, atrocities, even a pro-German mass revolt during WW2 which almost suceeded shows we have no moral reason to waste our boys there”

But you obviously have some agenda in mind so I won’t trouble you further.

[/quote]

Nice post.

[quote]bigflamer wrote:
Wreckless wrote:
bigflamer wrote:
lothario1132 wrote:
loppar wins.

Wreckless? You okay? :slight_smile:

Hahahahaha!

I’m inagining wreckless sitting in the corner with fingers in ears mumbling in a low, crazy voice “lala lala lala lala”

Well, we all know who made you a cheerleader? Your mama did.

Wreckless,

You are a shining example of one of the great benefits of free speech. The more you talk, the more you expose yourself as a childch fool.

Please, keep talking.
[/quote]

You’re projecting again. Your shrink won’t be happy with your relapse.

[quote]loppar wrote:
Wreckless wrote:
loppar wrote:
I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you were trying to show the difference remember. So far, you’ve only mentioned similarities.

However, the article “conveniently” misses some major points:

  1. Cilician pirates WERE a major threat to Rome. They were plundering rich Greek and Asian cities, not to mention raiding important trade routes. They threatened to cut the lifelines of the Republic.

If this is a difference, does this mean you don’t consider terrorism a threat?

Umm…you do realize I’m talking about Rome, do you? I’m just showing how putting a political spin on history can be done both ways.

And that’s why I hate such grossly inaccurate and oversimplified comparisons.

This has happened before with the Greek/Persina Wars, the Maya Collapse, The Crusades etc.

Here’s another example of such , Iraq:

“pro intervention” historical comparison:

“The Brits pacified Iraq in the 1920-ies. They lost over 3000 (mostly Indian) soldiers and when situation became so desperate they even considered using gas. However, they ultimately prevailed in bringing peace and stability to the region, after the collapse of the evil Otomman rule. This shows we have to remain committed.”

“pullout” historical comparison:

“Iraq was and always will be a quagmire. Take the British mandate in the 1920ies and 30ies. Mass revolts, bombings, atrocities, even a pro-German mass revolt during WW2 which almost suceeded shows we have no moral reason to waste our boys there”

But you obviously have some agenda in mind so I won’t trouble you further.

[/quote]

So because you couldn’t find any holes in the original comparison, you decided to make your comparisons and tear them down. And somehow means something?

[quote]Zap Branigan wrote:
loppar wrote:
Wreckless wrote:
loppar wrote:
I see that drawing comparions between Rome and the US is popular yet again.

It’s very tempting compare the Roman Republic of the 1st century BC and present-day US, two only occurences in world history when a Republic with a “Senate” dominated on the Mediterranean/World stage.

However, the Roman world was also greatly different from ours, and comparing the attack on Ostia with 9/11 is pure BS. I know that putting spin on historical events to fit some political agenda is popular, but this is plain stupid.

The Roman Republic was doomed long before Pompey. The last straw was the Sulla’s dictatorship in the 80’s BC. Even before that, murders, vote rigging and gang violence were a regular occurence in the political life which was dominated by a small cynical elite.

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but you were trying to show the difference remember. So far, you’ve only mentioned similarities.

However, the article “conveniently” misses some major points:

  1. Cilician pirates WERE a major threat to Rome. They were plundering rich Greek and Asian cities, not to mention raiding important trade routes. They threatened to cut the lifelines of the Republic.

If this is a difference, does this mean you don’t consider terrorism a threat?

Umm…you do realize I’m talking about Rome, do you? I’m just showing how putting a political spin on history can be done both ways.

And that’s why I hate such grossly inaccurate and oversimplified comparisons.

This has happened before with the Greek/Persina Wars, the Maya Collapse, The Crusades etc.

Here’s another example of such , Iraq:

“pro intervention” historical comparison:

“The Brits pacified Iraq in the 1920-ies. They lost over 3000 (mostly Indian) soldiers and when situation became so desperate they even considered using gas. However, they ultimately prevailed in bringing peace and stability to the region, after the collapse of the evil Otomman rule. This shows we have to remain committed.”

“pullout” historical comparison:

“Iraq was and always will be a quagmire. Take the British mandate in the 1920ies and 30ies. Mass revolts, bombings, atrocities, even a pro-German mass revolt during WW2 which almost suceeded shows we have no moral reason to waste our boys there”

But you obviously have some agenda in mind so I won’t trouble you further.

Nice post.
[/quote]

More cheerleaders. I must be on to something here.

[quote]Wreckless wrote:
Zap Branigan wrote:

Nice post.

More cheerleaders. I must be on to something here.[/quote]

Loppar totally demolished your silly little theory and this is your only response?

Just further reinforces the fact that you are way off base.

[quote]Wreckless wrote:

I told you it was an incovenient history. That’s why stupid people choose to ignore or dismiss it.[/quote]

Check your English dictionary. “Inconvenient” doesn’t mean incorrect, which is how it would have to be viewed to justify the thesis of your piece.

It’s a bad comparison because you’re ignoring the immediately preceding Roman history, in which various strong leaders were able to control the army, which was rapidly gaining force as an independent political power, and enforce their will on the general population. I outlined above the argument about changes to the make-up of the army being the driving force behind the demise of the Republic – and if you go into later Roman history, you’ll see the legions basically act as kingmakers, with mini civil wars sprouting up at almost every new opening for a new emperor as various armies nominated their own claimants to the imperial purple.

The Republic may not have officially failed until Augustus, but it was far from a haven of checks and balances that preserved the power of the Senate and the popular assembly against strong individual leaders or demogogues.

[/quote]wreckless wrote:
You guys never learn from history, do you? Why keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again? Don’t you have the creativity to make new mistakes every once in a while? [/quote]

Try learning your history as a starting point for the conversation.