Tag Archives: slavery

The violence of late republic, Part 1: Vigilante Senators

The final years of the Roman republic were marked by waves of increasingly intense violence among the urban population of Rome. These waves of violence — co-opted for their political capital — became the battle standards of the ruling oligarchy, intensifying the urban violence of the city to a series of world-spanning civil wars likewise marked by increasing levels of violence. The primary factions which characterized these final stages of the republic are today conventionally divided between the optimates and the populares. These names reflect the source of power utilized by members of each camp, with the optimates relying on the “best practices” and power structures of the republic and the populares the favor of the Roman populace.

The origins of this divide can be traced to the aftermath of the the wars fought with Carthage, culminating in the destruction of the city of Carthage in 146 BCE. Lands and people previously under Carthaginian suzerainty passed to Roman authority: imperium Romanum. Prior to and between the first Punic Wars, Rome had accumulated a relatively small number of foreign territories, preferring the conservation of the “international” status quo of the Mediterranean basin to the ancient analog of “nation-building,” preferring instead to act as guides for the international community — an Italian hegemon among Hellenistic states. Such was the case when in 168 BCE, C. Popillius Laenas drew a circle on the ground around Antiochus IV and declared that the king would not leave the boundary until the Roman senate had their answer. The cause was ostensibly the preservation of peace, but peace here meant denying Antiochus the conquest of Egypt. At stake was nothing less than stability of the Italian economy — and thus the preservation of Roman hegemony — through the starvation of its communities, or so the senate might have put it. If the Seleucid king succeeded in the conquest of his southern rivals in Alexandria, it would be he and not the pliable, Roman-dependent Ptolemies who would set the price of grain exported to Italy. Whereas for a time the acquisition of Sicily (241 BCE) proved sufficient to feed the burgeoning population of Roman Italy, even before Carthage’s destruction in 146 BCE, Rome was well on its way to the reliance on Egyptian grain which would be leveraged to such great effect in the final civil war. Economic stability for the Romans was thus equated with Roman security and hegemony.

A recent offering of uncleaned Roman coins from the Balkans available for purchase.
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10 Uncomfortable Statements that Need Retelling

1. The removal and subjugation of Native Americans from 1812-1924 would today qualify as “ethnic genocide.”

2. The first police departments in the United States were created to capture escaped slaves.

3. The American Civil War was fought over slavery: The South was fighting for the right to preserve their way of life, which was premised on the economic benefits of keeping others in bondage, i.e. slavery.

4. Iraq was not involved in 9/11 and did not have weapons of mass destruction in 2002-3.

5. News media is not hyping anti-police sentiment: The police’s actions are simply under greater scrutiny by the public because of advances in mass communication (i.e. the internet), the effect of which most police and certain elements within society do not like.

6. Confederate flags are technically illegal to fly under U.S. Federal law since they literally represent a group in rebellion against the United States of America, but ironically most people who display these flags today consider themselves “patriots.”

7. Monuments to the Confederate cause are inherently white supremacist in character because they memorialize the sacrifice made by some Americans for the preservation of the Southern economy, i.e. slavery. Most were erected following Reconstruction in the context of freed African-Americans being subjected to continuing, normalized oppression via social abuse (e.g. racial discrimination, vigilantism, lynchings) and state-sanctioned abuse (e.g. Jim Crow laws, the criminal conviction exclusions clause in Section 1 of the 13th Amendment).

8. A U.S. flag with a blue line across it or a red line across it or rendered in black-and-white – and other such variations of the flag – are technically illegal under U.S. Flag Code as they constitute a desecration of the flag and by extension the republic for which it stands, but ironically most people who display these variations of the flag consider themselves “patriots.”

9. Public housing and Native American reservations function as socioeconomic ghettos, receiving little and diminishing state assistance over the course of a few generations until eventually becoming abandoned (“slums”) or absorbed by the area around it (“gentrification”). Economic conditions further “price out” these communities such that they can no longer afford to repair or stabilize their own communities internally, rendering all such efforts fruitless without aid from wealthy donors or the state.

10. Public policy in a capitalist society will naturally tend towards diminishing investment in public programs, forcing individuals to become more reliant on personal economic means. Those lacking economic means beyond a certain and increasingly expensive threshold will be incapable of providing for themselves, thus requiring public assistance, which itself continues to diminish in potency. The effect of being incapable of reaching the aforementioned threshold of viable economic independence compounds with time; those people and communities which have historically been economically underprivileged will continue to become further incapable of achieving viable economic independence, while those who are “on the fence” will continue to face the prospect of falling below that threshold as its conditions become increasingly untenable. In a society which measures success based on economic stability, those individuals or communities incapable of maintaining viable economic independence will, in time, become social pariahs.

zanscar xii.33

Even in the darkest moments of the human condition, the desire for freedom and self-determination has never been extinguished.  Even in societies which generation after generation kept others in bondage, time has preserved for us the aspirations of slaves seeking liberty and greater control over their fate.  Roman society was particularly generous, granting the children of freedmen the full rights of citizenship, an especially coveted status that would enable the numerous descendants of freedmen to enter public life and eventually rise to positions of influence among the highest authorities in the Empire.

Individuals who today state that many slaves were “better off” in their servitude and even that they preferred bondage are sadly deluded, ignoring the evidence of history — and of their own eyes.  Human trafficking in the present is simply the latest way of referring to the ongoing slave trade, one which may at times mirror low-wage employment.  But any form of compulsive, imposed dependence is itself a form of oppression, and one which unwillingly restricts self-determination is nothing less than slavery.  Indentured servitude is another such polite way of expressing the same basic idea, though in this case the promise of freedom is held out as motivation, like a carrot on a stick, but much like the cartoon analogy, the prize is all too often an illusion.  Some see this reality, others do not or choose to ignore it, but all work towards a single common goal.  Unlike most common goals, however, this particular goal is shared in name only, for despite the fact they all seek the same end-state, they work towards it individually rather than collectively.

What is this goal?  Quite simply, the betterment of their offspring.  Continue reading