Dawn’s page

This is the result of a suggestion of a friend who told me that I needed to give a short explanation of the historical setting; after all, Lucius Sestius lived about halfway through a more-than-thousand year story. But I am to keep it to no more than a page…! So here is “A Very Short History of Rome”.

The Romans themselves dated their city’s foundation to 753 BCE, with the legend of the twins Romulus and Remus. After a quarrel, Remus was killed and Romulus became king of a city which started on the Palatine Hill, next to the River Tiber. Successive kings then ruled Rome for about two hundred years. After the rule of a particularly unpleasant king called Tarquinius Superbus, a different political system emerged, and over the years Rome developed into a Republic, in which an advisory body called the Senate and assemblies of the citizen body produced laws. Members of the Senate were elected by the City’s male citizens. Of course, in real life, the rich and high-born still dominated: there was a wealth qualification for the Senate that excluded most people, for example, and the wealthy also dominated the voting. The result was that the Senate had far more power than the word “advisory” would imply: if the Senate recommended a law, it usually got passed. Members of the Senate also did the most important jobs, such as ruling the provinces of the ever-growing empire, and leading Rome’s armies. By the time Lucius Sestius was born, there was a clearly-defined and highly-competitive path for a well-born young man to tread which would hopefully result in him joining his father in the Senate and serving Rome by taking up any number of posts.

As Rome’s power grew however, problems also arose. Instead of working on behalf of the country, some individuals used their military career to boost their own support. This led to more and more anomalies – people bucked the system, leap-frogged over those plodding their way to the top, used bribery in elections, threatened Rome with armies which were loyal to a general rather than Rome. And a system which encouraged the upper classes to compete against each other for office risked producing a maverick, someone who was not going to be content with following the expected path.

As “Rome’s End” opens, one of those mavericks is in full flow – Julius Caesar has used immense personal popularity among the lower classes and his loyal armies to take supreme power, and is Dictator of Rome. After five hundred years of freedom from the tyranny of the kings, Rome is back to being ruled by a single man.

Many of the terms used such as “Republic” and “Empire” did not mean the same thing to Lucius as they do to us. He had no concept of modern democratic practices, but he would have completely understood the sad fact that to get to the top in a democracy such as the USA, you need a vast amount of money. It is always interesting to draw parallels between the ancient world and the modern, as long as we don’t fall into the trap of assuming that our own practices must be superior.

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