Arcades of the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti, Florence: Gladiator. Ancient Roman statue (2nd century), copy after an Ancient Greek original (5th century BC). The head is from another Roman statue, it was added in 16th century. Picture by Giovanni Dall'Orto, October 28 2007. Used with permission from Wiki Commons.
I Am Spartacus!
By Richard Girard
" The violence and obscenity are left unadulterated, as manifestation of the mystery and pain which ever accompanies the act of creation." AnaÃ¯s Nin (1903--77) Franco-American novelist, diarist. Preface to Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller(1934).
I have just finished watching the DVD's of the Starz Original Series "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena," and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand." I borrowed them from my local public library, so I was able to watch them in the chronological historic order given above, rather than the order in which they had been shown to the viewing public.
I have always loved the story of the slave and gladiator who rose against Rome. The revolt of Spartacus made Rome tremble in fear at the potential of the overthrow of their corrupt system, a system which exploited the peoples of the Mediterranean every bit as much as the Romans exploited their slaves.
My love for this story goes back to the first time I saw the movie "Spartacus" (1960), with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Laurence Olivier, and Jean Simmons in the early 1970's. It is very tame when viewed today: almost none of the darkest aspects of Roman system of slavery are even hinted at, let alone mentioned. Still, you can't help but cheer for Douglas and his army of gladiators and other slaves, as they confound Rome for almost two years.
Neither the 1960 movie, nor the two Starz miniseries, are particularly accurate in the historical sense. The escape from Batiatus's lanista ( gladiatorial school) was much closer to the facts in the 1960 movie. However, in 1960, no movie maker alive could have brought anything close to the violence and depravity of the Late Roman Republic to the movie screen: it would have been described as smut. The two Starz miniseries certainly do a better job in that regard.
Rome in the Late Republic was a very tightly restrict ed , class based society, where true upward mobility was almost unknown. Those few who succeeded in rising to a higher class, like Gaius Marius and Marcus Tullius Cicero, were fated to be branded novus homo, "new men" by Rome's "One Percent;" individuals to be used but never accepted by the older nobility.
As invariably happens with every strongly hierarchical society, a slave class (de facto or de jure) eventually comes into being. Rome had long had slaves, but in the century following the Second Punic War, the conquests of Rome made it easier and cheaper to buy slaves to work the misappropriated lands of deceased and absent veterans of Rome's wars, than it was to hire Roman citizens. These large plantations (latifundia) were used to grow cash crops rather than grain for their new owners, while Rome itself became dependent on the grain from its conquered territories in Sicily, Sardinia, Africa, Asia Minor, Cisalpine Gaul, and Spain. Like outsourcing today, this policy undercut the ability of Rome's middle class--its remaining yeoman farmers, who were also traditionally the source of its military manpower--to support himself and his family. This in turn forced them to sell their farms to rich patricians and equites (knights, the social class just below the senatorial families), and move to the cities--with the city's grain doles--simply to survive.
The mere fact of slavery led to one of the most interesting aspects of Roman law, which so prided itself in its precision and ability to categorize principles of jurisprudence. Georg W.F. Hegel described this fact in his Philosophy of Right (p. 22), " Omnis definitio in jure civili periculosa ; and in fact the more disconnected and contradictory the phases of a right are, the less possible is a definition of it. A definition should contain only universal features; but these forthwith bring to light contradictions, which in the case of law are injustice, in all their nakedness. Thus in Roman law, for instance, no definition of man was possible, because it excluded the slave. The conception of man [in Rome] was destroyed by the fact of slavery."
America is facing its own de facto forms of slavery today. This exists not only in the illegal immigrants who do not dare voice complaint against working conditions for fear of being reported to Immigration, but, in the attempts by Republican governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, and Jan Brewer of Arizona, to disenfranchise our nation's unions, and establish the so-called "right to work"--actually right to starve--state within their own jurisdictions.
These policies are simply a continuation of the process begun by the Taft-Hartley Act sixty-five years ago, which first established the idea of the "right to work state." This was done to counter the "union shop," something the oligarchs in the South and West especially hated. (See my September 11, 2010 article The Daft-Heartless Act , for more on the real reasons behind that monumental piece of dog excrement masquerading as a piece of legislation.) "Right to work" invariably means right to be paid less than a decent, living wage with benefits, as well as the right to be summarily fired if you complain about that fact. The motivation for this is both racial and class oriented (how dare you tell me how much I pay my Negro/Mexican/White trash employee), and is used as a means to keep control of the masses. (See Douglass A. Blackmon's book, Slavery by Another Name, for more on this subject as it applies to African-Americans.) Parts of the West and most of the South have yet to recover from this oligarchic system of imposed poverty and near poverty even today.
Employers today treat the process of employment as if they were doing you a favor to hire you. The "job creators" attitude in our free market, capitalist system is that hiring human beings is a necessary evil, and if you could be replaced by a monkey or a machine, who would not talk back to them or demand raises, they would do so in an instant. Too many employers take the works of Ayn Rand seriously, and believe that their employees are merely things: parasites who survive solely because of the employer's creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Aldous Huxley was right. "Industrial man--a sentient reciprocating engine having a fluctuating output, coupled to an iron wheel revolving with uniform velocity. And then we wonder why this should be the golden age of revolution and mental derangement." (Time Must Have a Stop, chapter 30; 1944). As I have said before: evil begins in that instant when we make people into things, or when things are given the same rights and privileges as people, see " Choosing the Hardest Thing ," OpEdNews, June 15 2007 .