If it’s been a while since you reached for your Edward Gibbon, save yourself the back strain. I’ve spent the weekend thumbing through “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” and, buddy, as bad as the news is today, by consulting history we are reminded that it can get worse.
Gibbon starts off his epic — some 4,000 pages — of decline with the first emperor; Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian, who renamed himself “Augustus” and, like a certain president we all know, swept aside governmental norms to gather power to himself.
“Every barrier of the Roman constitution had been leveled by the vast ambition of the dictator,” Gibbon writes. He had help, particularly in rural areas.
”The provinces, long oppressed by the ministers of the republic, sighed for the government of a single person, who would be the master, not the accomplice, of those petty tyrants,” Gibbon writes. “The people of Rome, viewing with secret pleasure the humiliation of the aristocracy, demanded only bread and public shows.”
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The thing is, Augustus liked the senate. He himself was a senator, and made a show of consulting his fellow senators, who were always welcome to show their fidelity to him, since “it was dangerous to trust the sincerity of Augustus; to seem to distrust it was still more dangerous.”
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