Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey

In a time when democracy doesn’t seem to work any more, and politicians seem to be under the control of the EU or the UN or anybody but the people who elected them, it might be worth considering the end of the Roman Republic circa 60 BC.

In 100 BC the Roman Republic had been in existence for about 400 years, with a variety of officials elected to a multitude of offices, the highest of which was the position of Consul (of which there were usually two). But by 30 BC it had become an empire under the control of a single emperor. After 30 BC, real power was invested in the emperor Augustus, although consuls and senators continued to be elected to the largely powerless senate.

Between 100 BC and 30 BC, a number of individuals rose to power and prominence. Marcus Licinius Crassus was the richest man in Rome. One of the ways he got rich was to keep an team of firefighters who would show up at house fires and offer to buy the burning houses at knock-down prices, and who would only fight the fire once the sale had been agreed.

Another figure who emerged in this period was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (aka Pompey), who was a highly successful Roman general. At the time the Roman empire was expanding rapidly, and Pompey campaigned successfully in Spain, Gaul, and Asia, and against the pirates that infested the the Mediterranean.

A third figure who emerged, a little later, was Gaius Julius Caesar, who also became a successful general, bringing the whole of Gaul under Roman control.

Circa 60 BC, these three men formed the first Roman Triumvirate, working together – initially in secret – to further their goals. All (except Crassus) were also elected Consuls at one time or other. Their Triumvirate controlled almost everything in Rome.


Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey

The main point I wish to make about them all is that they were all very rich men (with Caesar perhaps the least rich, at the outset). Successful Roman generals would a) capture lots of booty from defeated enemies, and b) subsequently receive the income of taxes raised in captured colonies. They were the super-rich men of their time, in a frugal Roman Republic in which vast personal wealth was hitherto more or less unknown. They could probably buy anything they wanted, including political influence.

The comparison with our time is that we also have quite a few super-rich individuals (the 1%?), who are also able to buy more or less anything they like, including political influence. Names that come to mind, in no particular order, are Gates, Bloomberg, and Soros. There are others with names like Rockefeller and Robert Wood Johnson. They are (or were) successful businessmen in a time of rapid economic growth, which is the modern equivalent of the expanding Roman empire. Many of them share the same political goals (e.g. they almost invariably want smoking bans). And they are mostly men who, as CEOs of large companies, are used to exercising top-down control of their private empires. And who now seem to be turning their attention to the whole world, and seeking to exercise top-down control over that also.

Could it be that we are now living in a time when the American Republic (and UK parliamentary democracy) are coming under the control of an oligarchy of very rich men, much like during the Roman triumvirate? Could this be why we no longer seem to be living in a working democracy, responsive to its electorate (who didn’t want smoking bans), but instead have politicians whose priorities seem to be determined by undemocratic organisations like ASH and the EU and the UN as well as various corporations (e.g. big pharma)?

A similar process seems to have already overtaken the USSR, after whose disintegration a rich oligarchy emerged (made up of people who had bought up state assets cheap), before being ousted by a single ’emperor’ in the form of Vladimir Putin, who – like Augustus before him – preserves the outward appearance of democracy in the Russian duma.

I don’t know the answer to these questions. But if history is repeating itself, the oligarchs will eventually fall out with each other and fight civil wars (much as in post-Soviet Russia). And many of them will wind up dead.

For Crassus died after being captured by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, and having molten gold poured down his throat. And Pompey died after losing the battle of Pharsalus to Julius Caesar in 48 BC, and being murdered in Egypt after fleeing there. And Julius Caesar was in turn murdered in 44 BC, beneath the statue of Pompey in Pompey’s Theatre in Rome, where the senate was temporarily meeting.

And if history is repeating itself, we may also expect the emergence of ’emperors’ or dictators in the Western world, after the oligarchs have fallen out with each other.

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25 Responses to Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey

  1. Some other Tom says:

    A very interesting analogy. We certainly do live in interesting times.

  2. John Watson says:

    it is indeed, curiously two of the triumvirate (Crassus and Pompey) were also involved in putting down the Spartacus Rebellion, I have not seen anything that refers to Caesar being involved but he was a very close friend of Pompey who he may have served under during his early years with the Legions.

  3. waltc says:

    This week I read a column (forget where) to the effect that our current president constantly resorts to Executive Action (aka fiat) not only bec he knows that congress –which is supposed to, but less and less does, represent the people –wouldn’t go along with whatever-it-is he wants but that polls show the people, by wide margins, don’t like it either. And yet, he’s unchallenged even as he violates the constitutional framework and bypasses the increasingly flaccid congess. Long way of saying your analogy is all too apt. We’re already here well on the road to The Decline but The Fall will be a long slow and painful process and unless it can somehow be swiftly reversed may well pass the point of no return and we can say of the great American Idea, It was fun while it lasted.

    • Walt the proofs buried in the FED reserves records they don’t want audited.

      On its real books they likely own 2/3rds of the world in debt over 3 gazillion dollars worth.

      I say that for one simple reason the dollar being the reserve currency since 1944.

      That currency has to absorb the world losses and be accounted for………..

      Yet hidden from site.

      They cant keep it up everything is in devaluation because of it and it will swing the other way just as drastically,leading I believe to the FEDS actual bankruptcy itself.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I believe it was George W Bush who started using Executive Orders to short-circuit Congress. Obama just seems to do it more. The next president may do it all the time.

      Another money-related feature of UK and EU politics is that becoming an EU MEP means getting something like EU 200,000 per annum (when expenses have been added). And it’s only a few years since the UK parliamentary expenses scandal. Add also the huge speaking fees for people like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and also their books. We now seem to have a lot of our representatives who enter politics because it pays very handsomely, not because they want to represent people. And if they’re only in it for the money, they will attract the Bloombergs and Gates of the world.

      Gone are the days when our representatives were working men and women (like miners) who wanted to speak for their constituents, and very often had a burning political cause. Now most MPs don’t speak for anyone, and believe nothing – or rather believe whatever they’re told to believe.

      • There is nothing like owning the law,the judges and the politicians
        A. Capone

      • mikef317 says:

        George Washington was the first President to issue an executive order. There isn’t much difference between Obama and GW Bush.

        In the U. S. the right loves to rant about “unelected bureaucrats,” “unconstitutional laws and regulations,” and a “tyrannical” President.

        American Civics 101.

        Unelected bureaucrats. U. S citizens get to vote for 1 President, 1 Vice Present, 1 member of the House of Representatives, and 2 members of the Senate. Period. End of story. Everyone else in the Federal Government – a four star general fighting a war or an IRS clerk checking your income tax – is appointed by someone else (and subject to the approval and oversight of elected officials).

        Unconstitutional laws and regulations. 5 members of the Supreme Court decide what is or is not constitutional. No one else’s opinion counts.

        Tyrannical executive orders. This is difficult to explain because it depends on the exact wording of a specific law. Suppose Congress writes a law – Environmental Protection Agency version 2.0. The law is in three sections that define what Congress wants done. Section A says that chemicals 1, 2, and 3 MUST be studied / regulated. Section B says that chemicals 4, 5, and 6 CANNOT be studied / regulated. Section C says that for all other chemicals the Agency (and the President) can do whatever they think best.

        The President must comply with sections A and B or be in violation of the law. However, many U. S. laws are written in “C” language. This gives the Executive Branch enormous power. If the President wants to study / regulate chemical 7 – or not study / regulate – either choice is perfectly legal based on the wording of the law.

        Unjust laws and executive orders. If enough members agree, Congress can change a law any time it chooses. Laws and executive orders can be challenged in court. Politicians can be voted out of office. Even the Constitution can be amended. If enough Americans want something done, it will be done. The problem is that small and vocal minorities (on the left as well as the right) think that their (generally radical) ideas should govern the entire country. They make a lot of noise, but they’re not very good at persuading other people (the majority of people) to adopt their point of view.


        Re money in UK / EU politics, the U. S. isn’t much different. But was it ever? FDR, JFK, Lyndon Johnson, and both Bushes were wealthy. Even Obama, before he was elected, made a nice piece of change from writing books. Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton weren’t wealthy, but they weren’t on welfare, either. Many members of Congress are millionaires. I don’t think any are ex coal miners.

  4. Lepercolonist says:

    Many of theses global plutocrats consider themselves as ‘citizens of the world.’ They have very little patriotism toward their home country. Disregarding the common man is their default position. It’s all about top-down control and money.

    The next dictator may be a populist who will strike fear in their hearts and pocketbooks.

    • Leper Ive already come to the conclusion its going to lead to armed conflicts within our own countries eventually. I don’t mean very far off either. They aren’t interested in compromise anywhere or even debate or conversation. The governments are dead set on pushing thru whatever their collective is told to do……..

      Leaves one alternative,people wont take it for long. Im not just talking anti-smoking bigoted laws Im talking the all of it from currency manipulations to all the freedom stealing laws. To the massive unemployment we all know exists.

      The governments cant keep up the chirade and keep printing money to pay benefits.

      Im in the total camp of getting ready for it now. Not prepping but being realisitic and putting away some supplies and figuring an exit strategy if need comes to go elsewhere.

      Remember the Jews who looked ahead and left Germany before hitlers final push.

      Einstein can well remember it.

  5. jameshighamj says:

    Could it be that we are now living in a time when the American Republic (and UK parliamentary democracy) are coming under the control of an oligarchy of very rich men, much like during the Roman triumvirate?

    Think it’s been for some time, Frank. Great post.

  6. Rose says:

    Further to yesterday’s post.

    I appreciate that with all things anti-tobacco it’s a case of buyer beware, but I do wish that the NHS would stop trying to poison us at taxpayers expense.

    Note the symptoms.

    NHS gives girl aged 12 anti-smoking spray… then 20 pupils fall ill from product that causes ‘acute poisoning’ in non-smokers

    “The Nicorette mouth spray was brought into the class by a 12-year-old girl
    She was prescribed it by the NHS anti-smoking staff who visited the school”

    “The children, aged between 11 and 13, suffered vomiting, dizziness and headaches, with one apparently needing hospital treatment.”

    “It is understood one pupil even attended the Royal Stoke University Hospital’s A&E for a heart check-up”

    “Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea and stomach pain,” says MarkTen, a leading brand in the United States. The ingredients can be “poisonous.”

    Green Tobacco Sickness in Tobacco Harvesters — Kentucky, 1992

    “Green tobacco sickness (GTS) is an illness resulting from dermal exposure to dissolved nicotine from wet tobacco leaves; it is characterized by nausea, vomiting, weakness, and dizziness and sometimes fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate”

    If you tell children that a common plant chemical is a “drug” then of course they are going to keep taking more of it hoping for some kind of a high.

    Boy, 14, collapses after chewing nicotine gum equivalent to 180 cigarettes in just 25 minutes… handed out at school

    Aiden Williams overdosed on the Nicorette gum, designed to help smokers quit the habit, after it was handed out by counsellors at his school.
    The teenager’s mother yesterday hit out at the school, which allows children as young as 12 to be given up to a week’s supply – 105 pieces – without parental consent.

    ‘The doctors said that he could have died and he had to be kept in for 24 hours for observation.

    http: //

    To put this in some kind of perspective, the median lethal dose of tomatine in tomatoes for mice is apparently 33.5 mg tomatine-kg body weight, but we don’t get anti-tomato zealots pushing tomatine replacement therapy for people they consider to be overly fond of tomato ketchup.

  7. O/T

    Fragrance Is The New Secondhand Smoke: Join Us in Eliminating Fragrance To Improve Your Health!

    January 4, 201566 Comments

    Surely you’re familiar with one of these scenarios:

    The Scented Candle That Won’t Go Away: You walk into a store full of scented candles. They smell so fresh and lovely, but a few minutes later, your nose starts to itch and you are starting to get a headache. You notice that you’re having a harder time focusing on anything and you start to feel light-headed. You end up buying a candle and leaving, feeling better as soon as you walk out the door. A few days later, the smell of your new candle is on everything: your coat, your car, the living room – even when it’s not lit. The headache just won’t go away and you start to feel worn down and tired.

    The Mist That Never Disappears: You spray a fine mist of air freshener all over that musty pile of backpacks in the mudroom. Your second-grader grabs his bag, now slightly wet and sweet-smelling, and starts to do homework, but is having trouble focusing. He’s getting a headache and starting to whine about wanting to play outside. Meanwhile, the fake scent of flowers dissipates as it numbs sensory receptors in your nose and starts driving your puppy a little crazy. Eventually, you can’t smell it anymore, but you’ve ingested it through your nose, lungs, and skin.

    Fragrance Is the New Secondhand Smoke

    If you’ve experienced anything like this and connected the dots, you know how insidious synthetic fragrance can be. It’s only human to seek out pleasant smells and to try to eliminate unattractive scents from our environments. However, the immediate and long-term effects of synthetic fragrance exposure is hazardous to our health. Simply adding a pleasant smelling chemical to our bodies and air will not only affect our own health, but the health of the people (and pets!) who share the air with us.

    It gets even more outrageous

  8. Dear reader,

    Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate.

    It is with regret, therefore, that we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles.

    The Moscow Times remains committed to the principle of public debate and hopes to welcome you to a new, constructive forum in the future.


    The Moscow Times

  9. smokingscot says:

    Officially Mr. Putin’s worth a rather trivial $70 billion or so. However those who know the gentleman think otherwise – $200 billion seems far more realistic.

    There’s a similar scenario with Tony Blair. He’s known to have a property portfolio worth £25 million and the Telegraph believes he’s worth £100 million, however Tony (who’s never been especially good with numbers) thinks he’s only worth a derisory £20 million.

    By comparison Jose Manuel Barroso raked in $58 million between March 2014 and March 2015 and is thought to be worth $185 million. (Seems he owns a few burger joints in Portugal – named appropriately the “Fat Barroso Burger chain”.

    (Link removed on account the two rule).

    I could go on about individual politicians for several hours, including John Prescott, however the parallel betwixt now and the dying embers of the Roman Empire is pretty much the same. Not so much what you can do for your country, rather how much you can milk the peasants.

    • I recall Hillary making several trips to Switzerland after camapaign stops for her husband.

      Charlie Tree was another cash donor in big paper sacks……….

      Charlie Tree worked for the red Chinese government

      Of course they’ve all got swiss accounts even the Marco’s did and the Shaw of iran.

      We get screwed they get rich off the taxpayer via back door entrances.

      Its simple in America. You create a grant or law or approve a contractors bid

      Create a front group move it thru about 3 doors and its your cut sitting back on your desk in a new form…………..

      That’s all there is to it.

  10. Jude says:

    Interesting post, thank you Frank.

    In Australia we are seeing the government here increasingly trying to push their unpopular measures through, using tricky means which bypass the house of review, the senate, because the good senators refuse to enact their often draconian and grossly unfair legislation. It is now almost time for this years budget to be put to the house, when last years budget lays in tatters, with much still not passed by the senate, (and rightly so).

    We have an arrogant PM , (like most of the front bench), that ignores the will of the people, and resents the senate to the point of calling them “feral”, and having a spiteful hissy fit because they wont do what he tells them to do, and insist on doing their job, which is to review legislation, and not pass legislation that is damaging to their constituents, or the nation as a whole. He has threatened to call an election because he feels he is being stymied by the senate, but wont because he knows very well that he would be out on his arse, and his party would lose government in a landslide.

    What is interesting is that there are more independent senators than in previous parliaments, and many are from working class backgrounds, not the professional political class that seems to infest the lower house. This is what truly rankles the current government, they hate that these senators will not simply rubber stamp the crap legislation that is thrown at them.

    We do indeed live in interesting, and for ordinary people, very dangerous times.

  11. waltc says:

    Mike, Frank
    Yes, all prez’s do exec orders. But the new ones seem to contravene existing domestic law or create new domestic law. Seems to me –and stop me if I’m wrong– that Bush’s (agree with them or don’t and often I didn’t) had mostly to do with the conduct and expanded scope of CIA etc powers. But when it came to wider domestic affairs, he didn’t pull that trick. He too wanted immigration reform, eg, but approached it the old fashioned constitutional way and then accepted defeat. Nor did he hamper energy production by exec order. I could likely come up w other examples of current exec overreach but I’m called to dinner. After which we can get into bypassing congress on The Deal with Iran or threatening to bypass it on Israel by going to the UN. For me btw, it doesn’t matter if I agree w a policy or not when I disagree with the murky means by which it’s achieved. Once we lose the constitution we’re well and duly lost.

  12. RdM says:

    On Oligarchy: – it was last just year that I found
    and with all the jingoism current re the First World War centenary, I scrolled down to The British section and started with the King Edward VII of Great Britain link:
    then went back to start at the top… several days in patches just reading the King Edward link!
    But all very interesting essays on history… the Venetian perspectives worth reading I think too.
    And articles toward the end for US folk.

  13. Pingback: The Emerging Oligarchy | Frank Davis

  14. Pingback: Seneca. Letter 4 - Adam Townsend

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