Thursday, April 19, 2012

Auctioning Off The Government

Right now I'm making my way through The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1. It blows away the wildest political thriller ever written.

I'm only a few hours into a 41 hour audio book, but already there's been some crazy stuff happening. For example, in 193 AD, Didius Julianus became Emporer because he won the title at auction!
Nominally emperor for two months, Marcus Didius Severus Julianus had an authority that hardly extended beyond Italy or even Rome itself. Didius Julianus would gain historical notoriety only for the means by which he became emperor, by winning the bidding at what has been called the "Auction of the Empire." ...
When the emperor Pertinax was killed trying to quell a mutiny, no accepted successor was at hand. Pertinax's father-in-law and urban prefect, Flavius Sulpicianus, entered the praetorian camp and tried to get the troops to proclaim him emperor, but he met with little enthusiasm. Other soldiers scoured the city seeking an alternative, but most senators shut themselves in their homes to wait out the crisis. Didius Julianus, however, allowed himself to be taken to the camp, where one of the most notorious events in Roman history was about to take place. 
Didius Julianus was prevented from entering the camp, but he began to make promises to the soldiers from outside the wall. Soon the scene became that of an auction, with Flavius Sulpicianus and Didius Julianus outbidding each other in the size of their donatives to the troops. The Roman empire was for sale to the highest bidder. When Flavius Sulpicianus reached the figure of 20,000 sesterces per soldier, Didius Julianus upped the bid by a whopping 5,000 sesterces, displaying his outstretched hand to indicate the amount. The empire was sold, Didius Julianus was allowed into the camp and proclaimed emperor.
And we complain about political campaigns today!


Secular Apostate said...

I have to laugh when I hear the left whining about the decline of civility in politics (as if they never heard of Alinsky). In 1804, a sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, shot and killed the former Secretary of the Treasury, A. Hamilton, in a political dispute.

Such antics can't make the politics any less boring, but they would spice up the town hall events.

Mostly Nothing said...

This has been going on for 40 years. I remember my Dad reading that book in the 70s and seeing all kinds of parallels with then. And it certainly hasn't gotten any better.

tim eisele said...

"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" covers a period of nearly 1500 years, throughout most of Europe and a lot of the Middle East. I'd be really shocked if you *couldn't* find close parallels between some part of it, and just about any country at any period of time you might care to mention.

K T Cat said...

Tim, thanks to the wonders of Confirmation Bias, I've got no doubt I'll find exactly what I was looking for!