Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor for almost two decades, ending 180 A.D. is not as well-known to us, as Julius Caesar, who predeceased Aurelius by a few generations; although Aurelius may have more reason to fame. Aurelius, also known as the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, was a man of diverse gifts. A philosopher of note, who is considered relevant to date by serious students of the subject; he was also a poet, statesman, soldier-general, and a just man.
Despite these qualities, Edward Gibbon, the historian who compiled “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” in six volumes, considers Aurelius to have been major contributor to the Decline and Fall. If Caesar changed the Roman republic to an empire, according to Gibbon, even though the empire lasted for several centuries after his death, Aurelius’ decision to name his son, Commodus as successor.
Commodus was a “good for nothing” but, he was the emperor’s son, and succeeded Aurelius, only to bring his decadent corruption, opulence, and licentious life-style to the throne and the emperor’s bed. And Gibbon’s thesis was that, “the [Roman] Empire should have imploded much earlier…because of the lack of morals of the emperors, the empire fell due to the gradual loss of civic virtue”, or words to that effect.
[Does that sound familiar? Did we recently not discuss our loss of civic virtue?]
Interestingly, when Director Anthony Mann decided to film this episode, the team decided that Aurelius was too virtuous and, they changed the facts. In this star-studded film, Aurelius nominated his General, Livius, as successor, with instructions to hand over political power back to the Senate and return Rome to being a Republic, but before Aurelius could implement this, he was murdered.
To cut the story short, after the twists and turns of plots and counter-plots and conspiracies, Livius, requests Commodus’ permission to address the Senate. When Commodus acceded, Livius nominates Aurelius’ [former slave turned] Mentor, Timonides, to address the Senate.
Timonides’ address states to the effect; “when I teach a lesson and students fail to follow it, I assume that there is something wrong with my lesson or my teaching, isn’t it time to change our oft-repeated lesson of killing, rape, pillage, plunder and enslavement and, instead, make our conquests equal citizens? Might that not stop the incessant revolts and rebellions?”
That solution has always been known i.e. peace can prevail only of all citizens are treated equally; else, it might take time to fill but, whenever the cup of patience of the ill-treated fills, it will flow over. It was known in Roman times and centuries earlier. But, mankind has never been able to treat their “slaves” [or “lesser” citizens] equally.
Ironic, isn’t it? Only Hollywood adverted to this lesson and tried to market it. No surprise that even Hollywood failed, not only in selling this knowledge, but also in marketing this blockbuster film which, despite its huge cast, was a box office failure.
Until the 1990s, I have been a huge fan of Hollywood’s talented film Directors and have frequently expressed the view that if Hollywood were handed over the intelligence and security apparatus if the US, it would probably do a far better job than the professionals. Unfortunately; no longer. And who can say? Had it the power of these agencies, it too would have turned as incompetent, much earlier, as it has done even without the clout.
Anyway, those of us who believe that slaver has ended, delude themselves. It never has, and never will. Its forms change but the concept remains. Human trafficking of both sexes and all ages continues. In Pakistan, children are sold into labor [slavery]; peasant tenants are virtual slaves of their landlords. In the US, daily labor is ferried across borders to work at a pittance; to return home at night and return the next day. They too are slaves; mistreated at their employers’ will in any and every respect he/she chooses.
As the world became “civilized”, nations ceased to be enslaved; these were conquered and became “colonies” but the colonials were treated no better than the Germanic slaves the Romans conquered. “Dogs and Indians not allowed”, was a sign frequently seen in India under British rule.
Further civilization gave birth to “Satellite States”; which were exploited and its citizens treated as badly as slaves and finally; at the zenith of civilized states, the concept of exploitable “Globalization” took over [which we will also analyze]. Wherein states, and its’ citizens, were exploited under the garb of assistance and, where required, with help from IMF and the World Bank.
They say, “the more things change, the more they remain the same” and “the only thing constant, is change”. How very true? This study is most depressing. Let me conclude today’s effort with a word of hope. Perhaps, those of us who wish to change; this change that never changes; want to do too much, too quickly. These well intentioned Chevaliers wish to right all wrongs in one go. Maybe; just maybe, if they haste [far more] slowly, change might bring change; a step at a time.