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I had rather
be a dog, and bay the moon, Than such a Roman. William
Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Of what worth
can it be for us, at the dawn of the 21st century, to spend our
precious time in the study of ancient days?
There is enough
to study all about us; enough to fill a thousand books, and hundreds
of libraries, at least. And yet, sometimes, from the hoary mists
of history, come moments of crystal clarity, which reveal to us
all, better than a window pane, the events of our day. They reveal
to us the underlying forces that still ripple through our present,
often explaining why things are as they are.
A recent book
on ancient Rome, *The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A Peoples
History of Ancient Rome*, by scholar Michael Parenti, is surely
a well-written, and accessible work on a subject that is quite complex.
But it is more; it examines and uncovers the politics and classes
at work in ancient Rome, and of empires that have followed Rome,
to explain why we have been taught what we think we know about the
fountainhead of much of Western civilization. In short, Parenti
draws into sharp question, the politics, not just of the Roman historians
who have recorded much of what we know about Rome, but, at least
as important, how modern-day historians (whom he calls gentleman
historians) have used their own privileged positions to project
classist, and anti-popular histories of the Roman Era.
Parenti, the commonly-held view of Julius Caesar as a tyrant, and
of his murder as a tyrannicide, is badly misplaced. He argues that
Caesar, as well as several of his predecessors and contemporaries,
belonged to a tradition that he calls the *populares*, or those
who sought to liberalize and expand the opportunities offered by
the State. He cites the case of Tiberius Gracchus, an elected Tribune,
who sought to pass the *lex agraria*, or land law, which would have
opened up large land holdings to the poor, among them, the impoverished
soldiers of Rome. Upon presentation of the proposed law to the people,
the Tribune was opposed by powerful Senators, who hated him for
his popular appeals. His words still ring after 2,000 years:
homeless, they must take their wives and families and tramp the
roads like beggars.... They fight and fall to serve no other end
but to multiply the possessions and comforts of the rich. They are
called masters of the world but they possess not a clod of earth
that is truly their own. [Parenti, *The Assassination of Julius
Caesar* (NY: New Press, 2003), p. 61]
When one scans
the faces of thousands of homeless veterans in the cities of the
U.S. Empire, one can only be struck by this echo from history. The
Roman Senate, composed of wildly wealthy men, did not take kindly
to the measure, and rewarded Tiberius by killing him. His younger
brother, Gaius, would suffer a similar fate, as did several thousand
of their supporters. The Senate, full of men who were among the
large land-owners, squeezed the people dry, driving many off of
their ancestral holdings, to make more loot.
The common tale
that Senators opposed Caesar because he sought the hated kingship
over the Romans, is belied by their silent acceptance of the cruel
dictatorship of Sulla before him, or the Imperium of Augustus (Octavian)
twenty years after him. As the Roman historian Tacitus would later
write of them, they advanc[ed] in wealth and place in proportion
to their servility (p. 199).
cared about one thing: wealth. Rome was but a machine for wealths
manufacture. They were not the publicminded republicans
as popularly portrayed. They were a body which cared only about
their own vast privileges. Given such history, is there any wonder
why the Americans sought a senatorial
form of government?
They were a republic, in name only. It was a State organized
by wealth, of wealth, and for wealth period. When we look at
those who sit in todays Senate this millionaires
club how much of a difference does 2,000 years make? It is
a democracy, in name; or even a democratic republic.
Yet, who dares
question that the rich still rule?
2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.