Rome – City, State, Empire

Rome is the incubator of modern human civilization.

Almost all the important ideas and principles of statecraft and public life were born or experimented with in Rome’s courtyards. So to go and visit Rome’s history gives one a perspective on so many modern events. Here is a quick list of things you will encounter there and some examples of their modern avatars.

1) Fall of a Republic:
Rome was a republic legislated upon by senators who also selected two counsels to carry out the executive function of the state. All this went on for almost 300 years till Caesar in around 49BC decided to become a dictator and for which he was murdered. Ultimately his successor Augustus became the dictator and the republic ended.

Shaky democracies of modern times are all hanging by a thread and keep getting sidetracked by dictators of military or religious origins. Think Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Russia….

2) Rise and fall of an Empire:
No empire was bigger or better than Rome in its heydays. It stretched from one end of Europe to foothills of Asia and also covered northern Africa. Ultimately its love of war, indulgence in excesses and weakening of public institutions led to its fall and it being overrun by Goths and Vandals around 400-450 AD.

Think of US as the modern empire and its wars, excess debt and the corporation domination of its public policy as signs of its weakening hold.

3) Caesar and Caligula
All kinds of personalities ruled Rome, from brave and clever Caesar to psychopathic and sadistic Caligula to wise and philosophical Marcus Aurelius. The Roman hall of fame is a character study from soaring ambition to suicidal despondence.

If you look at roaster of people in public life in last 50-70 years, you will have a fascist Hitler, a genocidal Mao, a crisis leader Churchill to a pragmatist Lee Kuan Yew or a wise Mandela .

4) Gladiatorial sports and the Coliseum
Public needs entertainment if they are to be kept occupied. Nothing distracts like sports especially if it entails giant arenas and bloody battles between man-man or man-beast. Rome understood and almost patented that approach.

The spirit of all modern day sporting competitions: wrestling, football, baseball and their fan involvements, cheerleaders,memorabilia, were all first invented and perfected in Roman arenas.

5) Spread of a Monotheistic Religion in Public affairs
Prior to Spread of Christianity in Rome, all civilizations had polytheistic gods. King was supposed to be a divine descendant or himself revered as a god. It was only after the edict of Milan decriminalizing Christianity and subsequently King Constantine himself turning a Christian in 312 AD, that the concept of a Christian Monarch was born and religion started to gain an institutional role in affairs of the state. The dark ages for Europe for next 1000 years, were thus founded.

Costa Ricas’ or Maltas’ adoption of Christianity, Saudia Arabia, Pakistans’ adoption of Islam or Thailand’s espousing of Buddhism as state religions all have their antecedents in again….you guessed it… the Roman empire.

So if you have missed learning from Rome you are condemned to repeat its history.

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