The comparison of America to ancient Rome is routine for a few reasons. Western civilization and culture are largely an extension of ancient Roman civilization. Even our Judeo-Christian heritage was shaped by Rome with Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. Specifically, the American republic is a reincarnation of the ancient Roman republic. Although, the ancient Roman influence was present throughout the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, the Italian Renaissance created a cultural identification with the ancient Roman republic and inspired classical education for centuries in Western Europe.
The Italian Renaissance was the epitome of Charles Dicken’s immortal words “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times”. An age of enlightenment that produced Michele Angelo and Leonardo Davinci, and city state republics creating a short lived new golden age (i.e. Renaissance) in Italy that riveled that of ancient Greece. It also produced Machiavelli’s The Prince and was marked by constant violence and assassinations.
This rebirth of civilization tapped into an energy that laid dormant for a thousand years. The Romans had three distinct political periods. The kings, the republic, and then of course, the empire. The American founding fathers modeled the American republic after the Roman republic and started an experiment that changed the world. The Roman republic lasted approximately 450 years. That is uncommon. The truth is that most republics don’t last that long. The elected representatives’ degree of corruption usually reaches a boiling point, which leads to a dictatorship.
When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he was cheered as he was actually rescuing the citizens from the tyranny of the senators, as their level of corruption and oppression reached a pain threshold that could no longer be endured. The Roman senators were the technocrats of the age. The senate’s brutal assassination of Julius Caesar was arguably not to save the republic, it was to save the gravy train. Civil war followed and then Rome had an emperor Augustus and pax Romana began a new golden age for Rome.
This pattern of republics becoming corrupt and failing is maybe best exemplified by Poland. In the late 1700s Poland’s republic, weakened after civil conflict, had became so corrupt that its legislators gradually sold off partitions of the country to Russia, Prussia, and Austria, and eventually, the country ceased to exist. This was partly due to corruption and partly due to intimidation. Napoleon attempted to create a Polish area of self government, and there was another brief attempt, but essentially, Poland was not a sovereign state again until it was reinstated after World War I in the early 20th century.
America’s republican roots run deeper than Rome. They actually trace back to the Etruscans. The Etruscans were considered the holy people of the ancient world. Unique from all other cultures, the Etruscans prophesized and knew their distinct culture would only last a thousand years. Although, it did not actually die, as much of it was absorbed by Roman culture. The original twelve cities were on hilltops spreading across northern central Italy from coast to coast. The cities were originally ruled by the Lucumo, the god king. The Lucumoni eventually waned in power and were replaced by kings and then republics sprung up among the city states.
Etruscan culture was decentralized, however, and the cities were a confederacy. The fasces, made up of twelve rods and a double headed ax, represented the twelve original cities. This symbol was later bastardized by 20th century fascists. Arguably Etruria was the most advanced civilization at the time. The Etruscans were so wealthy that their slaves owned property and operated businesses and woman had equal rights. The next time you go out to dinner with another couple, recognize that this tradition started with the Etruscans. As a navel power the Etruscans riveled ancient Greece and the Phoenicians.
The wealth and power that accumulated in Etruria may be partly credited to its decentralized confederacy and open society. In fact, this distribution of power was evident in Etruscan cosmology, Tinia, the Etruscan equivalent to Jupiter Optimus Maximus and Zeus, had to consult with his committee of gods before striking you dead with a thunderbolt. Due process. An interesting concept. Although fierce in combat, it has also been argued that the Etruscans were too decentralized, and this hampered military coordination. The original American articles of confederacy may have resembled the Etruscan system more so than the Romans. This thinking that too much decentralization leads to weakness from external threats led to the U.S. Constitution and the creation of a more centralized system.
Caveat. The more centralized system of government envisioned by the American founding fathers is nothing like we see today. It is safe to say that if General Washington were alive today, he would have formed a continental army and replaced our current government in the past two and a half years.