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‘Artificial Powers of the State’
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon: Summation 4
© 2023 James LaFond
AUG/31/23
In Chapter 4 Gibbon charts the succession and degenerate misbehavior of Commodos, among the worst of the Roman heads of state. His reign of less than a decade in the 180s A.D., was an excellent example of media populism of the kind that heads of state have used in our own age to ascend to power, gain vast wealth, and then slide behind the political stage curtain to enjoy those fruits. In the time of Commodos the chief executive was not permitted such retirement—he had to die. The only exception was the age of chosen successors that ended with Marcus choosing him.
A mere youth, Commodos had 600 sex slaves, 300 of each gender, of every race, many of them abducted from leading families. With the exception of one senator, who claimed ill health and advanced age and stayed hidden on a country estate, Commodos terrorized into obedience or killed this body of puppet legislators who had the ability to reflect the good will of an emperor, but lacked the ability to correct or curve his bad will.
The vehicle for his acceptance by the mob, which was a media construct fed and entertained by entitlements and having no moral basis other than popularity and vice [1] were the formerly sacred events of the Ampitheter and Circus. The Circus was the venue of the chariot race, the most popular spectator activity and the one that would survive into the Middle Ages as Rome lingered in the Greek East. The activities of the ampitheater were three: gladiatorial combat, executions of criminals and animal hunts.
The executions were closest to our own modern media culture, in which a person condemned for breaking some law or social norm, possibly a Christian who did not accept the worship of the Emperor, would be made to fight with daggers until he died against others of his doomed kind, might be burned alive, eaten alive by beasts, or given a part in a play in which he or she died. This activity crossed over with the animal hunts, as animals brought from as far as India and the African interior, to include a giraffe, could be involved in punishments. Commodos combined this by saving a condemned soul tied to a stake by shooting the leopard assigned to worry and kill him.
As a youth Commodos had been trained by barbarian tutors in archery and was a wonder of the beast hunt. The populace loved this activity for the very hungry reason that this was their sole source of meat to eat, the slain animals of the arena [sands]. Bread was dispensed at the circus and the ampitheater. Gladiators who lacked a funeral fund and condemned people, were fed to those of these animals that were predators, and all of these animals were fed into the greedy maws of the teaming mob. Gibbon did not intuit that it was as gross as all this, merely that it was such a petty waste of resources to drag animals around the world that were no longer a threat to common people where they were ritually hunted. This of, course began, as an activity of clearing beasts from a newly settled land for the good of farmers and herders and accounted for the popularity of such heroes as Herakles, which Commodos aspired to emulate and personify, to include statuary.
The ironic side note of this exercise of state power by the executive and the urban underclass, in a bid for both to undermine the urban upper class, was its effect on rural Romans of any class. The Lion might only be hunted by Caesar. Therefore, when a farmer killed a lion in self defense, he became an enemy of the state. This is precisely the pickle that rural Americans are in, who face the full force and wrath of the artificial media state if they kill a grizzly bear in self defense. This law of Commodos remained in force until Justinian, for some 300 years! It would also be the law of most European and Asiatic lands up to and to include the present day, that the predatory beast may only be slain by the state, for the collective, under sanction of the hierarchy. One of the ironic and now redacted foundations of America was the return of the primitive tribal right of the individual to hunt.
Commodos also engaged in 626 gladiatorial fights as a secutor [Chaser] against a retiarius [net fighter] whose trident was tipped not with steel, but with lead, which posed no danger to the heavily armored secutor. He killed many of these better men. Commodos received huge sums for each of his mock combats, 8,000 pounds sterling.
Among Commodos’ sins was the elevation of men as vile as himself to wield power. As Gibbon points out, “a weak” monarch is inevitably ruled by “his domestics,” as was the son of Marcus. There was a mob revolt against his prime minister who was not spreading the wealth enough, in which the Preatorian horse men sided with the minister and the foot soldiers with the mob. A whore pleaded with Commodos to have the minister’s head thrown to the mob before they and the foot guard prevailed.
“Commodos had achieved the summit of vice and infamy,” with all of his murderous vices confounded, intensified and inflamed by his base nature. A brat was permitted to slaughter the best people “by the artificial powers of government…”
“His cruelty proved at last fatal to himself, he perished as soon as he was dreaded by his domestics.”
Eventually, the domestic slaves of the fiend had him strangled by a professional wrestler and one of the few remaining decent men in Rome, an old pious man who had served in over 20 posts as a commander or governor or mayor, was pressured to accept the status of Emperor.
Pertinax, had been the son of a Northern Italian timber merchant. He would, of course be slain and butchered by the praetorian guard, which were, in ancient analogue, a combination of the federal law enforcement agencies and the Central Intelligence Agency which currently rule U.S.G. The killing of Commodos had to be hidden, for he was indulgent and a liberal, had brought in tax collectors and auditors to despoil the middle and higher rungs of society. The beneficiary of this secret police style revenue service were the Mob and the Praetorians, who were the Roman Deep State. [2]
Pertinax would not last long, slain as he must be by the teaming parasites that numbered 16,000 armed men and hundreds of necessary slaves haunting the cabinets of the state. He sensed this, attempting to decline the post, and having not involved his family in government. When the guard came to kill him, he chastised them to some effect, until a barbarian soldier struck the first blow and he was butchered in order to open the flood gates of tax revenue for the creatures of government function.
Commodos beautiful slaves were sold at auction, with the exception of those who had been stolen from free parents. Rome was such a monstrous system that its best man could not imagine doing away with slavery, even in specific cases, unless it involved kidnapping, which was the exact attitude shared by the leading men of Gibbon’s time, that only kidnapping was cause for manumission, even though the act of kidnapping was not a capital crime.
That soldier, a man foreign to Rome, working at its heart, predicted and assured in specific action the fate of all imperial systems, which require outside actors as inner proxies, “those who prefer the favor of the tyrant to the inexorable equality of the laws.” [3]
Gibbon does well describing how the unnatural powers of The State permit a man who is no smarter, no stronger and certainly no better then those under the state power, to be raised to a godlike power. So, 86 days into the reign of the patriotic Pertinax, a “barbarian of the country of “Toncg” struck the blow that plunged Rome back into chaos.
Notes
-1. The morality of Rome, circa 180, was little different than our own, though lacking the butchery.
-2. These were the “Delators” sanctioned political assassins.
-3. Currently, municipal security contracts in the Pacific Northwest are being granted to private contractors employing predominantly Somali and Ethiopian officers.
-4. The spelling is a guess based on the pronunciation and the lack of the k in Latin.
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