Posted by: ken98 | March 19, 2010

The City of Rome – Blackmailed Successfully and Home to Wretches

Day 189 – Ken here (F)(3-19-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.31 pp.180-190)(pages read: 1280)

An even shorter day today.

We continue with chapter 31, the character of the people of Rome (despicable), the advantages of being a citizen of the City of Rome (considerable), and the First Siege of Rome by Alaric in 408 (regrettable). The first seige was bought off with gold. Why would a barbarian army leave an unimaginably rich city without an effective army alone? The answer – they didn’t – once you start paying blackmail, you never stop – they came back in a year, and then again a year later (and that time they sacked Rome and took everything).

The Story
The Lives and Loves of the People of the City of Rome
  • Character of people – heirs to every vice in the empire, the most despicable and lazy of men – Gibbon has no use for them at all
  • Public Distribution of food: bread (3 lbs a day), bacon (5 months a year, approx 3.6 million lbs of it), oil – 300,000 gallons a year financed from a tax on the African provinces for the benefit of Rome, wine – freely distributed (Campanian wine)
  • The Baths: magnificent bathing institutions – the enormous baths of Caracalla(seats 1600), Diocletian (seats 3000) among the many available
  • Games – many and expensive – could seat 400,000. Also choirs, Mimes, but no theater
  • Estimate of Population – 1.2 million – more than any city in Europe in Gibbon’s day

    First Siege of Rome by Goths (408)
  • Famine – Alaric beseiges Rome, causes immediate famine – the populace of Rome kills the widow of Serena, accusing her of bringing the Goths down upon them
  • Plague – moves through the city
  • Sacrifices – the Senate contemplates doing pagan sacrifices again – to save the city – the Bishop of Rome is not disaggreable to the plan

    Scene of the Roman forum from the film Julius Ceasar (1953).  These are all citizens of Rome - people Gibbon uniformly despised

    Scene of the Roman forum from the film Julius Ceasar (1953). These are all citizens of Rome - people Gibbon uniformly despised

    Gibbon on the Citizens of the City of Rome: A Hateful, Vile, Common, People

    Gibbon hates the plebeian Romans (the non-nobles). Actually he doesn’t like the noble Romans much either. Gibbon really doesn’t have anything good to say about citizens of the Eternal City much after Augustus.

    This per Gibbon:

    They sunk, under the reign of the Caesars, into a vile and wretched populace, which must, in a few generations, have been totally extinguished, if it had not been continually recruited by the manumission of slaves and the influx of strangers. As early as the time of Hadrian it was the just complaint of the ingenuous natives that the capital had attracted the vices of the universe and the manners of the most opposite nations. The intemperance of the Gauls, the cunning and levity of the Greeks, the savage obstinacy of the Egyptians and Jews, the servile temper of the Asiatics, and the dissolute, effeminate prostitution of the Syrians, were mingled in the various multitude, which, under the proud and false denomination of Romans, presumed to despise their fellow-subjects, and even their sovereigns, who dwelt beyond the precincts of the ETERNAL CITY.

    (DEF II, v.3, p.182)

    …a swarm of dirty and ragged plebeians, without shoes and without a mantle; who loitered away whole days in the street or Forum to hear news and to hold disputes who dissipated in extravagant gaming the miserable pittance of their wives and children; and spent the hours of the night in obscure taverns and brothels in the indulgence of gross and vulgar sensuality

    (DEF II, v.3, p.184)


    Sketch of London (Dore) - the future London  (to Gibbon of the 1790's) was to have many of the same problems as the populous capital city of Rome had

    Sketch of London (Dore) - the future London (to Gibbon of the 1790's) was to have many of the same problems as the populous capital city of Rome had

    Last Word…
    Gibbon on the Welfare State – They’re Just Lazy

    Gibbon has a definite opinion about subsidies to the poor. You have to remember, he is living at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and most of London is drunk on gin most of the time during his lifetime. The urban poor are a novelty, although within a few decades, London will be the biggest city in the world, and heir to all the problems of a capital city which has most of the population of a country contained within it. Rome and the plebeians will not look so strange then. But that is 70 years in the future. Gibbon sees it differently in the early 1790’s.

    Beyond the incredible idea of “feeding the poor”, you can hear the amazement in his voice – they were too lazy to even grind, prepare, and bake their own bread.

    This, from Gibbon:

    Yet the name of that city was still pronounced with respect: the frequent and capricious tumults of its inhabitants were indulged with impunity; and the successors of Constantine, instead of crushing the last remains of the democracy by the strong arm of military power, embraced the mild policy of Augustus, and studied to relieve the poverty and to amuse the idleness of an innumerable people. For the convenience of the lazy plebeians, the monthly distributions of corn were converted into a daily allowance of bread; a great number of ovens were constructed and maintained at the public expense; and at the appointed hour, each citizen, who was furnished with a ticket, ascended the flight of steps which had been assigned to his peculiar quarter or division, and received, either as a gift or at a very low price, a loaf of bread of the weight of three pounds for the use of his family

    (DEF II, v.3, p.183)

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