||[Feb. 2nd, 2016|12:56 am]
I've gone back to reading the Masters of Rome series, trying to finish what I started. I was a little worried that I'd be lost when I started, but book three had a really good summarry and the books break in good points. Effectively, there's a new generation of people to worry about in each book, while some younger protagonists suddenly become the aged elders. It's pretty interesting.
The book picks up from Sulla's departure to go give King Mithradates of Pontus a good kicking, just after Rome has gone through a nasty civil war in which Gaius Marius goes nuts and kills anyone who doesn't agree with him. Unfortunately, nothing has been particularly done to fix the problem of the battle between factions that, for lack of any other name, I'll call conservative and capitalist/populist factions.
Sulla leaves Rome in the hands of the capitalist/populist faction, who embark upon trying to shore up their support. However, Sulla returns and, having vastly more experienced legions, wins the short but very nasty civil war that happens.
He then walks into Rome and sets himself up as Dictator, pushing through a raft of decrees, murdering people among what I think is effectively the bourgeois classes (if Romans had thought that way, which they didn't) and confiscating their property. He also sets up a program of firmly entrenching the nobility and the Senate as being in charge and defanging the People's Assembly.
While he does that, he also sets up a standing court system, which, from what I can see, is the first point Rome gets a working court system (the Romans had all the basics of a court system, but mainly seemed to hold it as part of the Senate or People's Assembly, as a result, they were very politically linked). By creating standing courts, Sulla sets up the basis of what we would now recognise as the separation of powers, although, it was really primitive.
After doing all of this, Sulla gives up being Dictator, departs with his male lover, wife and goes into retirement in a series of extravagant partying that kills him.
Sulla is, quite simply, a fascinating character. I need to read up on him properly from a historical perspective, to work out which bits of the book are fact and which are fiction, but he's an amazing character. He's genuinely one of those characters I'm never sure if I like or hate, and that's rare.
In the books, he by turns psychopathically ruthless, deadly to his enemies and self-aggrandising. By other turns, he does what is necessary and not what he would like, he's loyal to his friends, has a wicked sense of humour and, more importantly, loyal to the ideal of Rome. He stabilises the Republic (at least for a while), even as it is slowly crumbling. Undoubtedly he is both part of its salvation and its undoing and I can't quite understand which is which.
The tale of Sulla's end is also the tale of start of another young man of renown, Gaius Julius Caesar. I think it's safe to say that most people have heard of him...