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‘Another Mask On The Wall’
Death Throws of the [Roman] Republic: Part One by Dan Carlin on Hardcore History
© 2013 James LaFond
Dan begins this audio book with a discussion of the ancestral room of the ancient patrician house of Republican Rome, where the wax masks of dead ancestors were displayed and revered. Dan does a colorful job of painting a picture of Republican Rome, with his trademark modern analogies, describing the post Punic War Roman Republic as suffering from ‘a bad case of cultural whiplash’. The Narrative of Death Throws utilizes cultural insights from an array of historians, from the ancient Plutarch to Will Durant. He goes on to describe Roman political evolution as being shaped by ‘cultural carrots and sticks’.
The lesson of Republican Rome for Modern America, I believe, cannot easily be overstated, and Mister Carlin certainly does not do so. The logistics of managing a vast slave-based empire are concisely stated, as is the war-footing design of the Roman State, which had incentives in place that cultivated military ambition among politicians, not with an eye so much on conquest, but with an eye on how waging a one-sided war abroad could enhance their personal and familial political position at home. The tragic figure in this tale is not an individual, but a class: the Roman farmer/soldier who, operating as a member of ‘a part-time peasant [‘middleclass’] army’, successfully waged war, thereby ‘facilitating its own destruction’. The Roman patriot soldiers fought heroically to elevate their government and leading citizens to such power that was the envy of kings, and the seed of their own servitude.
The episode ends chillingly with the downfall, flight, execution, and demotion to a trophy weight of Gaius Gracchus. The younger Gracchus is the centerpiece of this portion of the Roman tale. Gaius and his elder brother were populist martyrs. They would not be forgotten, and the lesson of their fall would not be lost on subsequent generations of Roman politicians.
Dan Carlin does history right.
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