Friday, September 23, 2011

How To Run An Ancient Government

When describing the Roman Republic, established after its monarchy was abandoned in 509 B.C., Anthony Everitt states, "The Roman constitution was the fruit of many compromises and developed into a complicated mix of laws and unwritten understandings.  Power was widely distributed and there were multiple sources of decision-making...the Roman constitution made it so easy to stop decisions from being made that it is rather surprising that anything at all got done.  The Romans realized that sometimes it might be necessary to override the constitution."

Sounds familiar.  When will our Caesar arrive?

It is interesting that, "Senators were prohibited by law from engaging in business."  

The most interesting feature of the Republic for me was that, "Modern governments employ many thousands of administrators who carry out their decisions.  This was not the case during the Roman Republic. There were no bureaucrats, apart from a few clerks who looked after the public treasury.  There was no police force, no public postal system, and no fire service, and there were no banks.  There was no public criminal prosecution or judicial service, and cases were brought by private citizens...The consuls brought in servants and slaves from their households, as well as personal friends, to help run the government."

Source: Augustus by Anthony Everitt.  2006.  Random House.  An absolutely super book, with a perfect brew of historical detail and engaging narrative.

From another source I saw how government changed when the power of Rome moved from the city of Rome to Constantinople (formerly, Byzantium).  Because there was no establish nobility with their own sources of wealth in Constantinople, people had to be paid to run the government.  In the Rome the nobility ran the government from their own funds.  Moreover, Rome had a system of values where civic duty was virtuous; Constantinople did not.  Hence, civic duty in the eastern empire was done for personal profit, and it was evident in the rampant corruption.

Source: Kenneth W. Harl.  World of Byzantium.  Lecture 3: State and Society.  2001.  The Teaching Company.

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