Rome One Could Be Important in Roman Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


One could be important in Roman society either by doing something great, or simply by being born into high status. In other words, Romans valued both accomplishment and privilege. Which of these two do you think was more prominent in Roman society? Argue for one over against the other. Your argument must incorporate an analysis of two things: a specific historical event or institution, and the point-of-view of a Roman writer.

Polybius, was a Greek military commander in Roman service who spent many years on campaign with the Roman Republican armies in the second century B.C.E. The core values are the descendant of Greek views on virtue and the Greek value of competitive individual excellence. In Polybius' opinion, this excellence was exhibited repeatedly and most excellently in the Roman military organization.

His emphasis upon the importance of the Roman Army and individual achievement there frames his entire concept of an individual's achievement in accordance with traditional Roman virtue. He remarked repeatedly upon the superiority of Roman ways in the military arena. The military virtues are evident in his actual account of battle as one repeatedly reads in Polybius' writings on the Punic Wars.

One can see the minute documentation in the history that he had written, inspired as he was by Thucydides. Whether it was about the operations of the Mamertines during the First Punic War, It was obvious that Polybius was not alive at the time (Mellor 24). However, one could be certain that he had never spoken with any of the principles. However, one can be sure that he did the next best thing and checked and double checked the information. This caused him to read, analyze and write his history according to the works of Philinus and Fabius (ibid., 26).

Polybius's continued accounts of the Roman military camp speaks volumes about of the type of top-down, centrally-planned and highly regimented life of civic purpose and virtue that he favors in his writings. He credits the mixed Roman political constitution with giving the blessings of checks and balances to Rome. These great rewards and punishments were handed out to the Romans by the soldiers. For Rome to continue succeeding as a society, it had to continue to be virtuous in order to keep drawing the favor of the gods. Rome's deeply entrenched and highly superstitious religious beliefs for promoting and maintaining civic virtue were tied to its success in the international arena and on the battlefield as it was delivered by the moral and virtuous Army. Since virtue is linked with concepts of political and military greatness, then also is vice linked with political and military weakness that would lead to Rome's decline and fall. This is why he is beginning the story of the first Punic War "Where the History of Timaeus left off, and it falls in the 129th Olypiad..." (ibid, 20). The new games of accurate history have now begun.

This commitment or drive for virtue and morality imbued a passion of self honor, sacrifice, duty and a commitment to end ones' own life in the service of the state rather than go home in disgrace. It was either win or lose. Using this philosophy was a committed army, that led the centurions who Rome wanted to lead the nation in its quest to spread civilization in the Mediterranean world. This was a successful deployment of Roman virtue in the cause of Rome's rise in a barbaric time of history in the crusade to spread "Western Civilization" to the non-Roman world.

According to Polybius, it was easy to see why successful nations flourished. The main (but not the only) factor was their political constitution. Polybius explains this in his sixth book where he explicates upon the superiority and anatomy of the Roman constitution. This book was placed in the text after Hannibal's glorious victories at the Trebia, Lake Trasimene, Cannae and after the treaty had been concluded between Carthage and Macedonia. At this time, Rome's fortunes had certainly reached their lowest point. Polybius' long digression into the grounds of constitutional and political science in an attempt to explain why the Romans could successfully recover from such a series of disasters that would have resulted in the termination of any other nation's existence. This portion of Polybius contains the now famous description of the Roman army and the equally famous description of the inner political workings of the Roman Republic (ibid., 50-53).

Polybius believed that the Roman Republic balanced out the various virtues of monarchy, aristocracy and also democracy. However, he emphasized and further wrote about the need for a broad base of public support. When one examines Polybius in detail, one learns of his opinion that the victory of the Romans in their quest for Mediterranean conquest was dependent upon the accomplishments of the Romans that came from the accomplishments of their citizen soldiers.

We must remember the time that Polybius the Greek historian lived, that is in the second-century BCE Roman Republic. He therefore provides a contemporary perspective of the Roman Republic in the Histories. According to him, Rome had a "mixed" constitution, incorporating the best of various forms of government.

Polybius concludes that the Romans are the preeminent power because they are a diverse society in which much of the public has a voice and can contribute. Therefore, a society's thinking becomes more varied and thereby sparks more individuality and creativity. This ultimately contributed to the greater good and glory of Rome.

As Polybius remarks, the Romans were able to conquer the majority of the know world in 53 years (Mellor 51). This was based upon the participation and accomplishments of the people who supported their republican leaders as a counter to the old privileged kingship. Underlying Polybius' Histories is the idea of the cyclical nature of constitutions. Polybius believed that a nation's government, left alone its own devises and free from outside influences, it will gradually change from first monarchy, to aristocracy, to democracy and the back to monarchy again.

It was not uncommon to discern three types of constitution and their degenerate counterparts: monarchy and despotism, aristocracy and oligarchy, democracy and ochlocracy (rule by the masses). It was not uncommon at that time to maintain that successful states had mixed constitutions. Polybius' innovation was the mixed constitution, which he explained were better. Assuming that every ruler will one day start to regard his special position as a personal privilege and will make the interests of the state subject to his own, Polybius postulates that monarchy will inevitably become tyrannical.

A revolution will give power to the aristocracy, which in turn corrupts to oligarchy. This is replaced by a democracy, and once populists have taken over, people ask for a "strong man": the cycle has returned to its beginning. Rome's mixed political constitution combined monarchical consuls, aristocratic senators and democratic assemblies. It was therefore immune to this cycle. This explains Rome's success.

This idea of a mixed constitution devised by Polybius incorporated the best of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy in an attempt to break the cycle. Polybius maintained that the mixed constitution would provide a system of checks and balances where no single man, group of elite or the mob would have power by themselves but shared it simultaneously. In his opinion, he felt that only the Roman Republic fulfilled this ideal. Certainly, privilege was not the basis, but merit (ibid 50-52).

However, what Polybius and his contemporary readers considered "democratic" is very remote from our modern definition. Most citizens had no direct say in public affairs and certainly no say in the voting assemblies such as the Senate. In addition, large numbers of the population (women, slaves, foreigners) were excluded from the franchise. Polybius is vague about what he sees as the democratic element in a state. Rome had a mixed constitution by Polybius' standard.

Nothing made by humans, not even that stable Roman constitution, could last forever. In the end, even the most powerful nations were doomed. / The wise man was moderate when things were going well, understanding that one day, things might be different, and that he might find himself in the hands of those whom he had once treated mildly. Hopefully, they would treat him with the same prudent mildness.

2. In the early Republic, how did foreign affairs (Rome's expansion) shape the social order at home (the struggle of the orders), and vice versa? Include examples of specific events to in your answer, drawing from Livy.

Livy was engrossed with foreign affairs and feels that they reflect Rome's virtue and standing in history. The study of the Punic Wars are the beginning of this . Livy 31.1.3-5 says that: "The 63 years from the First Punic War to the end of the Second have taken up as many volumes as the 488 years from the foundation of the city to the consulship of Appius Claudius, who began the first hostilities against the Carthaginians. And when this fact comes home to me, I feel like someone…

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