Monday, January 08, 2007

against his-story, against leviathan! chapter 9 (tragic rise of the Roman empire)


We will be able to look at Rome closely. It will be an extremely well-documented Leviathan because it is enamored with its own His-story. We will be able to ask if Latin tribes really did step out of the "darkness" of the Eurasian steppes into the "light" of Mediterranean Civilization because the productive forces were ripe and waiting for them, if the "Barbarians" stormed the gates of Civilization because they were eager to take on the refinements and enjoy the amenities of the Higher Stage. In the case of Rome, we will not have to speculate; the story is set down and preserved.

Only the beginnings are shadowy. The Romans say they desended from twins suckled by a wolf. They share this myth with Turks, so it may be that one group borrowed its origin myth from the other, or that a section of a once-single people changed its language but retained its origin myth. In any case, a totem animal is important in Rome's past, and a wolf at that.

We first see the Romans camped on the outskirts of Etruria.

The Etruscans, we may remember, are Phoenicia's clients. They are the Greeks of Italy. The Etruscans are octopus-like. The Greeks call Etruscans Pirates, which means merchants whose competition the Greeks don't want. The Etruscans have fleets of ships, like the Greeks and Phoenicians. They have cities with temples and shrines, like the Sumerians.

The Latins are to the Etruscans what the Mushki were to the Assyrians and the Scythians to the Greeks. The Latin language, in fact, is of the same family as that of the Mushki and Scytians, and it seems likely that these people were close kin in a not too distant past, and that women and Earth deitities were as important to them as they remain among other kindred people called Sarmatians.

Etruscan merchants, in order to placate and please their gods, exploit not only overseas victims, but also those in their hinterland, namely Samnians, Sabines and Latins.

The exploited tribes form a league to defend themselves from the exploiters.

The Etruscans try to pacify or exterminate the federated resisters. But like Phoenicians and Greeks, Etruscans are not overly strong on land. They are an octopus. Their strength is in the holds of their ships.

Thefederated tribes of Latins, Sabines and Samnians do not aspire to install themselves in the mercantile establishments of the Etruscans. On the contrary, they figght to eradicate Etruscan Civilization from the Italian Peninsula. They are animated by revulsion toward the "fleshpots," not by admiration.

They war against Etruria for four generations.

The fighters' goals and souls are maimed by the long war. Yet even then the former outsiders do not rush to become what the Etruscans were. They let the Etruscan commercial empire sink into the sea. They let the ships rot. Romans will still be shy of ships when they themselves set out to sea many generations later.

The Latins and their confederates are not lured by the "ripeness of the productive forces." They are repelled by these forces and they federate to destroy them. But while federated for four generations something happens to them. They undergo what P. Clastres will call a "political revolution," although the transformation is gradual. The generals become permanent, and so do the soldiers. The peasants who feed the army also become permanent, and their contributions come to be expected and finally enforced.

During four generations a community of equals is metamorphosed into a society of three classes, and the federated tribes become terribly similar to the destroyed Etruscans.

Roman narrators speak of two classes: plebs and nobles.

The plebs are under consraint. They are no longer free human beings. In some respect they haven't changed much: they hold festivals to the goddess Ceres, Mother Earth, who nurses their seeds. This Ceres is the twin sister of Demeter and other Indo-Iranian goddesses.

The nobles have changed much. Their war god is an abstraction they call Optimus Maximus, and thiks god is surprisingly like a deified Etruscan merchant: on receiving a given quantity of offerings, he is expected to confer a given of number of advantages or military victories. The nobles have become suspiciously like Etruscans. They are not at all the men of the people their grandfathers were.

The magnitude of the challenge maimed the original community, and in this sense, despite their seeming victory, the Latins are defeated. They are maimed because most of them cannot cope with the new-fangled military machine and some of them can cope with their most basic requirements only be coercing and expropriating others.

At this point the Romans themselves look like Etruscans to some of their own confederates and to other outsiders, but not to themselves. The Romans do not realize that Samnites and Celts are turning against the very things Romans turned against earlier. Perhaps plebian soldiers do realize this, but they are dpendent on the grains the noblemen expropriate from peasnats, and the Roman military nobility is renowned for an unusual lack of imagination. The Romans turn their forces against the egalitarian Celts as if the Celts were Etruscans, and then they lead their armies against their former allies, destroying every Samnian village.

The Roman nobles, like the earlier Spartans, have become armors frozen to their spears, but unlike the Spartans, the Romans are going to try to spread their armors over the world's entire surface. They begin by annexing and repressing their former Sabine allies.

Roman plebs seced and refuse to give further support to the arrogant nobles. The haughty nobles face this challenge by resroting to a Periclean device: they raise the plebian soldiers to the status of lesser nobles with plebs of their own. Now the interests of the former plebs coincide with those of the highest nobles. This is a device we will call cooptation or recuperation.

The Romans then set out to swallow every other tribe, federation and city on the Italian Peninsula. The Romans are more singlemindedly militaristic than the Assyrians ever were. Rome not only has a powerful army; Rome is a powerful army, and it is nothing else.

* * *

Romans call their city a Res Publica, a Public Thing. They know it is a thing, a made thing, an artifice, long before Hobbes will announce his discovery. Roman soldiers die in battles, but the Public Thing marches from victory to victory; it does not die; it cannot die; it is a Leviathan. The Romans have become Civilized.

But oddly, their revulsion, their hatred toward Civilization, continues to animate them even now.

They help Syracusans expel Carthaginians from Sicily, for in the Carthaginians they recongnize the Phoenician traits they had hated in the Etruscans. The Romans defend Syrancuse by absorbing it, and they turn all of Sicily into a Roman province.

Then the Romans turn against the Greek cities on the Italian peninsula. They destroy these cities with the ferocity they've shown toward Civilized Etruscans and Carthaginians. Unlike the Assyrians and Persians, the Romans are not satisfied to ruin cities by exacting tribute. The Romans raze the Greek cities to the ground, confizcate the land, enslave the inhabitants, recruit the Greek peasants into their army.

Themselves encased in a Leviathan shaped like a worm, the Romans still can't stand a Leviathan shaped like an octopus, and they never will. They continue warring against the ogre their ancestors considered Civilization, the Etruscan city-state. In this sense the entire Rise of Rome is an unceasing war against Civilization.

The Greek parts of Italy are literally extirpated by the Roman army. The land itself is carved up into immense estates which are given to lesser nobles and plebs. The former Greek lands are named Latifundia and are worked by gangs of chained slaves.

This strange combination of a grotesque Leviathan with a fierce hatred of Leviathanic accomplishments is not unique to Rome, even among documented cases.

Ch'in Shih Huang-ti's Leviathan expands over China during the generation when Rome expands over Italy, and with the Assyrian methods recommended by Shang Yang: war, treachery, assassination, slaughter, deportation. The Ch'in militarists are intent on rooting out all the traditions and accomplishments of every region they invate, reducing all populations to labor gangs, burning all books except Shang Yang's. After half a generation, insurgents in every part of China rise up against the monstrosity and successfully overthrow it. Shang Yang had not heard of Pericles; his writings did not include the precept that potential insurgents can be turned into impassioned collaborators when they are given Latifundia.

During this same generation, Great Alexander's armored heirs, Antiochuses and Seleucuse, march their armies from Egypt to the borders of China trying to reduce populations to a similar misery, but unlike their Chinese and Roman counterparts, these heirs of a Greek Leviathan try to preserve some of Civilization's ornaments and amenities.

By enslaving the Greeks of Italy, the Romans themselves become aware that the war machine can be beautified, ornamented. The Romans learn Art from their Greek slaves, but they learn reluctantly. They are almost Modern in their reluctance; they are almost ready to say that a killing machine is beatiful if it works. They are not quite that modern, and they let Greek craftsmen conceal the brutal militarism with Architecture, Sculpture and Painting. They learn Aesthetics, that strange ability to see in blood gushing from a wound only the beauty of the shape and color.

Having turned all of Italy into an armed camp called Rome, they hit out in every direction, as if the whole world consisted of Etrurias disturbing their harmony, or as if a perpetual motion machine had been set off by the Etruscans and none could thereafter stop it.

They turn up in Greece itself, at first as protectors of the "Free and Autonomous Greeks" from the fangs of the grasping strongman Antiochus, then from the fangs of the last Philip, and finally from the Greeks themselves, who knew before the Romans ever came that other names for protected freedom are subordination, submission and slavery. Rome is a thirsty army, and soon the only resectably independent man in any former Greek polis is the man who sucks the polis dry to make drinks for the Romans. The Greek city-state is already ancient history.

The Romans are still reacting against Civilization in its Etruscan form when they turn their immense war engine against North African Carthage. The hate-filled speeches (Cato's are best known) are irrational and incomprehensible in view of the actual threat of Carthage to Rome. On numerous occasions the Cartaginians try to buy their way out, the same way the second Hiram bought his city's way out of Assyria. The Cartaginians' last resort is to try to march on Rome itself, but it is foreknown by both sides that a seaborne octopus cannot defeat a landed worm now any more easily than ever before.

The final destruction of Carthage has no precedent in the SUmerian, Akkadian or even Assyrian past. The last independent Phoenician city is isolated, besieged, attacked, totally destroyed and then burned. Its inhabitants are scattered to the world's four corners as slaves. Still not satisfied, the Romans flatten what buildings and walls remain standing, plow the ground and sow it with salt, so that neither a house nor a crop will ever rise where Carthage once stood, so that the very memory of the city's existence will be erased.

The rest of the story is equally revolting. North Africa, Iberia, Gaul, Macedonia, Thrace, Anatolia, the Levant, all become Rome. The inhabitants are either killed or enslaved or transformed into killing machines. Small Leviathans as well as free communities are shattered. Ancient traditions are broken and forgotten. Human beings are killed or maimed.

Yet how many pages will be devoted to the greatness of Rome! And how many pages to the technological ingenuity of Rome's war engines! Why not praise death itself? Death is an even greater killer than Rome. Is it the ornamented Greek palaces and monuments in the capital that make the brutality so reputable? If so, then to win such praie, Death need only hire Greek artists.

* * *

Rome's greatness will be posthumous. Among those in Rome's entrails, only the few in the worm's head love it; all others hate it, and many try daily to destroy it.

Those in the head are few; they are the nobility, including generals and politicians, the Latifundia owners, and those the Romans call Equites.

These Equites are confidence men on horseback. They are the hustlers and contractors who get things done. They command slave gangs in olive groves and vineyards. They do the importing, the exporting and the arranging. They are tax farmers and they are pirates. They place themselves at every interstice and bottleneck of the unwieldy empire. In a future Rome across the great water, such confidence men will be called Businessmen.

All these people love Rome.

The growing number of dehumanized hangers-on for whom the circuses and games are performed also love Rome. But these lovers no longer think of the brutality or the pluder as offerings to the gods. They love the plunder and brutality as such. They are becoming what we will call Sadists.

The beloved of Sadists are Masochists, but the majority of people have not yet sunk to that level. The vast majority of the Res Publica's population consists of zeks, internal and external zeks: slaves and provincials. In the capital city alone there are a quarter of a million slaves. The internal zeks rebel continually despite the intimidating omnipresence of the world's strongest garrisons. Some slave revolts become insurrections embracing whole regions, and in three known cases, during a period of two generations, insurgent slaves hold their own against Roman armies for as long as three years.

The provincials resist as fiercely as the slaves. Hardly a year passes without expeditions to massacre and repress rebels.

And the enormous legions themselves give rise to ever greater rebellions. The armies have to be fed. Tax farmers squeeze provincials who have already been plundered by the passing legions. And then retired soldiers return to the provinces as propiretors of the provincials' lands, rewarded for the years of loyal service. The rebellions and uprisings against this regime last years, even decades, and are too numerous to list.

The ongoing repression of so many rebels on all fronts is what gives rise to the hardened organizers of mass murders who officiate over the graduation of the Res Publica to a yet higher stage. Caesar is the killer who reduces the west, Pompey the killer who reduces the east, Crassus the killer who lines the roads of Italy itself with six thousand crucified slaves.

Three mass murderers cannot share a single crown, and Caesar, to be translated as Tsar and Kaiser, becomes the face of what Hobbes will call the Artificial Man.

The world-embracing Res Publica becomes a single man's plaything, an Empire.

After swallowing Egypt and suppressing the noblemen who preferred the former Public Thing, another mass murderer, Octavian, becomes the Sun, Pontifex Maximus, earthly incarnation of the abstraction called Optimus Maximus, the Latin version of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

* * *

Rome stretches from Gibraltar to the Armenian highlands and Parthia from Armenia to India/ The world has fallen into the entrails of Leviathan, where it is dark, where life is nasty, brutish and short, where human beigns are driven by fear of early, violent death, where a person can neither stand nor lie nor sit. Hobbes and his contemporaries will project Leviathan's traits to the world outside Leviathan in order to justify the enclosure and reduction of all that is still outside.

To the zeks of Rome and Parthia, the day when Octavian Augustus becomes the Sun is even darker than the day when Darius became Ahura Mazda. No living veing can draw warmth from such a sun.

Already in the days of the Chaldeans' neo-Babylonian Empire and even earlier, there was a movement abroad to cleanse the world with fire, to burn down the light-obstructing Leviathan.

Now, in the days of Potifex Maximus Octavian, there is an even greater movement, both abroad and at home. What Turner calls "the crisis cult" is only one among many parts of this movement. Unfortunately for humanity and for nature, the crisis cult that will eventually father the Western Spirit takes root in a dark corner where light is expected to shine forth from Optimus Maximus, from the lightless abstraction of Leviathan itself.

The "crisis cult" does not spring out of the air but out of the attempts of human beings to disencumber themselves of the integument that dehydrates them. And it is not a "cult." It is a living way that becomes da cult only when it is re-encased in the artifice's integument.

There are some notable continuities from the time of Chaldeans to the time of the Imperial Romans.

In China the Tao Te Ching, the Way that recognizes the LEviathan as an obstacle and nothing but an obstacle to wellbeing, inspires people to drop out of all the highly organized activites offered by the State. The Chinese drop-outs may have been influenced by post-Periclean Greeks, since some of their bas-reliefs are said to be similar to those done by Greeks in neighboring Bactria, and some of their bronzes are said to be identical to those of Scythians. But in China there is no movement of mass withdrawal--not quite yet.

West of China, there seems to be some continuity between the State-burners of earlier and later days. Apparently Darius's waving of the candle did not altogether exnguish the light.

There is a fascinating clue in The Holy Scripture themselves. It seems to have gotten there because of someone's oversight. Such oversights are not uncommon in The Book. We've already seen that the words of a certain Isaiah who hailed Persian Cyrus as the Messiah got into a chapter named after a differenet Isaiah who lived several generations before Cyrus. The scribes had a lot of material, and they had to put edifying visions and formulations into one or another of the chapters. When they got tired, they apparently failed to make sure the material came from attested and certified Mosaic sources. One such fragment got into the chapter on Daniel.

The main Daniel is said to have been an Israelite who live in exile among the Chaldeans of Babylon. Interspersed with this Daniel is a shadowy character who lives much later, probably in the days of Rome and Parthia, who speaks the language not of Moses but of Zarathustra, and who looks for the coming, not of Yahweh, but of Ahura Mazda. This man speaks of a Zarathustrian sequence of ages, which are empires, and he visualizes the empires as Leviathans.

And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion, and had
eagle's wings; I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked off... And behold another beast, a second, like
to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had tree ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it had
three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and was said thus unto it: "Arise, devour much flesh." After this I
beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the sides of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had
also four heads; and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth
beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly: and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in
pieces, and stamped the residue with its feet; and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it;
and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn,
a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the foots; and behold, in this horn
were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things...

These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, that shall arise out of the earth...

The fourth beast... shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces...

But the judgment shall sit, and his dominion shall be taken away to be consumed and to be destroyed
unto the end

In the days of Pontifex Maximus Octavian, the identity of the four beasts becomes clear. The first is the Chaldean, the second the Persian, the third the Hellenistic Greek, and the fourth may be the Parthian but is most likely the Roman. And after the fourth there are no more. The sequence ends. The fourth breaks the world into pieces and is itself broken. After the fourth beast there is Light, the light of Ahura Mazda.

The agency that overturns the fourth beast is supernatural. But this does not exclude human participation. The most spirited revolutionaries are those who think the gods are fighting alongside them.

Dreams are the stuff the world is made of, and such dreams are self-fullfilling prophesies. In the midst of the hell that Rome has made of Earth, it will not be long before someone comes and announces, "I come to cast fire upon the eart." This one means the earth that is Rome, the fourth beast, the last. He comes to announce the end of His-story.

Rome does burn. But stirring its ashes, lo and behold another lurking beast, a fifth, with lion body and head of a man, a beast that shared the firebringer's cradle, a Church.

* * *

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


While still a very young man, Julius Caesar was kidnapped by a large group of pirates near the coast of modern-day Turkey. He was held captive for 38 days, and, when his ransom arrived, released by the pirates. Caesar immediately went to the port city of Miletus, organized a large crew of mercenaries, and set sail for the pirates' island camp. Caesar's force discovered, much to their satisfaction, that the pirates were inebriated (due to their celebrating the taking of young Gaius's ransom) and quickly surrendered. In addition, several additional pirate crews (who had joined the original group of kidnappers for purposes of celebration) were taken into custody. Several hundred pirates were captured. All were taken to Pergamum, the Roman military headquarters of the province of Asia. Here, on Caesar's order, the entire group of pirates was crucified. Caesar's reputation as a bold man, one willing to take risks and act against odds, was very much enhanced as a result of his action.

Do you feel that, in this case, young Caesar exemplifies your notion of an efficient and ruthless "killing machine"? Also, does this episode illustrate your idea of Rome as Leviathan?