Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Italian Niche: Rome, Italy and the Provinces, First Century B.C. (2)

(Continue from page: 1)

The scandalous condition of the provinces provided the democratic leaders and also all ambitious aspirants to power with an effective weapon against the Senate and senatorial government. Nevertheless, neither the triumph of the democratic party, nor the temporary success of individual political leaders, brought about any real change. The democratic leaders and their opponents were alike absolutely dependent upon the army; and the army now consisted of professional soldiers, who sought by military service to satisfy their greed, first for booty and plunder, and then, when their time of service had expired, for allotments of land. Experience proved that it was impossible to use the army in order to carry out a definite political programme. The army supported Marius the democrat, and it supported Sulla the aristocrat. About politics it cared little; but money and land it insisted on having. The two requirements could only be supplied by constant wars and the annexation of province after province. Thus Sulla and Pompey and Caesar and Anthony and Octavian were all forced to carry on an imperialistic policy and to extend unceasingly the limits of the state; and they found s upport for this policy, without regard to their political objects, among the class of knights and among the senators themselves.

The enormous growth of the state further increased the importance of the army. Without the army the Roman state would have broken up at once. But the army would obey no leader, unless he made them sure of victory and allotments of land. This was clearly seen by all the chief actors on the political stage. Pompey alone tried to avoid this logical conclusion: he wished to make a compromise between the cosntitution and a monarchy; he wished to rule as the first Roman citizen, and yet to enjoy the confidence of the people. But he failed and became in the end a tool of the constitution against which he was fighting: he was forced to defend the Senate against Caesar, a more consistent aspirant to autocracy basded upon the sword. Caesar frankly confessed that he owed his power to the army; and the army was the weapon with which Antony and Octavian struck down the last attempt of the Senate to reasssert itself. Antony and Octavian alike founded their pretensions to supreme power on military force alone. The military weakness of Antony and his inability to get recruits from Italy settled the dispute for primacy in favour of Octavian.

This same growth of the state, with the annexation of ever new provinces and the increasing number of tributary kings, made it more and more obvious that the Senate was incapable of deali ng with a problem which was now forcing itself to the front__the problem of government for a world-wide state. The material well-being of Rome depended on the prosperity of the provinces: and italy, tax-free herself except for a small revenue derived from customs, looked to the provinces mainly for support. But the provinces, drained dry by senators and knights, and treated by the leaders of civil war merely as a source from which to draw money, became steadily less prosperous: the economic development of the West was stopped, and the East was beggared. All this was well known to the chief men at Rome. The central point of Sulla's reforms was this very question, how the state could be governed; and to Caesar the same problem was of primary importance. But the question was insoluble, if the old order and the ancient constitution of Rome as a city-state were preserved. Here, too, the only possible expedient was to adopt some new form of constitution; and the only possible form, owing partly to the excessive importance of the army and its leaders and partly to the unwillingness of italy and the Roman citizens to resign their dominant position in the state, was a constitution based on the militarty power of an individual___in other words, a system of monarchy was inevitable.

To be continued: (3)

Source of Information: A History of the Ancient World by M. Rostovtzeff; Volume II Rome (Translated from the Russian by J.D. Duff. Oxford at the Clarendon Press Published: 1927 Great Britain.

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