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Fall of the Roman Republic (Penguin Classics)

The Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives - Plutarch, Rex Warner, Robin Seager Plutarch is the opposite of Isaaic Asimov. Foundation portrays history only in terms of massive predictable, quantifiable and eminently understandable trends. There is little accounting for individual personalities; only stochastic movements of people, information, money, and resources. On the other hand, Plutarch writes history in the form of biographic essays, showing us one unique, sometimes inconsistent, often inscrutable man at a time. To explore how the Roman Republic (509 B.C.- 27 B.C.) collapsed and became reinvented as the Roman Empire, Plutarch examines the lives and personalities of six key figures, who were the major political and military leaders of their day. Six Lives was written around 120 A.D., roughly 150 years after the Republic fell. I think it helps show that while the Empire was sexier than the Republic, the Republic may have more to teach us... Its history is the cautionary tale of a prosperous, learned society with codified rights (for some), and elements of representative governance, which proceeded down a path to dictatorship. Some understanding of how this happened may be gleaned from the six lives Plutarch examines:GAIUS MARIUS parlays success as a General into a legendary political career, becoming the first man to be elected Consul seven times. He is responsible for the slaughter on the Capitoline Hill, demonstrating an arrogance and ruthlessness which makes him plenty of enemies and few friends. He spends his last few unhealthy years fleeing political rivals and seeking sanctuary wherever he can find it, much as Mohammad Reza Pahlavi “the Shah of Iran” did in 1979. I’m not sure why Gaius was included on this list; he seems the less impressive than the others. SULLA is a little Roman Joseph Stalin. Turning on the public who elected him Consul, he maneuvers himself into a position of Dictator, and then proceeded to butcher over 12,000 citizens, political opponents, personal enemies and their families for the slightest real or perceived transgressions. Through sheer dumb luck, Sulla was asked to receive the surrender of notorious outlaw Jogurtha on behalf of Rome. Sulla hadn’t contributed anything to Jogurtha’s defeat and capture, but that didn’t stop him from commissioning statues in Rome depicting him standing triumphally over the humbled outlaw. His peers were particularly miffed by a giant gold ring he had custom made, bearing the surrender scene. I guess he wore it under their noses, like bad bad LeRoy Brown. That must have been some outrageous piece of jewelry, to get mention Plutarch‘s book, written 150 years later! I wish somebody who saw it would have drawn a picture! Sulla died, incidentally, of a gruesome intestinal worm infestation. (Ascaris??)CRASSUS (Triumvir #1) is best known as the General who defeated Spartacus, and in his day: the richest man in Rome. His for-profit fire company used to show up at burning homes to negotiate a bargain sale of the house. If the owner refused, the firemen turned around and went home! He comes across as the weakest of the Triumvirs, with no realistic shot at coming out on top over Pompey or Caesar. Brutal ending for Crassus: a beheading when his military adventures in Parthia go bad.POMPEY (Triumvir #2) is the military strategy whiz-kid, who becomes General at twenty-two, and gets his own Triumph (victory parade) without the normally required rank of Praetor. His career as statesman is less impressive. When Crassus’s death ends the Triumvirate, the Republic descends into civil war. Pompey snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, and loses to Caesar. Shortly after, he seeks asylum in Egypt, and is murdered by King Ptolmey’s agents, in an example of cold-blooded Machiavellian politics which Plutarch explains well on page 239. Side note: while reading this section, I couldn’t help feeling Pompey’s nemesis, the renegade king Mithridates, was a much more intriguing personality.JULIUS CAESAR (Triumvir #3) is the best known of these men, so I won’t elaborate. No matter; there is so much overlap of events in the personal histories of Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar, that reading them in succession starts to feel a bit like Rashomon. If you have read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and the preceeding chapters on Crassus and Pompey, this section has little new to offer.CICERO is the lone intellectual of the group. It’s nice to know that political power wasn’t completely limited to generals, but Cicero wasn’t nearly as powerful as the others on this list. I like him better in his own work: On the Good Life Penguin Classics. Plutarch thinks Cicero is a too-clever-by-half smartass, but does grudgingly admit his brilliant oratory skills, and his impressive legal career. When Antony, Octavian and Lepidus formed the "Second Triumverate", Cicero became an enemy of the state and was executed as he sat out by the pool in his villa. (really!) Sadly, his life illustrates that being right or just or smart was not enough to get by during the Republic. Without question, political connections and/or military might ruled the day.Parting Advice1) Get a good Atlas of the Roman World for reference when you read this. There are plenty of places mentioned in this book, and no maps. This is a setup for much confusion: what the Romans called “Albania” is in present-day Georgia, while what we now call “Albania”, the Romans called Dyrrhachium; what the Romans called “Iberia” is in present-day Armenia… etc.2) If you go to Rome, be sure to seek out some of the ruins of the Republic: Temple of Hercules Victor, and the Temple of Portunus.