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CHATTER: Crassus and 'Creating an Enemy'

Ling Ouyang of Suite101's Ancient Rome site fame sent me a heads up about the following article, which originally appeared on Free Republic frequently turns up at various other politically-oriented websites, such as Indymedia and Weekly Holiday and asked what my analysis of it would be. Here's the part that's of interest to us:

It's the oldest trick in the book, dating back to Roman times; creating the enemies you need. 

In 70 BC, an ambitious minor politician and extremely wealthy man, Marcus Licineus Crassus, wanted to rule Rome. Just to give you an idea of what sort of man Crassus really was, he is credited with invention of the fire brigade. But in Crassus' version, his fire-fighting slaves would race to the scene of a burning building whereupon Crassus would offer to buy it on the spot for a tiny fraction of it's worth. If the owner sold, Crassus' slaves would put out the fire. If the owner refused to sell, Crassus allowed the building to burn to the ground. By means of this device, Crassus eventually came to be the largest single private land holder in Rome, and used some of his wealth to help back Julius Caesar against Cicero.  

In 70 BC Rome was still a Republic, which placed very strict limits on what Rulers could do, and more importantly NOT do. But Crassus had no intentions of enduring such limits to his personal power, and contrived a plan.

Crassus seized upon the slave revolt led by Spartacus in order to strike terror into the hearts of Rome, whose garrison Spartacus had already defeated in battle. But Spartacus had no intention of marching on Rome itself, a move he knew to be suicidal. Spartacus and his band wanted nothing to do with the Roman empire and had planned from the start merely to loot enough money from their former owners in the Italian countryside to hire a mercenary fleet in which to sail to freedom.
Sailing away was the last thing Crassus wanted Spartacus to do. He needed a convenient enemy with which to terrorize Rome itself for his personal political gain. So Crassus bribed the mercenary fleet to sail without Spartacus, then positioned two Roman legions in such a way that Spartacus had no choice but to march on Rome.

Terrified of the impending arrival of the much-feared army of gladiators, Rome declared Crassus Praetor. Crassus then crushed Spartacus' army and even though Pompey took the credit, Crassus was elected Consul of Rome the following year.
With this maneuver, the Romans surrendered their Republican form of government. Soon would follow the first Triumvirate, consisting of Crassus, Pompeii, and Julius Caesar, followed by the reign of the god-like Emperors of Rome. The Romans were hoaxed into surrendering their Republic, and accepting the rule of Emperors.

So what does the rogueclassicist think? This is one of the more specious uses of a selective knowledge of ancient Rome that I've seen in a long time. First of all, I'd hardly put Crassus in the category of "minor politician". As the opening of Plutarch's biography tells us, his father had been a censor and had been granted a triumph, which, from a Roman political standpoint, was quite the silver spoon to be born with. It's also important to remember that Crassus was one of the 'young turks' who took Sulla's side in the Civil War (82 B.C.), and even though his efforts seem to have been 'unappreciated' and his motives perhaps questioned by the dictator-to-be, it is obvious that Marcus Licinius Crassus is not exactly a 'kid out of nowhere' manufacturing, through his wealth, some sort of Cinderella story.  

Next, we can dismiss rather swiftly the lofty claim that in 70 B.C. Rome was a Republic which placed strict limits on what "Rulers" could do -- although I must confess the concept of placing limits on what "Rulers" "could not do" doesn't quite make sense to me. In 70 B.C. Rome was in a state of flux, politically and otherwise. The old Republican structures were still in existence, but their effectiveness had been very much shaken by the aforementioned Civil War and subsequent dictatorship of Sulla. Sulla had demonstrated that power was there for the taking if someone really wanted it and even before he had been in the tomb for a decade many of his 'disciples' were trying to fill his caligae, among whom were Crassus, of course, as well as Pompey and Julius Caesar (we can probably throw Lucullus and Cato into the mix as well, although they were somewhat more 'traditional' in their ambitions).

Let's now turn to the claim "Spartacus and his band wanted nothing to do with the Roman empire and had planned from the start merely to loot enough money from their former owners in the Italian countryside to hire a mercenary fleet in which to sail to freedom." Oh, doesn't that make these revolting gladiators sound like just swell founding-father-type fellows embarking on some ancient precursor to the Boston Tea Party? Again, as Plutarch tells us, Spartacus had led his band of merry men all the way to the Alps, intending, we are told, to let everyone go back to their homes. But the merry men had grown confident of their success and decided to ravage Italy instead. That is, Spartacus didn't really have as much control over his band as might be imagined (or as was portrayed by the cleft-chinned one in film). In the meantime, though, that band managed to defeat/embarrass several armies led by praetors and at least one consular army. That's when the senate decided to send Crassus to deal with Spartacus.

So we've gone beyond the 'subsistence looting'; what about the "sailing to freedom" ? Well Crassus -- after his lieutenant Mummius had messed up a 'don't engage the enemy' directive and subsequently decimated the offending legions (i.e. one out of every ten soldiers was killed by his fellow soldiers as a punishment) -- was pursuing Spartacus who had decided to retreat to Lucania (the 'arch' of Italy's boot). Plutarch tells us Spartacus met with some pirates and he had thoughts of going to Sicily, but they "deceived him" and sailed away. We don't read of a bribe, but if there had been one, surely preventing Spartacus and crew from raising a similar revolt on 'Rome's breadbasket' would have been a strategic imperative. Whatever the case, it does not seem like Spartacus was intending on "sailing to freedom" (if that means "sailing home").

Finally, there remains the claim that Crassus "positioned two Roman legions in such a way that Spartacus had no choice but to march on Rome." Well, no. After he was duped by the pirates, Spartacus et al headed to the peninsula at Rhegium (the extreme 'toe' of the boot). Crassus responded by having his soldiers dig a ditch across the peninsula and begin constructing a wall to essentially trap them all. Again, however, Spartacus proved a formidable foe and at some point managed to fill in part of the ditch, allowing a third of his troops to escape. Plutarch tells us Crassus was afraid they would march on Rome, but was relieved to see a large chunk of them mutiny and camp by "the Lucanian lake". Crassus attacked them, but they fled and their flight was checked by Spartacus coming to help. A major battle followed (12 300 of Spartacus' followers killed ... sounds like a Vietnamesque body count) and Spartacus himself retreated to the mountains. Success against a quaestor, however, caused Spartacus' troops to force him to lead them back through Lucania towards Crassus, and eventually -- with help from Pompey, who appears to have received all the credit -- Spartacus was defeated. In other words, marching on Rome was never the intent nor the option for Spartacus.

In other words, pretty much all the claims made in this ancient 'precedent' are false at best and possibly disingenuous at worst. The remainder of the article has some more recent examples which probably do have some genuine resonance, but this whole Crassus thing just doesn't work. Now we'll see whether this 'rebuttal' gets as much webplay as the original.

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 10:00:16 PM::
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CHATTER: The Last Word on Saddamania?

Robert Fisk writing for the Independent (via Counterpunch) seems to have grown weary of the comparisons:

It's almost as if the occupying powers want to look through Alice's looking glass. This week, we had the odd statement by British General Graeme Lamb that Saddam could be compared to the Emperor Caligula. Now the good general was probably relying on Suetonius's Twelve Caesars for his views on Caligula. But if anything, the Roman was a good deal more insane than Saddam and even more heedless of human life.

The crazy Uday Hussein, son of Saddam, might have been a more appropriate parallel. But what was all this supposed to achieve? A serious war crimes trial--preferably outside Iraq and far from the country's contaminated judiciary--is the way to define the nature of Saddam's repulsive regime.

All references to the ex-dictator as Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun or Caligula--like all suggestions that Tony Blair or George Bush are Winston Churchill--are infantile. And again, they will appear insulting to the Sunni Muslims of Iraq, the one community which the Americans should be desperate to placate, since it is the Sunnis who are primarily resisting the occupation.

Interesting spin, if nothing else ... I'm not sure how you decide whether someone is "more insane" than someone else (isn't that like being "more pregnant"?). I'm not sure it is wise to suggest that Saddam has a potential insanity plea either.

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 8:08:19 PM::
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CHATTER: Top Ten Dictionary Words

Being a wwwophile (no ... I won't dangle that participle), I regularly sign up for newsletters that I hope will be useful which usually turn out to be either utterly useless or have a life of about three issues. A noteworthy exception is Researchbuzz which has a newsletter which pretty much is essential reading for anyone who does serious research (or purports to) on the internet. In a recent issue, e.g., they pointed to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary site, which has a list of the top ten words looked up over the course of the past year. Ecce:

      1. democracy
      2. quagmire
      3. quarantine
      4. matrix
      5. marriage
      6. slog
      7. gubernatorial
      8. plagiarism
      9. outage
      10. batten

Of course, to us Classicist types, the fact that fifty percent of the words come from Latin (red) or Greek (green) roots is not surprising. It is somewhat surprising, though, that the online version of the dictionary does not seem to acknowledge the Latin precursor of plagiarism (i.e. plagiarius ... a kidnapper). I was also happy to learn (I really didn't know this) that quarantine ultimately hails from Latin quadraginta via Old French and/or Italian. It seems that a period of forty days was an 'official' number for ships which were suspected of carrying disease to be held in isolation from the shore. Makes sense!

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 7:51:35 PM::
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NUNTII: APA/AIA San Francisco

In case you missed the announcement on various lists, the program for the APA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, January 2-5 is now available online (.html; the .pdf version appears to be 'preliminary'), with links to abstracts (I may excerpt some of the potentially interesting ones over the next couple of days). As for the AIA side of the shindig, the abstracts are also available online (again, .html; the .pdf version again is preliminary).

If anyone going to the meeting wants to email me with reports of what's going on, feel free! Someday I'll get to go to one of these, but if you're not in a university environment, the meeting usually conflicts with the start of grade school, alas ...

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 7:31:38 PM::
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REVIEWS: The Latest from BMCR

Egon Flaig, Ritualisierte Politik. Zeichen, Gesten und Herrschaft im
Alten Rom.
(review in English)

Dieter Hertel, Die Mauern von Troja. Mythos und Geschichte im antiken Ilion. (review in English ... this might be a duplicate on my part) 

Pierre Briant, Darius, Les Perses et l'Empire.

Eric W. Robinson (ed.), Ancient Greek Democracy: Readings and Sources.

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 7:16:18 PM::
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ante diem v kalendas januarias

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 2:34:03 PM::
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Kris Hirst at alerts us to a nice dig opportunity at Terra Europaea, whereat they're excavating a Neolithic village and a late Roman city.

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 2:20:14 PM::
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BLOGWATCH: Hobbyblog

I've been meaning to mention this one for ages ... Hobbyblog is the brainchild of "Ed" who is putting his ancient coin collection up one coin at a time. A coin with description and very good photos of obverse and reverse are put up, almost on a daily basis. Definitely worth a look -- we'll be including as part of a regular 'Blogwatch' feature here at rogueclassicism which technically is debuting right now, but will be fully under way in the next couple of days.

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 2:13:02 PM::
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NUNTII: Nuntii Latini (and Radio Bremen)(and Akropolis World News)

The fine folks at Nuntii Latini appear to be on holidays this week ... click here if you missed last week's or would like to poke around the Nuntii Latini site. If you are in idle surfing mode, you might want to also check out the November news from Radio Bremen for comparison purposes. (I know this is the time when teachers like to check out such things).

If you're more Greek-minded, Akropolis World News is also taking a break ...

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 2:01:06 PM::
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REVIEW: From H-Net

Published by (November 2003)

Elsa Marston. The Ugly Goddess. Ages 9-12. Chicago: Cricket Books,
2002. 218 pp. Map. $16.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8126-2667-2.

Reviewed for H-AfrTeach by Alexandra O'Brien, University of Chicago

In this novel for nine- to twelve-year-olds, Marston tells us of the
interweaving lives of Bata, a lowly sculptor's assistant; Hector, a
young Greek soldier and son of an important Greek general; and
Meret, Pharaoh's daughter, destined to become the Divine Wife of
Amun.  Fate brings together these very different individuals as
Hector befriends Bata and together they plan to rescue Meret after
political intrigues intervene in her father's plans.  Bata's purpose
is to restore a special statue of the goddess Taweret (the Ugly
Goddess of the title) to Meret, while Hector seeks to win her love.

Marston has crafted an engaging plot set in the politically complex
world of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty in which the position of Divine
Wife of Amun did play an important role.  We are also introduced to
the idea of foreign mercenaries working within Egypt, of the growing
strength of the Persian Empire and the threat it poses to Egypt in
this period, as well as the concept of personal religion through
Bata's relationship with Taweret, embodied in the statue with which
he converses and which he (alone) sees move.

This book is a very enjoyable read and can be highly recommended.

        Copyright (c) 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits
        the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit,
        educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the
        author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and
        H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses
        contact the Reviews editorial staff:

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 1:56:41 PM::
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More apologies ...

There will be a significant update to rogueclassicism over the course of the day ... my migration of programs etc. to the laptop is now complete but I just realized I have to update/transfer some bookmarks (doh!)

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 9:40:55 AM::
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NUNTII: Latest Explorator

Issue 6.35 of "explorator" is now online, ad-free as always

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 9:39:30 AM::
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AWOTV: On TV Tonight

7.00 p.m. |DISCU|King Herod: Madman or Murderer?
"Herod's role in the birth of Jesus is fleeting. In a fit of
anger over the purported birth of the "King of the Jews," texts
say that he ordered the slaughter of all boys in Bethlehem who
were two years old and younger. Scholars examine recent

8.00 p.m. |HINT| The Twelve Apostles: History's Great
"Separately, they were nobodies--a handful of fishermen, an
angry tax collector. But united by a charismatic Jewish
preacher, this ragtag gang shaped into history's most famous
revolutionaries. Meet Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip,
Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the Lesser, Thaddeus, Simon,
and Judas in this 2-hour special."

10.00 p.m.|PBS| The Dead Sea
"This program focuses on the geology, archaeology and history
of the Dead Sea region, a place of lost cities and fabled
civilizations, destructive forces and human conflict. For
thousands of years its shores were believed to be cursed, its
gaping cliffs the gateway to hell. Whether environmental,
geological, historical or political, the history of the Dead Sea
continues to be marked by cataclysmic events. Today, the
dwindling resources of this unique sea could prove yet another
political flashpoint. Analysts predict that the next war in the
Middle East will be fought not over oil but water. " [check
local listings]

DISCU = Discovery Channel (US)

HINT = History International

PBS = Public Broadcasting System (Check local listings)

::Sunday, December 28, 2003 9:37:27 AM::
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1. n. an abnormal state or condition resulting from the forced migration from a lengthy Classical education into a profoundly unClassical world; 2. n. a blog about Ancient Greece and Rome compiled by one so afflicted (v. "rogueclassicist"); 3. n. a Classics blog.

Publishing schedule:
Rogueclassicism is updated daily, usually before 7.00 a.m. (Eastern) during the week. Give me a couple of hours to work on my sleep deficit on weekends and holidays, but still expect the page to be updated by 10.00 a.m. at the latest.

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