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Impearls: CotRCS: Afterword

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Earthdate 2007-10-13

Afterword   by Michael McNeil

As G. H. Stevenson observes above, well meaning but ever increasing imperial interference with local government and civic autonomy over the years led to the gradual decay of this once-vibrant urban scene.  Edward Togo Salmon well summarizes this aspect of Roman history, as we return to his narrative, from where we left off before: 5

[B]efore the [2nd] century was over, there was growing difficulty in maintaining flourishing municipal life in a world where the ordinary man was encouraged to regard the emperor as a sort of terrestrial Providence and where the emperor himself with responsible earnestness accepted the role of universal dispenser of justice.  The letters of the younger Pliny and of Marcus Cornelius Fronto reveal how seriously the 2nd-century emperors took their duty and strove for orderly government everywhere.  But the emperors’ very conscientiousness led inevitably to interference with local autonomy.

Perhaps the civil service that Augustus founded would have burgeoned in any event and encroached on the self-governing communities that made up the provinces; but the well-meaning efforts of the Antonines hastened such a development.  The ultimate effect was to dampen civic ardour and to foster listlessness.  Faced with the prospect of increasing direction from above, municipal notables began avoiding local office.  Inability to pay the cost involved may also in part explain the growing reluctance of men to undertake municipal responsibilities; although the provincial bourgeoisie remained generally prosperous, economic recession had set in before the 2nd century ended.  For whatever reason, local officeholders became less easy to find; and, well before 200, men were being compelled to accept local office.  This boded ill for the future.

There’s a lesson (and caution) there, I’d say, for us moderns.


P.S.  I’m no fan of American paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan, but I almost fell out of my chair a while back when I heard him (on PBS’s McLaughlin Group) refer to Bush/Cheney as “duumvirs.”  Somehow it had hitherto escaped my notice, but “duumvir” and “duumvirate” are actually English words (as well as Latin), and — along with triumvirate, etc. — are present in English dictionaries.

In the American Presidential system, the U.S. President/Vice-President clearly more closely resemble the Roman Emperor/Vice-Emperor (known titularly as the Augustus/Cæsar), wherein one member of the official dyad is institutionally superior to the other (though the U.S. President can’t fire the Vice President) — as opposed to the Roman municipal (along with Roman Republican) system detailed heretofore, in which the duumvir (consul) magistrate pairs are institutionally equal in status and powers, each magistrate also possessing the power of vetoing his colleague’s actions and decisions.  Either approach can presumably be properly termed a kind of duumvirate and its official magistrates duumvirs.




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