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Lessons From Rome

Long version: mp3, 3.51 MBs, 4:21
Short version: mp3, 2.93 MBs, 3:34

[Col. Recorded 12/1/03]

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 People’s 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.

According to 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:

Hearthless and 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).

The Senators cared about one thing: wealth. Rome was but a machine for wealth’s 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 today’s Senate — this millionaire’s 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?

Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal

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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa

Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.