2050 Years Ago Today: Assassination of Caesar

(Due to the historical anniversary, SF Casualties in SEA This Week has been postponed for a day or two — Ed.).


The Assassination of Caesar is a popular theme in historical art. This painting is credited to CL Doughty.

2050 years ago today, a broad-based Senatorial conspiracy that reached even to Julius Caesar’s friends and allies slew him, fearful of his consolidation of power in a strong executive, which threatened Senatorial and patrician prerogatives.

As is often the case with political revolutions, the consequences of the overthrow and murder of the popular general were broad and long, and did not produce the change the revolutionaries sought (in this case, return to the status quo ante Caesar’s elevation to Pontifex Maximus). Dominic Selwood at The Telegraph has an excellent recounting of the assassination itself, but we’re also interested in the outcomes, which he describes at some length.

Caesar may have brought Rome glory in his conquest of Gaul. He may have started and won a civil war that eventually vested absolute power in him. He may have begun highly popular social and political reforms, and even had time to abolish the chaotic ever-changing calendar and bring in his “Julian calendar,” which lasted a millennium and a half until tweaked by Pope Gregory in 1582. But in his muscular assumption of power, and his popularity among the citizenry, he threatened the deep vested interests of the patricians, who had run the Republic and the Senate for so long. It was enough to seal his fate.

Vincenzo Camuccini, "Death of Caesar", 1798

Vincenzo Camuccini, “Death of Caesar”, 1798

The murder of Caesar did turn out to be a key moment in history.

With Caesar gone, Rome spiralled into another cycle of civil wars, which resulted in one of the most significant constitutional transformations in history. The Eternal City abandoned its trademark republican system of government and became an empire. In place of the Senate electing two consuls each year as joint heads of state, they transferred power to a largely omnipotent emperor. Ever since, people have argued which system was better.
Supporters of the Republic point to how it threw off the tyrannical king Tarquin the Proud and introduced elements of democracy, with power held by the patricians and the plebeians: SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus. They note how it found fame and glory in conquering almost all the Mediterranean basin: Italy, Spain, France, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, spreading its influence far beyond ancient Latium.

Advocates of the Empire, on the other hand, highlight that the Republic was in reality a hereditary oligarchy in the hands of the wealthy patrician families who ran the all-powerful Senate with no genuine voice for the plebeians, women, or slaves. They also point out that the Republic was too weak to govern effectively at home or abroad, instead relying on “bread and circuses” to keep its citizens happy amid endless civil wars. They note that Rome only truly became a great power under the might of the Empire, which lasted even longer than the Republic, and in the East until A.D. 1453.

via The Ides of March: The assassination of Julius Caesar and how it changed the world – Telegraph.

If there is a moral to this story, it may be as simple as, “Be careful what you ask of the gods, they might give it to you.” The unintended consequences of the slaying of Caesar produced an even greater tyranny in relatively short terms (historically speaking), including such ruinous reigns as Nero’s (within 100 years of Caesar’s murder) and Caligula’s.

In our undergraduate studies in history, we discovered that almost every revolution in the history of the world left the vast majority of people worse off than they had been before, despite the historiography of the revolution always asserting the exact opposite. That’s “worse off” in material terms, but also in terms of freedom. Many of the revolutionaries don’t live to see it, as the revolution often eats its own.


That happened to Brutus (illustrated above on an “Ides of March” coin) and Cassius, who were defeated and died in the two-action Battle of Philippi against Mark Antony’s forces within two years. (Cassius was reported to have died in combat in the first battle; Brutus, by suicide after the defeat in the second, about 2 1/2 weeks later).

57 thoughts on “2050 Years Ago Today: Assassination of Caesar

  1. Scott

    “But in his muscular assumption of power, and his popularity among the citizenry, he threatened the deep vested interests of the patricians, who had run the Republic and the Senate for so long. It was enough to seal his fate.”
    Almost reminds me of a certain contemporary political campaign that aspires to shake up the ‘establishment’. A fellow with 535 enemies (100 of which are perhaps not so coincidentally called ‘senators’) could overreach, you know.
    Knives are out of fashion, at least among that set, but impeachment is not unlikely.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I think they’re hoping the Berndinistas will whack him, which is right on target as far as their intentions go, but gives them far too much credit for capability. Most of them have never organized anything more challenging that an exam-cheating ring.

      1. Scott

        Correct. The Berndinistas can’t effectively operate outside their designated ‘safe zones’.

        It’s the 535 that will have far better motive* and organization. And a handy method.

        * The Berndinistas may think they have principles as a motive, but that is easily trumped by protection of established political powers.

  2. Tom Kratman

    Political revolutions fail. It is in their nature. That is
    to say, a revolution, any revolution, will tend to fail
    unless it isn’t really a revolution at all, but a recognition
    of a preexisting fact. To actually change anything
    profoundly, quickly, and lastingly is simply too hard.
    This does not mean, of course, that the revolutionaries
    will fail. They may, indeed, take power.
    They very often manage to do quite well for themselves.
    Very often, indeed, they manage to do pretty
    well by their great-great-grandchildren. And yet still
    the revolution itself will have failed.
    Between Old Earth and New, we have seen dozens
    of failed revolutions: France, 1789 AD, got rid
    of its king and nobility well enough . . . and had an
    emperor and a new nobility within fi fteen years. No
    Marxist revolution, whether Leninist or Tsarist, has
    managed to last more than about seventy-fi ve Old
    Earth years. How many peoples of once-colonized
    states have awakened a few years after their revolutions
    wishing the colonialists were back? Even here
    in Balboa, Belisario Carrera’s revolution, in the early
    days, got rid of the Old Earthers, but morphed into
    a corrupt oligarchy of our own within a couple of
    And the successes? One can count them on
    the fi ngers of one hand. And in each case, be it
    the plebes seceding from the patricians in ancient
    Rome, the Athenian demes demanding power in
    return for their service in the fl eet, or the American
    colonists, two factors stand clear: Those revolutions
    were limited in what they sought to achieve, and
    they recognized an already established state of
    facts. Thus, even these examples beg the question
    of whether they were revolutions at all in anything
    but name.
    — Jorge y Marqueli Mendoza, Historia y
    Filosofia Moral, Legionary Press, Balboa,
    Terra Nova, copyright AC 468

    1. Hognose Post author

      I cannot be the only one that reads those passages and feels a pang of regret that I can’t read the entire book, or hear Jorge, accompanied by his lovely wife, lecture at the War College of Balboa, because they’re all fictional creations?

      1. Tom Kratman

        Well, someday I may actually translate the copy of Historia y Filosofia Moral transmitted to me across the light years and eons.


  3. Keith

    Interesting post on election day. I thought of the Ides of March when I first realized my states primary on on this day.

  4. Kirk

    Am I the only person to look back at these people, and see them for what they were? Criminals and thieves on a continental scale? Forces of destruction on a scale we’d liken to Hitler, were they around today?

    Caesar died as he lived; the litany of horror describing what he did in Gaul would go on for whole chapters. Yeah, he brought the glories of Rome to them, but they already had their own civilization going, which the Romans ground into the dirt. Everywhere Rome went, they wrought ruin on existing societies, enslaving and beggaring them in the name of Rome’s fleeting “glory”.

    Alexander, another “great one” of popular imagination–What did he do, again? Oh, yes… Destroyed entire civilizations, leaving his mark across the ancient world. How many died, for his glory? What did he bring in place of all those other ancient polities? Greek generals? Oh, that’s a great improvement–We got the Ptolemys in Egypt, in place of the Pharoahs. Lovely.

    Similarly, there are the Spartans, beloved of so many modern militarists and wannabe hard-men. Conquerors who held the helots as slaves, creating the very first police state to do so. Read up on the krypteia before you start lauding these characters in my hearing, or you might get your feelings hurt. The Spartans didn’t even keep faith with their victims, when in a spasm of ancient Stockholm Syndrome, those victims answered the call for volunteers to fight for Sparta. Thucydides recounts what happened to them:

    “They proclaimed that a selection would be made of those Helots who claimed to have rendered the best service to the Lacedaemonians in war, and promised them liberty. The announcement was intended to test them; it was thought that those among them who were foremost in asserting their freedom would be most high-spirited, and most likely to rise against their masters. So they selected about two thousand, who were crowned with garlands and went in procession round the temples; they were supposed to have received their liberty; but not long afterwards the Spartans put them all out of the way, and no man knew how any one of them came by his end.”

    If we had any of these people as neighbors today, we’d look at them as what they really were: Thieves and brute savages on an epic scale. The Soviets made for better neighbors than the Romans would have. Hell, just ask the Dacians. Oh, that’s right: You can’t. They’re all dead, and their entire civilization wiped out to enable Trajan to pay for more bread and circuses for the Roman plebs…

    It strikes me as really fundamentally bizarre that so many serving in the armed forces of a representative republic find fascination in the antics of these historical strong-men–It’s very like deifying Adolf Hitler and his crew of madmen, which is something I expect to happen at some historical remove.

    Caesar and his ilk should have their date and manner of death celebrated, to be honest. The only reason we venerate these clowns, essentially, is that the only version of history we have is theirs. Nobody speaks for the Gauls, the Persians, or the Messenians, who all had to die or go under the yoke in order for these “great men” to gain their reputation. How different would the world be, had any of these thieving bastards been cut down before they did their damage? What art, what science, what industry did we lose because of the rise of their ephemeral empires? Rome locked Europe into a straightjacket of bureaucracy and taxes, stifling innovation and the rights of free men. We forget that the people of Europe actually welcomed the so-called “barbarians”, in order to get out from underneath the stultifying yoke of Roman financial and governmental oppression. The early years of the so-called dark ages were quite different than we are popularly taught.

    And, to this day, sycophants worship at the feet of these tyrants, mourning their deaths, calling them “great”. I don’t agree. The world would likely be a far different place without them, or their ilk. Lauding what they did, and mourning their deaths is precisely analogous to doing that for Adolf Hitler, or Pol Pot. Few here in the west or elsewhere mourn the death of Ghengiz Khan; why do we seem to hold him as the only “bad guy” we excoriate in history? An equal pox on all their houses.

    Sic semper evello mortem tyrannis

    1. Tom Kratman

      Little more complex than that. Gaul was to Rome a bit like what Ireland was to the Brits*, a place too weak and fragmented to defend itself but ideally positioned for an enemy to use against them. It had happened, after all, with the Cimbri and Teutons, only a couple of generations before. They passed through Gaul, essentially unimpeded, on the way to Italy, destroying a couple of Roman armies in the process before finally being stopped by Marius.

      In any case, it’s not merely futile to mourn the past, it’s preposterous. Changing the past from what it was, or desiring to, is tantamount to wishing out of existence yourself and everyone and every thing you’ve ever cared about. Really bad deal, in other words, even if it were possible.

      That, too, though, goes to something else; we may not like everything they did but they are us. Our laws, our letters, our languages, our culture, our history…pretty much everything that is us…comes from them.

      *Note, here, that, name notwithstanding, I’m about 3/4ths Irish and my grandfather (technically step grandfather) was a no shit terrorist with Sinn Fein.

      1. Kirk

        There’s a vast difference between “mourning the past” and “lauding the men that made nightmares of that past”.

        My position is this: I am a free man, a citizen in a republic. I refuse to bow down and honor tyrants, no matter how much foolish men laud their actions and conduct, today. You can say what you like about the history, and I’ll agree with it. It is what it is. But, you’d damn sure better remember what utter bastards some of the “great men” of the past were. It utterly infuriates me to see these human excrescences held up today in any sort of positive way. Imagine, if you will, what Adolf Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot is going to look like, in 2000 years or so, and wonder if they’ll be seen in a similar way. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit–The historians love them some “influential figures”, and who’s more influential than a mass-murderer? Of course, it sucks to be one of the infamous “statistics” that Stalin was so casual about.

        Let’s be honest with ourselves: Caesar was a back-stabbing mass-murderer of women and children, who looted much of Europe, in order to gain his “glory”. He’s only slightly improved over the James Gang, when you get down to it.

        Recent reinforcement for this?


        Such a brave, honorable man, Caesar. Hell, the bastard tells us what a duplicitous shit he really was, in his own writing. He flatly admits to a “cunning strategem” of negotiating with the two tribes, while preparing to massacre them. Which he then did, killing them all, man, woman, and child. The killing started while he was still talking to the leaders, and, oddly enough, all the wealth captured wound up in… Caesar’s pockets.

        The man was an unprincipled hoodlum, no better than any of the various warlords running South American drug gangs. The only thing that sanctifies his actions is time, and the fact that he was a magnificent writer. Which fact alone ought to make one carefully evaluate what has come down to us, because you don’t need to be glib and persuasive, when you’ve got right on your side. Give me Epaminondas as someone to look up to, rather than this right bastard.

        Don’t sidetrack yourself thinking I’m saying that Western Civilization is a bad thing. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t remember these assholes as great heroes, striding through history. Caesar, for example? How many little girls did he make slaves, and sell on to Roman markets? How many lives were ruined? And, for what? So a corrupt city could rape its own people for a few more years? How many towns and cities did he loot, so that he could bribe his way forward in his political life, and pay off his extraordinary debts? Caesar started the tradition carried on by such notable examples as Trajan, rapist of Dacia.

        In the grand scheme of things, Rome should have had what it did to Carthage happen to it. It would only have been just, the thieving bastards. Unfortunately, history doesn’t deal in justice; if it did, we wouldn’t have all these historians verbally fellating criminals and mass murderers, calling them “great men”.

        What’s ironic is that the Roman Boni did to their own yeoman class what they used that class to do to the Mediterranean world–Rape and destroy it. Turning those countrymen off their land, turning them into latifundia served by slaves certainly worked out well, in the long run: It’s cheaper to have servile plebs on bread and circuses than to have them living independently in the country. Well, for awhile, anyway. Urban plebs make shitty soldiers, so the wheel turns, and Rome falls to its own internal weakness.

        Here’s a point I see ignored a lot: Caesar started his consulship in deep debt, and finagled an assignment to Gaul, where the potential for thievery was better. When he returned from Gaul, he was wealthy enough that all his debts were paid, and his legacy went on to Augustus, and enabled him to finance his way through the following civil wars to become the Emperor.

        Remind you of anyone? Say… A pisspot, penniless Arkansas governor, who’s now worth billions? Think maybe Chelsea and her husband might be the next generation of robber-baron politicians that make themselves emperors over the rest of us? Although, in terms of sheer numbers killed, I have to say that I rather prefer the Clintons, although the people of Libya and Syria might beg to differ.

        And, at least Caesar had the balls to be the first over the wall a few times, and did swing his own sword, so to speak. Unlike his spiritual successors, in our sadly diminished age. I’m not seeing Hillary or Bill-boy ever earning the corona civica, for some reason…

        Lauding Caesar, and mourning his death by murder is peculiarly… Strange, I guess, given the point we’re at in our own history. I have to wonder what tyrant we have waiting in the wings, as our Republic fails around us. History does not always repeat itself, but it does have a habit of rhyming.

        1. Tom Kratman

          Yes, that’s mostly true enough, but – because of the aforementioned need to organize Gaul as the front line of Italy, something the Gauls were incapable of, themselves – it still had to be done, from the Roman point of view. Should Rome and Romans have been more cosmopolitan? Put shorter term Gallish interests over their own longer term ones? I can’t see why. I, for example, am not a member of the Family of Man, which doesn’t exist, anyway, but an American, with my duties to God and country, countrymen and -women, a few close foreign friends…and fuck the rest.

          I was certain before age 12 that, with time, Hitler and Stalin and Mao (Pol pot wasn’t on the horizon yet) would join Big Al the Psychopath, Caesar, and Napoleon in mankind’s pantheon of heroes. TANJIT, after all.

          Personally, I suspect that Caesar, had he lived, would have done a better job of actually restoring the Republic than Marius or Sulla or Octavian did. That could be something to mourn, but it’s silly to mourn it, too, because absent Octavian we, today, still don’t exist.

          Finally, looking down the ages and especially looking at some of the PC and SJW run attempts to condemn the men of the past for not meeting their enlightened standards, today, I’ve got to say, a man has a right to be judged in accordance with his own place and time. Caesar may seem a shit to us today, but the only difference between him and anyone else who could rise in his world was that he was better at it.

          1. Kirk

            The thing of it is this, however: Caesar didn’t do what he did out of a sense of altruism. He was, as was Alexander before him, seeking personal glory and power. He gave not one whit for the Roman Republic, in the grander sense–It was all about him.

            There are Romans I admire, and who I think ought to be remembered. Cincinnatus, for one. Horatio, assuming he wasn’t a mythical construct. And, there are others, who spoke out and took actions against the forces destroying the Republic. Cicero, who Octavian had killed, would be another.

            What I am against is the virtual deification of the men like Caesar and Alexander, both of whom were epic bastards in search of personal glory. We like to look back and say things like “Well, it was necessary…”. No, it was not. There were no “imminent threats” coming from Gaul, and that did not motivate Caesar one whit. Instead, what he wanted was to rob everyone blind, and subjugate the entire region to Rome. I keep reading about the wonders of Roman civilization, but the question that keeps occurring to me is “What about the wonders of the Celts?”, who were far more advanced than we’ve been taught. Disorganized as hell, I’ll grant you, but every bit as sophisticated as Rome was, in some ways.

            I’m not terribly fond of the one-sided tale we get in most of our histories; I spent a good deal of time attaining a somewhat classical education, goaded on by my grandmother. I remember reading, with an uncritical eye, the various laudatory works espousing men like Caesar and Alexander, and it wasn’t until I suddenly made a rather shattering connection that my opinions started to change–When you read the Commentaries and then Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich back-to-back, certain juxtapositions become apparent, and specific connections made.

            All that separates Hitler, Stalin, and the rest from gaining Caesar’s reputation in history is time, and the attitudes of historians, all of whom will gladly fellate the memory of these monsters with limpid prose, and excuses. That’s what happened to Caesar, and the rest of the egotistical monsters like Antony, who tore down the traditions of the Republic in search of personal glory and power.

            Screw the lot of them, I say. I’d rather that we remember men like Epaminondas, and the other great men of the past who eschewed ego-driven empire building. It is a curious thing, how the historians have made heroes of these men, and influenced generations seeking to emulate them. Why else would the tyrants of Russia and Germany both style themselves after Caesar, as Tsars and Kaisers? Free men everywhere ought to celebrate the death of men like Caeser and Alexander, and mourn the damage these men did to world, warping history into patterns driven by their own egos. Funnily enough, both men apparently came to think they were gods, near the ends of their lives. Caesar’s successors certainly did, and I have to wonder why so many of our historical chattering class allows themselves to become enamored of that sort of “great man”. Do a read-and-compare, between the Kims of North Korea, and the bright lights of the early Empire, and tell me you don’t see a certain set of eery parallels. Ever wonder what men like Caesar would look like, how they would conduct themselves, transported to our modern age? Yeah–That.

          2. Kirk

            “Finally, looking down the ages and especially looking at some of the PC and SJW run attempts to condemn the men of the past for not meeting their enlightened standards, today, I’ve got to say, a man has a right to be judged in accordance with his own place and time. Caesar may seem a shit to us today, but the only difference between him and anyone else who could rise in his world was that he was better at it.”

            Did a bit more thinking about this, and I think that your paragraph here is worth replying to, separately, in that I’m not in any way trying to emulate our SJW dipshits.

            The point that I’m getting at is this: What has enabled these SJW types the fingerhold they’ve gotten is precisely what I’m bitching about, with regards to how these “great men” have been remembered. On the one hand, we have a few thousand years of encomiums and adulatory tales, and then there’s what we find when we go looking at the actual historical record, an example of that being the Dutch archaeological work on those massacre sites I reference above. The contrast is what enables the SJW types to make their inroads, because they are able to use the obvious hypocrisy to make their point about the “evils of the patriarchy”.

            Were the historians of the past to have actually, y’know, presented the full honest picture of these men…? No cracks in the facade for the SJW types to work in their cultural prybars.

            Most of what has been written by historians, given the distortions that crept in as Caesar’s successors sought to legitimize their power, has restricted itself purely to the adulatory. There’s more to the story, than that, and were we to actually place many of these people into full context, we’d see what utter shits they really were, even in the matrix of their own time. Many call them great, but if they were alive and working in our era, we’d describe them as what they are–Crooks. And, there are reasons to evaluate these people properly, because of the warping effect their adulation causes on history. How many have sought to emulate Alexander, Caesar, and the other “greats”? Never having heard a contrary word, they join the adulation, and try to emulate them, creating the same nightmares for innocent victims elsewhere.

            Trajan faced a Rome that was going bankrupt. His solution? Well, let’s invade Dacia and steal all their gold… Sound familiar? Read Adam Tooze, and you’ll find a huge number of parallels between Trajan and one Adolf Hitler, at least in the economic sense. Today, Trajan is remembered as one of the “good Emperors”, which is mind-boggling when you consider it. I’m sure the remnants of the Dacians have a somewhat different opinion.

            Put Cortez, or Pizarro into modern terms. They’re hailed as heros, in some quarters. Some hold them to be common criminals, and I’m not going to make that value judgement, as it is for others to make. However, in the final analysis, how different are they from men like William Walker? Or, Caesar, for that matter? Are we really wanting to say that all it takes to make a “great man” is for sufficient time to pass, so that we forget the heaps of bodies they stood atop of, to make themselves “great”?

            I am really, really tired of all this BS about “well, they had to do that…” and “everybody was doing that, back then…”. Bullshit. I have ancestors who lived in Missouri during the time of the Civil War. None of them, oddly enough, turned to a life of crime and brigandry the way the James brothers did. Yet, are there vast tourist attractions built up around them? Nope–They just worked for a damn living, and didn’t take up robbery or murder as pastimes. Booooring… Let’s go look at the James gang’s hideouts! Won’t that be fun?

            This impulse we have to sanctify and ennoble these pricks is why we keep getting them, just like with the Clintons. Everyone’s like “Oh, that Bill… He’s a card, ain’t he? Always with the ladies…”. Meanwhile, the son-of-a-bitch is robbing all of us blind, and doing God knows what in the shadows. This same failing of the human psyche is what enables this bullshit adulation of men like Alexander and Caesar, and gets us more and more of the same.

            Start adulating actual responsible adults, and maybe we’d get more of them.

          3. Tom Kratman

            As I said, “Their own place and time.” Rome was somewhat unusual to the degree it was able to make private ambition serve public needs and where altruism and self-interest very frequently intersected.

            Epaminondas. “You’ve been reading Victor Davis Hanson,” he accused. We don’t actually know much about Epaminondas, and VDH’s hagiography seems to me to be made up almost completely of whole cloth.

            Before you deify Cicero, contemplate how much due process he afforded the Catalinians.

          4. Kirk

            Most of what I know of Epaminondas, I knew before I ever heard of VDH.

            And, as to Cicero and the Catalines? How much “due process” did they deserve? I don’t think we really know enough about that era, or have enough surviving unbiased sources to really tell what the hell was going on. With the “winner-take-all” nature of the times, and the reputed intent of the conspiracy…? Yeah. If I were a guy who’d lived through Marius and Sulla, I think I’d have been a bit free with the executioner, as well.

            Like I said, though–I think the problem isn’t so much that we’re remembering these guys, but that we’re not remembering them completely, warts and all. Cicero certainly had his moments, but they were of both kinds. I’m against not remembering them all in their full context.

            People talk about the Roman Republic as though it were some pillar of righteousness and democracy in the ancient world, when the real fact is that it wasn’t that different from the “democracy” practiced by 16th Century pirates in the Caribbean.

            And, to a degree, Caesar was a product of his own times, and the bastards like Marius and Sulla who came before him. So, why not tell the full story, and show him in full context? Doesn’t that tend to make him look a lot better, instead of the usual view, which is that he’s some sort of tragic hero, done in by the betrayal of his enemies?

            You can get at the distillation of what our culture teaches about these people by asking the average person what they think of certain historical figures: “Hey, Fred, what do you think or know about Julius Caesar?” “Oh, yeah… He was that guy who got stabbed, and they made that play about him…”.

            Context, folks: It’s important to teach, and to teach all of it. That’s what I’m getting at, here.

          5. Tom Kratman

            I have no problem whatsoever with telling the full story, warts and all. But I still do insist on judging them in accordance with their own place and time. Oh, and their enemies, and – to his credit – some of Caesar’s were real shits, too.

    2. John M.

      @Kirk: Who will answer for the sins of modern democracy?

      It’s almost like there is a sickness deep inside all of our hearts that drives us to perpetrate evil after evil on one another.

      -John M.

      1. Kirk

        Who will answer?

        We will, and already are. Unless there is some form of renewal, which we’ve heretofore managed more than once, we’re well on our way on the trip from Republic to Empire. You just have to look at the current lot of candidates we have running for the Presidency, contemplate who’s doing the best, and develop a certain sense of despair about the whole issue.

        We’ve only really begun to sin, in some senses. Libya and the multiple disasters wrought by our former Secretary of State are only the opening overtures, and I fear we’re going to be paying the karmic piper for decades to come. Just as we are, for Jimmy Carter’s ally betrayal in Iran. Where that one will end, nobody knows, but it probably includes mushroom clouds. Question is, over whose cities…?

        1. Tom Kratman

          I suspect we’re far too screwed for renewal. I ask myself how many we’d have to extrajudicially kill to save the republic, and my _conservative_ estimate is ten million. And we will not do it. _I_ wouldn’t do it; at least I don’t think I would, even being sure it’s necessary.

          1. Kirk

            We’ve been here, before. How many “true believers” in FDR were there?

            How thoroughly penetrated were the government and academia with Reds, during his tenure?

            What goes around, comes around. The wheel turns, and we’ve managed to turn with it before, so I’m not going to lose hope until I see the bastards coming down the street clearing houses, looking to load us onto the trains.

            Absent great foolishness, like deciding to build ourselves a little overseas empire, I think that what’s going on could heal. All it’s going to take is enough time for the inherent contradictions to become apparent, and the whole facade of politically correct BS that’s ensconced itself in power is going to come crashing down. There’s a deep reservoir of common sense in most of our fellow Americans, and if what’s going on ain’t working…? The reaction will come. Eventually.

          2. Tom Kratman

            It’s not the state of the elites that bug me, it’s the literal weakening and demoralization of the masses. (I’m just a working class kid who made (reasonably) good, after all.) Take the most negative ultra right wing view of Obama and accept it, arguendo. Just assume he’s that bad. Even then _he_ would not be the problem; that he was elected and re-elected would be the problem.

          3. Hognose Post author

            Scott Adams (the Dilbert cartoonist) has been running a fascinating blog series on Trump and his appeal. I do think he’s the only guy who “gets” the appeal of Trump and how Trump works it.

          4. Kirk

            “It’s not the state of the elites that bug me, it’s the literal weakening and demoralization of the masses. (I’m just a working class kid who made (reasonably) good, after all.) Take the most negative ultra right wing view of Obama and accept it, arguendo. Just assume he’s that bad. Even then _he_ would not be the problem; that he was elected and re-elected would be the problem.”

            Same thing I’ve been saying, just phrased differently. But, again… History tells us it’s been at least this bad in the past, and we pulled our heads out of our asses on more than one equation. Of course, that was with a significant advantage in “growth opportunities” available to us.

            On the other hand, most of our issues are self-imposed, and were we to decide to lift the barriers we’ve imposed on ourselves, we’d be a hell of a lot better off. Current example that comes to mind is the administration’s decision to block oil exploration in the Atlantic… And, all their inaction with regards to exploiting public lands for same, out here in the West. Get the bureaucracy out of the way, and a bunch of stuff starts to happen. The oil market is a perfect example–Who the hell would have dared to project that the US might ever export oil, again? And, with the idiot environmentalists out of the way, a lot of other things might start happening.

            Most of our issues and limitations are self-imposed, and could go away with the stroke of a pen and the right leadership.

          5. Tom Kratman

            Nah, I don’t think so. There are underlying systemic and social factors that are screwing us, or causing us to screw ourselves. The pols and bureacrats are symptoms, for the most part, not causes.

  5. Greg

    Is this the only blog where the quality of the content is matched by the commentary?

    1. LSWCHP

      Yep. At least, it’s the only one I’ve ever found. A gread credit to both Hognose, and the folks who come here.

      1. W.W

        And those of us who know we’re in over our heads, keeping our ears open and mouths shut.

        Maybe that’s just me.

        This site is a great place to take in wisdom from those that have already been around a block or two.

  6. Docduracoat

    ” they ( the Romans ) make a desert and call it peace”

    Tacitus says that the Scottish Chieftan Calgacus made a speech to his troops before fighting ( and losing! ) to the Romans

    They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name empire, and where they make a desert, they call it peace

  7. Tom Kratman

    Ummm…no, I don’t think that the SJWs are vilifying, say, (the already and genuinely exceptionally vile) Woodrow Wilson over anything Caesar or Alexander did. They’re far too detached from reality to even know enough history to use it for their own ends.

    Own place and time. Then, too, read Tacitus’ Agricola for how good men can serve bad masters and bad causes. Indeed, contemplate that, absent Robert E. Lee who, although he never owned a slave and refused ever to, still defended it. Absent him, slavery might have lasted a couple more generations.

    Hmmm…question. Some of those people you vilify were militarily rather impressive. Should we neglect to study their campaigns because they were so doubleplusungood?

    1. KenWats

      “absent Robert E. Lee who, although he never owned a slave and refused ever to, still defended it. Absent him, slavery might have lasted a couple more generations.”

      I’m confused, which is not an uncommon state of affairs. Are you implying that without Lee, the American Civil War would have been prolonged (ie he hastened the end of the South)? The man made mistakes, plenty of them – but were his subordinates that much better than he?

      1. Kirk

        If Lee had fought for the North, the North would have lost the war. At least, that is my analysis.

        Lee was, frankly, a very flawed military leader. Had he embraced a Fabian strategy, and instead of expending all the lives he did trying to fight the North on their own ground, opting instead to fight a mostly defensive war on interior lines in the South?

        Yeah, I think the South would still be “a thing”. If they’d been smart enough to let the North come to them, and forced them to fight battles on Southern lands, the real battle, the one in the public mindset here and overseas, would have been won by the South. Instead, they did the same stupid shit that the Germans did in WWI and WWII, making themselves the aggressors, and losing the battle for “righteousness” in public sentiment. Had the South possessed the wit, they could have turned the whole course of the Civil War on its head, won international assistance, and made Lincoln out to be the bad guy. Instead, they gave Lee his head, and we have the history we do. Hubris, pure and simple–The fools thought that possessing the superior military meant they’d win, when in reality, victory wasn’t to be had on the battlefield.

        About the only way the South could have won is if it pulled a moral ju-jitsu move out of its hat, and turned the North into the aggressor bad-guys in the eyes of the rest of the world. Had they done that, and managed to also pull of some bullshit “free the slaves and turn them into debt-peonage sharecroppers while we’re at it…”, they’d have gotten British and French aid, and we’d be living in a very different world.

        The one we do live in is at least partially due to the fact that Lee defeated himself and the South in the long run with his early victories.

        On the whole, I’ve heard some good arguments that Lee really didn’t want the South to win, and did what he could to sabotage it. I’m not sure I would grant that full credence, but the arguments are there to be made, in the historical evidence.

      2. Tom Kratman

        No, he delayed the end until Union sentiment hardened and the exigencies of war demanded that slavery be ended.

        Now, I’m not a Lee hagiographer. If there was any genius in the ANV, it was with Jackson, who was arguably insane. But Lee was, rather like Washington, a man replete with character and personal attributes of leadership, such as was needed to keep together and in the field an army always in dire straits.

    2. Kirk

      “Hmmm…question. Some of those people you vilify were militarily rather impressive. Should we neglect to study their campaigns because they were so doubleplusungood?”

      Not at all. I think what is needed is a full and complete remembrance of the men, and their deeds. I can hold Caesar in respect for his Corona Civica at the same time I consider him to be one of the world’s greatest armed robbers. Hell, if anything, the adulatory BS is actually a lessening of the man, because the times he rose above his more ignoble impulses speak better of him than the consistent hagiography surrounding him has.

      I am not saying “Hey, he should be remembered only for the evil he wrought”; what I am saying is that the entire picture of the man needs to be presented, intact, including his genius and his evil.

      The irony of it all is that it’s these bastards that are best remembered, because they were so notorious and attractive. We’d rather worship at the feet of someone like Caesar than remember the humble valor of Epaminondas–Who I knew of long before Hanson ever wrote of him. There are a good deal of available references to him, that I was reading when I became interested in the Spartans. Who are another example of people I was initially taught were a noble, valorous, and brave people, only to find out that they were, instead, just people. And, generally, a bunch of right bastards, too.

      I think that the heroic version of historic figures is a disservice; when the student or reader finds out that George Washington didn’t really chop down the cherry tree, and indeed, tended to pad his expense accounts, as well as owned slaves…? That tends to call into question all the rest, and makes it much easier to only consider the bad. Tell the whole story, that he was a flawed man who reached above himself? That, while he owned slaves, and may have defrauded the Congress, he also turned down the offer his men supposedly made him, to make him King of North America? Which view is less likely to be discounted by those hearing the SJW types excoriate him?

      That’s why I rail against this bullshit. If Caesar were to be remembered as a power-grasping, brave man who inadvertently may have destroyed the Republic he said he loved, through hubris? That he was a great writer, and hugely charismatic? I’d have no beef with that, at all. It shows all of him, not just the better sides of him that childlike historians have become enamored of.

      1. Tom Kratman

        I’ll give you one you may not know about, Joshua Chamberlain. Killer Angels presents him as the quintessence of abolitionism; that’s the version everyone thinks of. It’s preposterous horseshit. Chamberlain didn’t give fuck one about slaves or blacks in general. He wasn’t active in abolitionism before the war, nor in Freedmen’s affairs after it. What he was was a pure militarist. He loved war. He fought for and turned Bowdoin into a military school for a while, though the experiment failed. There is even a (presumably a copy of a0 letter amongst his papers in Penobscot, IIRC, wherein he writes to the Kaiser offering his services for the Franco-Prussian war.

        1. Kirk

          Actually, yeah… I did know that. It’s one reason I’m not really enamored of Shaara as an author, to be honest. Somewhere, back when they were using Chamberlain and Little Round Top as the leadership examples in FM22-100, I did a bunch of reading about him, and was left going “Huh…”. Chamberlain is someone else who isn’t being remembered honestly, to tell the truth.

      2. Mike_C

        Dear Kirk,
        Please stop engaging Tom. He has novels to write.
        Cough. Criminal Enterprise. Cough, cough.

        ;-) for the humor impaired.

  8. Wichitaguns

    Again, I think I have gained a more critical and balanced insight into this cast of historical characters thanks to this blog and the comments section. For someone with almost no classical education (I has other edumacation though), this is fascinating stuff
    On the Victor Davis Hanson, do you gentlemen recommend him for someone just getting interested in history?
    Will promptly return to shutting up and reading.

    1. Kirk

      I like Hanson, but I would temper that with saying that he’s got a particular slant to his writing I’m not sure I really agree with…

      Some of what he’s written about classical combat comes off as a bit… Off? And, I think a good deal of it stems from the fact that Hanson has not, to my knowledge, ever been a serving soldier. And, that deficiency does whatever the opposite of “informs” his writing, to be honest. He’s got the academic chops, and his writing is very consistent with the scholarship, but… There is something missing, some “X” factor that makes me certain he never did a day in uniform, or stood a watch.

      His work is, at worst, thought-provoking, and a jumping-off point for more reading and contemplation. I like the guy, and would recommend his work to others. I’m just not so sure I’d want to use it for anything life-threatening, like trying to set up and run my own phalanx for fun and profit.

      Classical history is full of shit like that, though–There’s so much we just don’t know, like the argument over whether or not the Romans and others marched in step. That is, believe it or not, still unsettled. Myself, I can’t see how they couldn’t have been, but there are a lot of authorities who are certain with their scholarship that they did not. I’ll note that none of the ones I’ve read have ever tried doing anything with a large body of men carrying weapons, trying to get them to do things like move in unison to some set purpose.

      Stuff like that is what I’m getting at. It has been awhile since I read Hanson, though. I’d need to dig him up out of storage and re-read, to really get back to the “why” of my slight uncertainty with him, though. Well worth reading his work, though.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Kirk, Tom, Wichita — to all of you I’d recommend the books of Christopher Matthew. He’s an Australian professor who has suited up in Greek armor and swung Greek weapons, and got other guys to do it, so that he could analyze how Greeks fought. Not the big picture stuff of Hanson (whom I like), but the This-is-why-they’re-holding-their-spear-like-that-on-this-old-pot kind of stuff, and this-is-why-the-phalanx-was-like-that. (Always couched in terms of “we think, and here’s the evidence that makes us think so.”)


        I can personally recommend A Storm of spears and his translation of The Tactics of Aelian. Good stuff!

        1. Tom Kratman

          I’ll look into it. That’s one of the things I like about Adrian Goldsworthy, too, that he admits what he doesn’t know and is willing to listen to contrary evidence to what he thinks is probable.

          The problem is that nobody ever wrote down the nuts and bolts of the things, phalanx of either kind or legion of either kind, and so it’s mostly guesswork, some of which is questionable. I am, for example, very unconvinced of the notion that the legionary scutum was held by a single grip approximately at the center, even if re-enactors use it that way. Look at the picture of the three praetorians in the Louvre and figure out from there how they _have_ to be holding their shields, even though we can’t see it. It’s not a single point grip and it’s not in the center, either.

      2. Tom Kratman

        For me it was the comment in Carnage and Culture about the Zulus lacking the discipline to use cannon captured at Isandhlawana. Whatever Zulus lacked, discipline wasn’t it. From that point, I started evaluating the book as a whole and came to the conclusion that he was right about a third of the time, wrong (dreadfully wrong) about a third of the time, and right but for the wrong reasons a third of the time. These are not particularly good averages.

        I am not even convinced he got the shoving match aspects of the pre-Macedonian phalanx right. If it worked that way, they should have been able to physically bowl over a Roman legion, yes this never happened.

        Now where I think he very good is in describing what amounts to the barbarization of California and, by extension, the rest of the country, too.

        1. Haxo Angmark

          that’s simple on-the-spot reportage. Rancher/farmer VDH is now living the consequences of his own and other Calif Republicans unnatural lust for imported barbarian cheap labor. As for the rest of his writing, Hanson is an archetypal neo-con chickenhawk

          on the larger issue, argued so well by yourself, Kirk, and others, a more proximate example is the blood-beast Churchill. Generally lionized as the Great Statesman in neo-con and other intellectual quarters as well, WC was in fact the 20th century’s greatest warmonger, bloody imperialist, and genocide artist by whole orders of magnitude. Everything he touched turned to blood and ashes: Europe, the White Empires – including his own -and Western Civilization itself. But, by way of certain connections, and as one of the greatest writers/speakers in the history of the English language, Silver Tongue got away with all his evils and f**kups…in part by publishing first, last, and always

        2. Kirk

          When you’re writing non-fiction the way Hanson is, you really need to have at least something of a background in what you’re writing about, and done at least some of it. I don’t think he’s so much as been in a marching band, which might have tempered some of his writing about movements in formation.

          His writing about California, on the other hand, is fully grounded in experience. And, he’s “writing about what he knows”, soooo… Better job.

          I think we’d do a lot better, in terms of getting realistic work out of our academics, if we did a better job of forcing them to couple their work with real-world experience. I got to watch a couple of grad students who were studying the World Wars suffer a “come to Jesus” moment with us, out on a field exercise. You don’t get “trench”, until you’re spending a couple of days slogging around in mud building defense works, and actually have the damn globs of mud on your feet. Even just being a close witness to that caused the pair of them to have lights go off in their heads, and you could see that learning had taken place. When you mostly sit in a dry, warm classroom, the difficulties involved in living out in the elements just don’t come clear.

          To a degree, I think this speaks to a larger problem in our academic world. There isn’t enough cross-connection with reality, across the board. Engineers shouldn’t start out by going from the high-school classroom to the college classroom–There should be, as in the old German practice, an intervening apprenticeship in practical work in a related field. I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but before you went to get your engineering degree back in the old days, you were expected to be a journeyman mechanic or builder in some trade, depending on whether or not you were going for civil or mechanical engineering. This tended to give the educated engineer a bit more of a grounding in their fields, and I would submit that we need to do similar things with the other areas of academia. Classical historians specializing in the military realm ought to spend some time out with reenactors, seeing what goes on when people try to recreate that life in the real world. If nothing else, it would serve to separate the sheep from the goats…

        3. Kirk

          “I am not even convinced he got the shoving match aspects of the pre-Macedonian phalanx right. If it worked that way, they should have been able to physically bowl over a Roman legion, yes this never happened.”

          Exactly the same thing I felt, with regards to Hanson’s works on classical warfare. I think he played football a lot, as a young man, and that’s the unconscious mental model he took into evaluating the phalanx.

          With the Romans, I’m not sure that any of us today really “get it”. The variety of Roman tactics and formations down the years all have a common thread through them, but since we don’t have an analogous model for mass murder with knives in the modern world, it’s hard for us to comprehend the whole picture, or understand at a visceral level why the Romans were so effective as infantry. I can kinda see the edges of it all, but… Wow. The idea of rotating through the front line so that there was always a fresh guy at the cutting edge? What that would have been like, to face as someone on the other side? Someone who was used to the idea of individual combats in the melee, and no real discipline or teamwork between the other combatants on your side? Yikes…

          It would have been like facing an animate shark jaw, with fresh teeth rotating in to keep cutting at you as you hacked away at them. Wear one down, here comes another fresh one… And, slice/hack/stab, you’re exhausted and then dead.

          1. bloke_from_ohio

            The thing I cannot wrap my head around is the timing for the Roman counter marches.

            When do you swap out your guys? Aren’t they always busy up there with all the stabbing and so forth? Doesn’t switching out your front line expose the leaving warrior and the guy who will take his place while they jockey into position?

          2. Kirk

            That’s why the maniples were so open. There was plenty of room to move in on your flank, and withdraw while your replacement slotted into position.

            The movements were controlled by centurions with whistles, or so we think. The majority of Roman drill probably centered on just this moment in the fight, the swap-out. Or, so I surmise…

            One reason the Roman battles were usually so one-sided was that it didn’t pay to run them as tutorials on how to fight. If you were a Roman, you wanted one-and-done for your enemies, because if they figured out your drill, you were in trouble. I imagine that the average barbarian was probably a little confused by that whistle, the first time he heard it… “WTF was that…? Oh, here’s another one of these little guys with the big knives, on my flank… Oops, I’m dead…”.

            If you were Roman, you didn’t want any learning process taking place, whatsoever.

          3. Tom Kratman

            Probably the biggest thing to remember about the manipular legion derives from a truism of all armies of the day, battles were almost always won or lost based on desertion and desertion took place from the rear. By taking out the oldest, hence least fit, but most experienced, confident, and toughest and turning them into triarii – who were far more battlefield police than combatants; the triarii getting involved in direct combat was rare – the Romans made it nearly impossible to desert and, because at the same time no hastati or princeps had to worry overmuch about being abandoned on the field, made it much less likely anyone would try to desert. Add in the moral factor, that it’s Pater and Uncle Publius and 1st cousin once removed Marcus back there in the triarii keeping an eye on you, and they simply would outlast anyone else from a moral point of view.

            We can be pretty sure that hastati and princeps could alternate being on the front. It’s less certain that they could replace individuals who were engaged, but I think it somewhat likely. (Indeed, I suspect that the reason they had two pila was to throw one, en masse, just before contact and to use the other, just before replacing the guy in front of you…but I don’t KNOW it.) It is also possible that the replacement of the front line individuals took place only after retiring while the other acies, hastati or princeps, took over, but we don’t know that, either.

            There is one thing I am pretty sure of, though, the gaps between the maniples were not there just for the approach march but were maintained throughout the battle, except briefly when relief was taking place. Otherwise, if the princeps fill in and the lines become solid on contact, Cannae cannot have happened as it did, because the Romans have no way to migrate toward the [apparently] successful center where Hannibal is giving way.

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