September 07, 2008

Livy's Romulus

Livy's portrait of Romulus raises some interesting questions about the generation of Kingdoms. Livy was writing here about myth- he himself acknowledges the limits of his knowledge at several points- but what it demonstrates is the way that Livy thinks about leadership. Livy's history was written in the years immediatly after the battle of Actium- to which he refers- and the foundation of the Principate by Augustus. The previous hundred years of Roman history were dominated by a series of charismatic generals- Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, Antony and finally Octavian. What Livy does with his account of Romulus is really give us the account of a personal ability to inspire loyalty. He notes several times the ways in which Romulus was able to inspire loyalty- through for instance the use of augury and ceremony, through the creation of allies- new senators- and the unscrupulous creation of conflict (the mass rape of the Sabine women is one of the most horrifying stories in the ancient world- the Romans raped them according to Livy and then faced them with a dilemma either they could be subject to an honour killing or they could marry their rapists). The point of these stories is that they offer a commentary on what political strategies worked in the creation of a government- unscrupulous charisma sounds like the model followed by the politicians of the late Republican era- the attempt to fortify that system created by violence with law.

Livy though in detailing Romulus's end- where he mentions both the story that he was elevated to heaven in a cloud and the account in which he was torn to pieces by the senate- demonstrates the way in which tyranny's methods can be turned on the tyrant. The senate manufactured- he implies heavily- an account to justify their assacination of the King. They made him a God in order to avoid him as a tyrant- the warning to Augustus in the first book of Livy's history could not be more explicit and the commentary on the Principate more acute. For what Livy demonstrates is that Romulus created peace but also the aspiration to replace and destroy him- the ambition to create legal frameworks to turn tyrants to Kings, or Kings to Republics, is always immediately vulnerable because they must be set up through unscrupulousness- and that unscrupulousness teaches a nation not merely the arts of law, but the arts of treachery and war.


Ashok said...

Your second paragraph is very, very astute - thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

Will be back to reread this, there's a lot packed in here.