For several centuries the “election” of the leaders of the Roman Empire were more or less held on a democratic basis. For sure there were many examples of fraud, corruption and perfidy in those elections. But on balance they were not the result of total corruption and the buying of votes or support. After Julius Caesar things did begin to change. Many of the Caesars bought their elevation to that position by outright bribery and chicanery. There were notable exceptions for sure such as Marcus Auerilius and Augustus and a few others along the way. But more and more it became common for those seeking higher office to literally bribe and buy their way to office. First they would pay the Praetorean Guard, which was the personal legion of the Caesar and almost always stationed near Rome itself or pay off other legions who were strategically located near Rome or a vital Province. They would promise coin in exchange for support from these troops so that they had some “muscle” to back up their campaign and hopefully their election. Even in those days before one man-one vote democracy it was still important to have the backing of the ordinary people. They weren’t idiots in those days and knew how to run a political campaign and “ads” if you will by stoking the passions of the people for some particular cause or benefit to the people. They usually didn’t have enough money to buy all those votes but they would give pageants and circuses for the people and provide free food and drink. On many an occasion there was also the promise of bread. Literally bread from the Government graneries. The Government controlled the importation of grain from Eygpt and Sicily and other areas into Rome. The price and availibility of bread was critical to the daily lives of the common folks. The ordinary folks got to where they expected such largess from those seeking high office and over the years it became standard operating procedure. Anytime there was a change of Caesar or other serious situation those seeking power would offer up their version of how they would give the bread and circuses to the people. The circuses were wildly popular in those days. Much like the NFL of today. Gladiators and charioteers were public celebrities and “teams” had colors and specific followings. Any of this sound familar to what is happening today? We’ll discuss more of this debilitating practice in the future.
Sometimes becoming so enarmored with “freebies” from the Government can lead to disasterous results. In the late 4th century A.D. the city of Thessalonica (in modern day Greece) rebelled against Theodosius who was Caesar. The cause was that a famous charioteer of that day had a homosexual relationship with a member of the local governor’s court. He was thrown in jail and the mob was outraged because it spoiled their fun at the games. The mob broke into the governor’s palace and murdered him and many of his cohorts. When news of this rebellion against the authority of Rome reached Theodosius he was outraged. He plotted his counter move with cunning. He dispatched his envoys with instructions to send in the army and lay waste to the town and its citizens and then changed his mind and tried to recall them and revoke that order but it was too late. The local commanders having received the orginal order knew of the lemming -like devotion of the people to the circus. They announced a circus would be held. In spite of the tense situation and worry over what might happen to them the people of Thesslonica were so enamored and accustomed to the free circus and the largess of the Government that they responded wholeheartedly and crowded the arena. When all were assembled and the signal given the games did not begin. Troops had been secretly deployed in the neighborhood and at that signal they converged on the crowd and slaughtered them almost to a man, woman and any children in attendence. Thousands were killed. The rebellion was the motivation for the slaughter but the immediate cause of their deaths was the lure of something free for the little people. Those who did not subcumb to the lure of Government handouts lived. Ponder this little story as you contemplate the future of our country. I urge you to read Gibbon. There are lessons to be learned from those centuries past for those willing to investigate. Those lessons for survival and happiness are very apt in today’s world.
All idealism is falsehood in the face of necessity. Nietzsche. I wonder if that is true or not. Necessity certainly does expose our core beliefs and integrity or lack of it.