If The Romans Could Do It, So Can We …

My friend and fellow blogger Roger frequently reminds me, when I despair over our current situation, that the U.S. is yet a young nation, relative to his own UK, and that if we look at the lessons of history, we will see that other nations have overcome disastrous leaders and so will we. This morning on my journey through ‘Newslandia’, I came across a piece written by Nicholas Kristof that hit home and brought Roger’s words to mind.  Though I generally avoid doing this, I am sharing Kristof’s words in their entirety today, for I think it is a message we all need to hear.

There Once Was a Great Nation With an Unstable Leader

kristofWhat happens when the people of a great nation gradually realize that their leader may not be, er, quite right in the head?

When Caligula became Roman emperor in A.D. 37, the people rejoiced. “On all sides, you could see nothing but altars and sacrifices, men and women decked in their holiday best and smiling,” according to the first-century writer Philo.

The Senate embraced him, and he was hailed as a breath of fresh air after the dourness, absenteeism and miserliness of his great-uncle, Emperor Tiberius. Caligula was colorful and flamboyant, offering plenty of opportunities for ribald gossip. Caligula had four wives in rapid succession, and he was said to be sleeping with his sister. (Roman historians despised him, so some of the gossip should be treated skeptically.)

He was charming, impetuous and energetic, sleeping only three hours a night, and he displayed a common touch as he constantly engaged with the public. His early months as emperor brimmed with hope.

Initially, Caligula focused on denouncing his predecessor and reversing everything that he had done. Caligula also made popular promises of tax reform so as to reduce the burden on the public. He was full of grandiose pledges of infrastructure projects, such as a scheme to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth.

But, alas, Caligula had no significant government experience, and he proved utterly incompetent at actually getting things done. Meanwhile, his personal extravagance actually increased the need for tax revenue.

Suetonius, the Roman historian, recounted how Caligula’s boats had “sterns set with gems, parti-colored sails, huge spacious baths, colonnades and banquet halls, and even a great variety of vines and fruit trees.”

Romans initially accepted Caligula’s luxurious tastes, perhaps intrigued by them. But Caligula’s lavish spending soon exhausted the surplus he had inherited, and Rome ran out of money.

This led to increasingly desperate, cruel and tyrannical behavior. Caligula reportedly opened a brothel in the imperial palace to make money, and he introduced new taxes. When this wasn’t enough, he began to confiscate estates, antagonizing Roman elites and sometimes killing them.

A coward himself, Caligula was said to delight in the torture of others; rumor had it that he would tell his executioners: “Kill him so that he can feel he is dying.”

Caligula, a narcissist and megalomaniac, became increasingly unhinged. He supposedly rolled around on a huge pile of gold coins, and he engaged in conversations with the moon, which he would invite into his bed. He replaced the heads of some statues of gods with his own head, and he occasionally appeared in public dressed as a god. He was referred to as a god in certain circumstances, and he set up a temple where he could be worshiped.

“Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” he told his grandmother, according to Suetonius.

Caligula had a thing for generals, and he periodically wore the garb of a triumphant military commander. He removed the breastplate of Alexander the Great from his sarcophagus and wore it himself at times.

The Senate, dignified and traditional, watched Caligula with increasing alarm. He scandalized the public by sometimes dressing as a woman, and he aggravated tensions by scathingly denouncing the Senate, relying on sarcasm and insult, and showing utter contempt for it.

One of Caligula’s last allies was his beloved racehorse, Incitatus, who wore a collar of precious stones and lived in a marble stall. Caligula would invite Incitatus to dine with him.

Edward Champlin, a historian of Rome at Princeton University, says that Caligula pursued “a love of pranks that a 4-year-old might disdain” and had a penchant for “blurting out whatever is on his mind” — such as suggesting that Incitatus could become consul. These rash statements rippled through Rome, for leaders of great powers are often taken not just seriously but also literally.

Yet as Caligula wreaked havoc, Rome also had values, institutions and mores that inspired resistance. He offended practically everyone, he couldn’t deliver on his promises, his mental stability was increasingly doubted and he showed he simply had no idea how to govern. Within a few years, he had lost all support, and the Praetorian Guard murdered him in January 41 (not a path I would ever condone).

Caligula was as abominable a ruler as a great nation could have, yet Rome proved resilient.

Likewise, Rome survived Emperor Nero a generation later, even as Nero apparently torched Rome, slaughtered Christians, slept with and then murdered his mother, kicked his pregnant wife to death, castrated and married a man and generally mismanaged the empire.

“If there’s a hero in the story of first-century Rome, it’s Roman institutions and traditional expectations,” reflects Emma Dench, a Harvard scholar of the period. “However battered or modified, they kept the empire alive for future greatness.”

To me, the lesson is that Rome was able to inoculate itself against unstable rulers so that it could recover and rise to new glories. Even the greatest of nations may suffer a catastrophic leader, but the nation can survive the test and protect its resilience — if the public stays true to its values, institutions and traditions. That was true two millennia ago, and remains true today.

Some interesting parallels to our own tyrant, don’t you think?  The Romans survived and overcame, just as shall we.  Have a Happy Sunday, dear readers!

67 thoughts on “If The Romans Could Do It, So Can We …

  1. Dear Jill,
    With the likes of DDT in the picture, there will never be a shortage of idiots for you to give your award.
    The generals have their hands full.. I like the cartoon with three men and a baby where the 3 men are generals and DDT is the baby
    It is too bad they can’t figure out a way to keep him occupied and away from trouble.I don’t want to wait until Rome is burning. We will survive these dark times but his end in office can’t come soon enough.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have seen that meme and thought it was so very appropriate. I hear he made an a$$ out of himself down in Texas today. Are we surprised? And you are quite right … there are so many idiots on my radar at this very moment that I have tons of electronic post-it notes on my computer, but not nearly enough hours in the day to get to them all. Right now I am looking at Scott Baio and Jim Bakker. Sigh. I need more hours in the day.

      Yes, we will get through this, but at what cost? A high one, I fear. Many hugs, dear friend!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If Trump read your post, although it is over 140 characters, he might very well be flattered to be compared to a Roman Emperor with such a strong, lasting brand.

    Another megalomaniac Roman Emperor comes to mind, “Commodus the Gladiator” — who actually fought in the arena — making me recall Trump’s past flirtations with professional wrestling.

    Great post. We must keep things in proper perspective. Trump is giving most Americans a good, healthy scare, and I do believe our democratic institutions and spirit will deal with him appropriately. (No assassination necessary!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I periodically put a link to one of my posts on Trump’s Twitter account, but as you said, it is over 140 characters plus, I don’t think he would understand some of the words. 🙂 I also, a few months back, sent him a Dr. Seuss book with the message that if he couldn’t read it, perhaps one of his many aides could read it to him. Funny that I never got a thank’you note for the book. 😀

      Yes, we need to keep our perspective, though I admit that I have had more and more trouble doing that of late. I frequently have to give myself a stern ‘talking-to’ and drag myself out of what I refer to as the ‘rabbit hole’. This nation will overcome this, though I do not think the wounds, the divisiveness, will be healed for a very long time, likely decades.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Aww Jill you’re spoiling me with the referencing! 😏
    It’s a strong, reasoned article by Nicholas Kristof highlighting the parallels.
    Our Richard II is another. Started off saying he would lead the Common Folk, then betrayed them. Surrounded himself by sycophants. Considered himself more with his own image than ruling. Got toppled when everyone left him.
    Y’see they do crop up from time to time. And they do fall. Yours doesn’t even fit in the ‘top’ 50 of the worse.
    Now here’s an interesting point going back to Nicholas Kristof detailed article, Caligula was killed by army officers.
    OK, hold on everyone! I don’t mean that your burden is going to be shot in Oval Office by a dutiful officer (and the Secret Service folk all say ‘Gee. How in criminey did that happen? I didn’t see no shooter. Did you?’- shaking of heads). No what I mean is FIRSTLY we have to look back at the record of accounts during Nixon’s tenure. When his demons had really got hold of him, and he was drinking too much, The Armed Forces top brass and Kissinger apparently worked out these excuses they could give to him why they couldn’t launch missiles or bombers….just in case he flipped right over. AND I am guessing there are a whole list of protocols very well hidden which are filed under ‘What To Do If The President Goes Wacko’ – No conspiracy stuff here Jill, it makes perfect sense in any democracy. (I’d expect it if I was UK Prime MInister! You never know)
    Therefore, melding this suggestion with Nicholas Kristof article you could be looking at a situation, at some stage where folks with The Armed Forces, CIA & FBI say ‘enough is enough’ then seek out the more likely folk in the political circles and say, in a careful way ‘OK. What do you need from us to?’. This would be done in a subtle way. So no ‘Seven Days In May’ (See that film folks- Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas with one of the best end of film exchanges-like ever!!). More a nudge and shove and isolation, and …..all gone!
    Character and Political assassination, only allegorical blood on the carpet.
    History. Always History.
    Go to it USA, I believe in you!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There may be no Praetorian Guards to step in and solve the problem nowadays but luckily you still have judicial process and if that doesn’t work- the vote.Provided no-one lets him change things with the help of the Republicans so that Presidents can stay in for more than two terms you’ll eventually be alright. The sooner the better though.
    The problem I see for now is ‘if the public stays true to its values’ because so far you’re seeing just where they lie in about 50% of the population who still support the man.Plus the number of white supremacy and general hate groups that have reared their ugly heads aren’t going to find it as easy to slip back into the woodwork now they’ve declared themselves. That’s something that you’ll have to deal with even more quickly than with your very own Nero for the peace of mind of all people of different ethnicity in the U.S.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Personally, though I know you are right, I prefer the Praetorian Guards. 😉 My concern at the moment with judicial process is that with the pardoning of Joe Arpaio, Trump has sent a message that the courts are not significant, that he will protect his loyal followers no matter what.

      And, as you say, the values I once thought the public had, are no longer in existence in some third of the population. As long as he has a base, and as long as he can feed that base what they crave, Congress will bow to his wishes. This I don’t understand, for the other 64% or us have made OUR wishes clear, but it is obvious today that the majority is in the minority. Sigh. Throw in the current white supremacy movement, which comprises some portion of his 36% base, and … the fight is not one that can seemingly be won without extreme measures. So yes, I will wish for the Praetorian Guard, but since they are unlikely to show up, I will just keep writing and resisting.

      xxx Cwtch xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah! Yes! The highly ‘tumpeted’ Caligula! Little of is ‘promise’ sees daylight these days…. Totally blotted out by what followed his initial ‘promise’. Parallels? Well! Not far to look for Americans at this time….YET! Rome survived despicable ‘Caligs’….;)Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. To some, it may seem extreme to compare Drumpf to Caligula. To some. But what I read here is that other great empires have survived idiotic and dangerous leaders, which means there is no reason to lose all hope for the US. I don’t think we need read the Caligula/Drumpf comparison completely and literally. Maybe…

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, not completely … but I do see some parallels, for example: “Caligula’s lavish spending soon exhausted the surplus he had inherited, and Rome ran out of money.” Trump and family have spent the entire Secret Service budget in only 8 months with their incessant travel. And “Caligula pursued “a love of pranks that a 4-year-old might disdain” and had a penchant for “blurting out whatever is on his mind”. And … “he aggravated tensions by scathingly denouncing the Senate, relying on sarcasm and insult, and showing utter contempt for it.” So no, I don’t see him rolling around in coins or inviting his racehorse to dinner, but … there are similarities. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is strange to see how the man Trump is being castigated? I am not a supporter. Yet to see such vehement opposition, makes me scratch my head? Leaders that were as equally poor, seem to get away with it. Ronald Reagan or the Bush. Both of the shrubs? Looking at it from afar, in Canada. We have had our fair share of poor leaders too. To suggest an end similar to Caligula, will not solve it. Comparing Trump to Caligula or Nero is not even close. Other than to demonstrate that unpopular leaders can be deposed.

    The only way is to find a good prospect for next Presidential election and vote him the incumbent out. The methods of determining the candidates, for a Presidential election are too easily manipulated. The money required for this process is too great and demonstrates how the bankers control the process. Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, dear Jamie. You are removed enough, I think, to not fully understand the abomination that Trump has brought to our government. Though I have no love for either Reagan or Bush Jr., I find both of them preferable to the current idiot-in-chief, and would gladly trade him for either. Trump has devalued our nation in a way that no other before him has done, and he deserves every bit of scorn and mockery he receives. That said, I agree that to assassinate him is NOT the way to rid ourselves of this virus, for that would, in the eyes of some, make him a hero. However, there are legal ways to end his presidency in less than the 4 year term, and I sincerely hope that Congress will soon see fit to do so, for otherwise, and I do not say this lightly, we will no longer be a democratic nation at the end of his four years. Trump is beyond a bad, incompetent or ineffectual leader. Trump is a dangerous narcissist.
      Cheers, dear friend!

      Liked by 2 people

        • That saying often holds true, but in this case, I believe the devil we know is the greater evil. Pence is no gem, for sure, but I believe he has the intellect to filter his mouth and rein in his temper. And, I do not believe that he is such a narcissist that he would place his own greed above the good of the country. And the reality is that Pence may well be caught up in the Russian investigation and become ineligible for the office also. Which would leave us with Paul Ryan who, though I have my disagreements with, I still believe is a decent man. Trump, in my opinion, has not one single shred of decency. When I look at the things he says, the way he treats others, particularly women, I cannot find one single redeeming trait in his character. Now mind you, I do not speak for the populace as a whole, and this is only my opinion. If I am proven to be wrong at some point in the future, you may feel free to say “I told you so!!!” 😀


          Liked by 1 person

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