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A Brief Overview of Social and Political Structure in Early Roman society

by November 24, 2021

by Kevin Blood
To understand the political, social, economic and military developments that happened in Rome in the middle and late republican periods, it is important to understand the manner in which early republican society functioned and was organized. The relative positions of Roman citizens in the political, religious, legislative, social, economic and military bodies of the early Roman state was ordered by the sharp distinctions between the Patrician and Plebeian classes.
Gens – clans
The primary unit of early Roman society was the family household (familia). Numbers of related households of families (familiae) constituted a clan. These clan units, gentes (clans), made up of families who were descended from a common ancestor, these clans also had certain religious rites in common.
The basic political organisation of the republic.
With the deposition of the last of Rome’s kings c.509, Rome replaced the monarchy with a form of republican government. The government was structured like so: the consuls – two patrician magistrates, the senate – council of the nobility, and the comitia curiata – the people’s assembly.
The assembly of the people
What was known as the comitia curiata, the curiate assembly, came from the regal period of Roman history. Divided into four ‘parishes’ (curiae) with the people of each voting according to their curia, they elected the consuls, and they voted for or against any proposals the consuls proposed to the curiae. The power to instigate reforms sought by the assembly was limited by the fact that it could not raise or discuss any issues related to proposal of a consul.
The Senate
To begin with, the senate was limited to 100 members, this eventually increased to 300. These were drawn solely from the patrician clans. If found guilty of serious misconduct, a senator could be expelled from the senate, otherwise a senatorial seat was for life. The senate’s main function was to be an advisory body to consuls. Should the senate not approve of a resolution made by the assembly it reserved the power of veto, so that the assembly might pay attention to the advice of the senate.
The senate’s primary role was to advise the consuls and the assembly, yet, from the third century its power and influence had considerably grown, it became, in effect, the prime-mover in republican politics in the second and first centuries.
Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The consuls
Powers: Imperium, auspicium, the right of veto.
The symbol of consular power and executive authority were the fasces, these represented the consul’s imperium. The fasces, a double-headed axe bound in a bundle of rods (and the origin of the word ‘fascism’), was used by the attendants of the consul, the lictor. This potent symbol of unity under a central authority and threat of violence showed the populace the consuls’ power to administer justice and punishment; through his power to flog. Consular imperium gave them total executive authority over the military, civil and judicial matters, and the power to command an army. They could be recognised by their toga praetexta, with purple border, which suggested powers similar to the kings of old, a colour associated with royal authority and deity.
Important to consular imperium was the right of auspicium, the right to take the auspices so as to interpret divine will and approval for prominent public acts.
To avoid tyranny, the were two consuls with equal powers, each had the power of veto (to halt or prevent the actions of their opposite).
The limitations
Collegiality and annuality were important checks on consular power.  The collegiate nature of the position of consul (shared powers) permitted that consuls could act as check on each other.  The occupation of consul being prescribed to a one-year term was a real attempt at the limitation to consular power hording. These checks and balances were meant to reflect a desire to move distinctly away from the autocratic power of monarchy.
Consular power in the early republican era was potent and apparent, however Rome’s expansion meant that over time the ability of two individuals to administer the apparatus of state power became increasingly untenable.  This meant that many the original functions of the consuls were devolved to a greater number of magistrates.  The close of the fourth century saw the Roman magistracy inherit the form it would maintain until the end of the republic.
Bradley, P. (2003) Ancient Rome; Using Evidence, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.35-43.

A Visit to Miletus

by November 5, 2021

by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Miletus, once one of the greatest cities the world had ever seen, now lies as a ruin on the East Coast of Turkey.
The scale of the remains of Miletus is impressive. and sits as a testament to the power and glory of the ancient Greeks who built this wondrous city.
The Amphitheater is the main attraction of the site, bringing in thousands of visitors per year. It houses around 5300 spectators at a time, and was once the home of legendary Greek plays and concerts.
Behind the Amphitheater is where the city lies. The foundations of the Baths of Faustina, the Mausoleum of Heron III, the storehouse, and the agora can all still be seen among other impressive buildings that are still being excavated.
Runied remains of the Baths of Faustina, Miletus
Runied remains of the Baths of Faustina, Miletus
Home to the famous mathematician Thales of Miletus, the city still shines as a jewel of Western Anatolia.
A Brief History of Miletus
The area which Miletus now stands has been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic period. The first settlements in the province are now inaccessible due to a rise in sea level, and the Meander River, next to which the city stands.
The Amphitheater at Miletus
The Amphitheater at Miletus
The region came under Minoan rule sometime before 1400 BC. These Cretan migrants pushed out the native population who were known only as the Leleges, a pre-literate people of which not much is known. All that is known about the mysterious Leleges people is handed to us via Greek sources that cannot be verified.
It is believed that the Minoans gave Miletus its name. The first written reference to Miletus is a Hittite source who referred to the city as Millawanda or Milawata. After the fall of the Hittite Empire, the Ionian Greeks resettled Miletus in 1000 BC, allegedly by a founder named Neleus of Peloponnesus.
By the Byzantine period, Miletus was raised to an archbishopric, and the Castle Palaton was built on a hillside close to the city.
During the reign of Justinian I (527-565 AD), Miletus was treated to a full-scale renovation. The baths were restored, drainage to the harbor was installed, and old Hellenistic buildings were used in the new construction, making Miletus a puzzle of a site with buildings built from stones across a variety of different periods.
When the Ottomans arrived in the 15th Century, they used Miletus’ harbor to trade with Venice. Venice was one of Turkey’s most important trade partners, and many Ottoman traders settled there permanently, leading to the construction of the Ilyas Bey complex in 1403. The Ilyas Bey Mosque, known as Europe Nostra still stands and has been officially recognized as an important cultural site with special protection.
The Europe Nostra
The Europe Nostra
Miletus was finally abandoned at the end of the 15th Century when the harbor began to silt up and trading overseas was no longer possible. Now, only the ghostly remains of a once-great city still stand, which sits silently with open arms to welcome visitors from all over the world.
The Importance of Miletus
In its prime, Miletus was one of the most important centers of the Greek-speaking world. At the time, Greece was divided into city-states rather than the nation of Greece as we know it today.
Although the Greeks that resided in Miletus were of Ionian descent, Homer refers to the Greeks of Miletus as Carians, described by Herodotus as a population that retained its original Minoan identity, and were akin to the ancient Lydians who had settled the area hundreds of years before.
The Storage Building and South Agora in Miletus
The Storage Building and South Agora in Miletus
In 499 BC, Miletus instigated the Ionian Revolt, and played a key defensive role in the Greco-Persian Wars. Despite being attacked by the Persians in 494 BC, the city survived the ransacking, and achieved a place and status within the Athenian Delian League for its contributions to the Greek victory over the Persians.
It was at this point where Miletus really became Greek, as we understand the ancient Greeks today. It retained a special status within the Greek-speaking world that continued into the Roman period.
Miletus had an impressive harbor that made it a commercial center of trade and a great maritime power, placing the city second only to Ephesus as the most important and influential city in Asia Minor.
Famous Milesians
The Milesian school attracted great thinkers from all over the world. Thales of Miletus is perhaps the most notable figure, considered as one of the legendary Seven Wise Men. Thales is responsible for the acknowledgment of water as a basic element for life, and the famous saying ‘Know Thyself’.
He was most known at the time for his deep knowledge of cosmology, and he advised Milesian seafarers how to navigate the sea using the stars – knowledge that is still used to this day.
He is also said to have been the first to measure the Pyramids at Giza, and predict eclipses – however, these last two references most likely illustrate Thales’ reputation as a wise man rather than historical fact.
As well as the aforementioned Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, the grandfathers of natural philosophy and science were said to have attended the School of Miletus.
Sacred Miletus
To contemporary citizens during the height of its power, Miletus was perhaps best known as a center of worship.
The starting point of the Sacred Way, Miletus was home to the Sacred Gate. Sacred Gates were common across ancient Greece, all named after the famous Sacred Gate that lead from Athens to Eleusis.
Miletus’ Sacred Gate opened the way to the Sacred Road that ran southwards to Panormos Harbor (Now modern-day Akkoy) and turned southeast towards the city of Didyma and the Didymaion, known also as the Temple of Apollo.
The starting point of The Sacred Way that connected Miletus to the nearby town of Didyma.
The starting point of The Sacred Way that connected Miletus to the nearby town of Didyma. The road once stood between the pillars of the now absent Sacred Gate.
The road was lined with statues of the Branchids (priests and priestesses associated with the temple). Lions and sphinxes that also once adorned the sacred way were excavated and on display at the Miletus Museum.
The road was approximately 16.6kn long, and 5 – 7 m wide. The Sacred Way was built for the worshippers of the cult of Artemis and Apollo, who would walk the Sacred Way in honor of the gods and goddesses, and partake in annual celebrations and festivals.
Remnants of the statues that once lined the Sacred Road from Miletus to Didyma.
Remnants of the statues that once lined the Sacred Road from Miletus to Didyma. They now sit in the Museum at Miletus
Host only to a smattering tourists and a handful of tea and trinket sellers, Miletus is among many of the lost gems of the Aegean. This underrated site has many stories to tell, and archaeologists continue to uncover its secrets.

Battle of Marathon

by August 27, 2021

The battle of Marathon has, for millenia now, been firmly planted within the annals of western history. A decisive battle, a clash of cultures, the narrative describes an outnumbered Athenian army staying off the Persian invaders who would see the Greek civilization consumed within their empire. And as we gaze through the looking glass of time, thousands of years into the past, what began as a simple military engagement is now often considered a philosophical war between two cultures. The war for the West, that is what some believe Marathon to be. And if Greece is the cradle of western culture, could Marathon be the stance to defend it?

It all began with the Ionian revolution and Aristagoras, the tyrant of Miletus, who would resign his tyranny and accept a constitutional position in order to dismantle Persian control of the Greek city states in Asia Minor. This was largely done without bloodshed and Aristagoras would attempt to gain support for his endeavor from mainland Greece. After being denied by the Spartan king, Cleomenes, Aristagoras would find support from the Athenian government who viewed the massive Persian empire with suspicion and concern. The Athenians dispatched several naval war vessels to aid the Ionian Greeks in this rebellion.
It would do little good. The rebellion would fail miserably with a decisive naval defeat at the island of Lade, near Miletus. Aristagoras’ city would fall. The women and children of Miletus became slaves and the men that were left alive were expelled from their lands. Early in the campaign, the capital city of western Persia, Sardis, had been burned to the ground. And while the Greeks mourned for the loss of Miletus, the birthplace of the philosopher Thales, King Darius of Persia would not soon forget the destruction of Sardis. It was too late for reconciliation. War was coming.
After a failed invasion through northern Greece in 492 BCE, King Darius made plans to dispatch a large invading force across the Aegean to overthrow Athens and capture mainland Greece. Mindful of the fate of Miletus, many city-states, including Thebes and Argos, submitted to the Persian king. It was only Athens and Sparta who stood firmly in defiance.
When the heralds of King Darius appeared at the gates of Athens and Sparta, the messengers were not only denied, but were promptly killed. Legend has it that soldiers of Sparta threw the emissaries into a deep well when the heralds suggested that the Spartans surrender. Did they scream “this is Sparta!” right before they dropped kicked the men into the abyss? We may never know, but I like to think so.
Helmet of Miltiades

Meanwhile, Athens had a decision to make. The Athenians would be vastly outnumbered if they decided to face the Persians. We do not know the exact numbers, but we do know that Persia possessed a much larger infantry as well as superior cavalry and archers. It was at this time that the Stratego, Miltiades, would play a critical role in the salvation of Athens. Miltiades, a man who spent much of his life ruling in a remote military outpost in the Chersonese, would return to Athens in 493 BCE. He was promptly accused of having been a tyrant during his days as ruler, and was promptly put on trial .

It is difficult to imagine why Athens would concern themselves with one of their own citizens tyrannizing abroad, especially with a massive Persian army at their doorstep. It is not unreasonable to believe Herodotus when he tells us that the persecution of Miltiades originated from the mans political enemies.

Miltiades was a gifted general and had served in the Persian army while living in Asia Minor under Persian control. He would have been familiar with Persian tactics and was most qualified to lead a defense against the invaders. Perhaps it was the thought of Athens burning to the ground that persuaded the Athenians to acquit Miltiades, it would appear they had bigger fish to fry. Miltiades was allowed to attempt to persuade the Polemarch, Callimachus to allow him to go to war. Herodotus offers a stirring rendition of this speech. 

“…It is up to you right now, to enslave Athens or to make her free, and to leave for all future generations of humanity a memorial to yourself such as not even Harmodius and Aristogiton have left. Right now, Athens is in the most perilous moment of her history. Hippias has already shown her what she will suffer if she bows down to the Medes, but if the city survives, she can become the foremost city in all Greece…” -Herodotus (The Histories)

Athens would accept Miltiades into their army and make plans to confront the Persians. Early one morning in late September of 490 BCE, the Athenian army assembled on a hill overlooking where the Persian forces had landed on the beaches of Marathon. Knowing they were severely outnumbered, Miltiades concentrated his forces in a narrow pass that would block the Persian advance to Athens. Layers of bronze shields overlapped among the Greek soldiers and created a phalanx formation that was capable of repelling waves of enemies. marathon2
The Persian army advanced and found themselves crushed against the shields of the better equipped, better prepared Athenian army. With the advantage of longer spears, sturdy shields, and superb tactical placement, the Athenians managed to continuously push back the Persian advance.
The Persian army meanwhile was improperly equipped for such warfare. Many infantrymen possessed wooden shields or shields constructed from wicker. With the Athenian army confined in a narrow  corridor, the Persian cavalry was ineffective and unable to outflank the Greeks. After several days of battle, the Greeks pushed the invaders back to their ships. The Persian army would suffer heavy casualties and be forced to return home.

The Dying Citizen…

by August 20, 2021

What exactly is a citizen?  
The idea of citizenship emerged from the city-states of ancient Greece where the obligations of the citizen were very much part of everyday life.  
It was thought that to be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community. As Aristotle once noted: “To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!”  
But being a citizen was not just being part and parcel of society, it was also an opportunity to prove one’s value. It was a chance to be virtuous, to gain honor and respect.  
Aristotle at Freiburg
Bronze statue of Aristotle, University of Freiburg, Germany, 1915
The concept of citizenship that was born out of the Archaic period of Greek history persisted (though with decreasing influence) well into Roman times. 

The equivalent Latin word was civitas, also meaning “citizenhood,” and it was expanded from small-scale communities to the entirety of the empire. The Romans came to the realization that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimized Roman rule over conquered areas. 

But perhaps ancient Greece and Rome are more the exception than the rule… because for the majority of human history, the stories are of peasants, subjects, and tribes. Indeed, the concept of the “citizen” is historically rare… but it was among America’s most valued ideals for over two centuries.  

In America, just as in Greece and Rome, the concept of “citizenship” was more than just “rights,” it was a virtuous act and way to bring people together into a multicultural melting pot.  

But is this still the case? It may be that American citizenship as we have known it may soon vanish. 
Roman Citizenship
The Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow of Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Victor Davis Hanson, outlines the historical forces that led to this crisis in his new book, The Dying Citizen, coming out this October.
The evisceration of the middle class over the last fifty years has made many Americans dependent on the federal government, argues Hanson, and identity politics have eradicated our collective civic sense of self. Moreover, a top-heavy administrative state has endangered personal liberty, along with formal efforts to weaken the Constitution. 

Is the idea of America dying? Can the concept of Citizenship—once so essential in the ancient world—hold its importance in our modern era?  

The New York Times bestselling author, Victor Davis Hanson, explains the decline and fall of the once cherished idea of American citizenship. 
 Make sure to pre-order your own edition of the Dying Citizen HERE to find out.  
You can also watch Victor Davis Hanson, author of many books including: Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek WisdomThe Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern; as well as Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power, speak LIVE this Saturday at 1pm EST.  
Hanson will ask why a system of over 1,500 autonomous city-states that had resisted a massive invasion descending into Greece in 480 BC, lost their independent statuses to Macedon150 years later… even when they were far richer and more powerful…  

Was Cyrus the Great TRULY Great?

by August 19, 2021

Founder of the Persian Empire: Brute or chosen by God? 
Cyrus the Great was one of the most influential figures in history. A mid-life revolutionary, in the sixth century BC Cyrus founded the Persian Empire, the largest empire known to man at the time. 
But wait a second… I hear you cry… I thought Classical Wisdom was about Ancient Greece and Rome? So why are we talking about Persia? 
Excellent inquiry my astute reader! While our main focus is indeed the Greco-Roman world, we are also fully aware that they did not exist in isolation. 
Just as today, ancient cultures and societies interacted, clashed, combined, or reacted against each other. The melding and separation between peoples is a fascinating tale in and of itself… but we also learn tremendously about the Greeks and Romans by studying their enemies, their friends, their contemporaries as well as their predecessors. 
It’s sort of like learning US history and never studying Russia or the UK. It would be impossible to understand the Cold War or the Revolution without those essential insights!
Persian Empire in the Achaemenid era, 6th century BC. Public Domain.
Moreover, the impact and influence from other superpowers in the region are sometimes so immense that it can be tricky to distinguish what comes from whom. Some of the Persian stories and myths are so… familiar. It makes you wonder where it all began. 
And so we must look to the massively influential power to the east: A land, a peoples, a culture steeped in fascinating history… the very cradle of civilization itself… Persia. 
And what better way to understand this historic location – and its impressive rise and collapse – than with one of the most influential figures in history, the founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great. 
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus is shown as both a ruthless conqueror and enlightened progressive; famous for liberating the Jews held by the Babylonians, he has even been credited with a human rights creed that influenced Thomas Jefferson and his contribution to the United States Bill of Rights. 
Many other politicians, including Italy’s 15th century Niccolò Machiavelli, drew inspiration from Cyrus, while in the 20th century the Shah of Iran and the Islamic State that overthrew the Shah both honored Cyrus. 
In the 21st century, not only has an Israeli Prime Minister praised Cyrus, onetime overlord of the Jews, Christian evangelicals have favorably compared US President Donald Trump to Cyrus, calling both of them “brutes” chosen to fulfill the will of God. 
Image credit: Modern Diplomacy
So where does the truth lie? 
A brilliant brute? A fearsome conqueror? A ruler unequalled in history for his wisdom, magnanimity and appreciation of human rights? A heathen chosen by God? 
Could Cyrus have been all these things? Was he any of them? 
Essentially, was Cyrus the Great truly great? 
In this first ever modern biography of Cyrus, noted historical biographer and author of 45 books, Stephen Dando-Collins, delves into the real story behind one of history’s most famous founders.
The recent receipt of the Silver Award for Biography in the 2020 Indie Awards in the US, Stephen’s Cyrus the Great, the biography of the founder of the Persian Empire describes Cyrus’ fraught youth, his rise to power via rebellion, his dashing military campaigns that destroyed the Median, Lydian and Babylonian empires, and his uniquely magnanimous reign. 
With his usual depth of research and highly readable narrative, Dando-Collins cuts through myth and folklore to deliver a fascinating account of a fascinating life.
Make sure to Get Your Copy of Cyrus the Great Here:
Listen to Stephen Dando-Collins THIS Sunday explore this towering figure and his role in the rise and fall of empires in a presentation that is certainly not to be missed! 
Make sure to get your tickets (& pay what YOU want) Here: https://classicalwisdom-symposium-2021.eventbrite.ie
Remember: You can ‘swing by’ for an hour, a day or the entire event… it’s up to you! As long as you register in advance, you can come and go as you like… and you’ll also receive all the recordings afterwards, so you won’t miss a thing!
This will truly be a once in a lifetime opportunity…

Can Politics be Virtuous?

by August 18, 2021

by Sean Kelly, Managing Editor, Classical Wisdom
We owe a great deal to the world of Ancient Greece and Rome.
The philosophy, the mythology, not to mention the myriad artworks inspired by it through the centuries.
Much of what we love about that era may have been lost if not for another great epoch… that great period of rebirth: the Renaissance.
A time of radical rethinking about the shared infrastructure of humanity, the nature of government and the role of the individual. But what did the people of the Renaissance truly believe? Have they been misunderstood?
Luckily, we have Dr. James Hankins – a Professor of History at Harvard University, a leading expert on the Renaissance and one of the worlds’ foremost historians – to enlighten us.
Raphael's The School of Athens (detail)
Raphael’s The School of Athens
He is the author of many books including Plato in the Italian Renaissance, The Recovery of Ancient Philosophy in the Renaissance with Ada Palmer, and he is also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy.

His most recent publication Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy explores this most fascinating time period… this time with regards to the government.
These days, it’s easy to be cynical. We all know the cliché of the money grabbing politician just out for themselves. It’s so ingrained, that maybe we’ve just become resigned to it.
Yet Dr. Hankins looks at how some of the most famous Renaissance figures, from Petrarch to Machiavelli, believed that shaping individual morality – soulcraft – was essential for government and statecraft to function correctly.
Dr. Hankins explores the questions that drove this world-changing era. Should a good man serve a corrupt regime? What virtues are necessary in a leader? What is the source of political legitimacy?
In Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy Dr. Hankins creates a vivid image of a world at a crucial turning point… a world in the process of laying the foundations for our own times.
Don’t miss your chance to see Dr. James Hankins LIVE at our Symposium this weekend. He will be appearing on a panel alongside historian Niall Ferguson and philosopher Angie Hobbs, where they will be discussing the end of empires and fall of nations; do empires and states die differently? And what can their deaths teach us today? Find out this Saturday at 6pm EST.
Remember if you register in advance, you’ll get access to all the recordings.
You can watch for an hour… or the entire two day event… it’s up to you!
If you haven’t already secured your spot, then make sure to do so before Friday!
Best of all, you can pay what YOU want.