Rome’s economic bailout, an excerpt from Cornelius Tacitus’ Annals, Book 6.
By Tom Dennen & Cornelius Tacitus
Tacitus was one of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, and ‘a primary source for much of what is known about life the first and second centuries after the life of the Christus’.
Today’s ubiquitous mantra, “if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it,” bears some examination, and the opportunity to do so came through a small magnifying glass focused on Tacitus, given to me by my friend Graham Linscott a South African political and financial writer of some note.
I have and always will maintain that most of mankind’s troubles derive from greed.
Rome, in its latter years, was a hotbed of conspiracies and intrigue that went on and on in orgies of conspiracies, murder and destruction from its outskirts to the Senate chamber, the land, according to Tacitus, bathing ‘in a sea of blood.
This excerpt, taken in context, is but a brief interlude in a chaotic carnival of bloodshed and treachery, a pause just to ‘fix the system’ after which the blood returned to the streets
The financial interlude is halfway through Book 6, and is a parenthesis in his description of Rome’s long, long collapse during that period, which echoes that mantra I mentioned to which I can only add this codicil: “if we forget the pain inflicted upon us by the same perpetrators over and over again, by the same means then we are doomed to be destroyed again by the same instruments wielded by the same perpetrators, again and again.”
Tacitus (AD 55 to 120):
“Meanwhile a powerful host of accusers fell with sudden fury on the class which systematically increased its wealth by usury in defiance of a law passed by Caesar the Dictator defining the terms of lending money and of holding estates in Italy, a law long obsolete because the public good is sacrificed to private interest.
“The curse of usury was indeed of old standing in Rome and a most frequent cause of sedition and discord, and it was therefore repressed even in the throes of a less corrupt morality.
“First, the Twelve Tables prohibited anyone from exacting more than 10 percent, when, previously, the rate had depended on the caprice of the wealthy.
“Subsequently, by a bill brought in by the tribunes, interest was reduced to half that amount, and finally compound interest was wholly forbidden.
“A check too was put by several enactments of the people on evasions, which, though continually put down, still, through strange artifices, reappeared.
“On this occasion, however, Gracchus, the praetor, to whose jurisdiction the inquiry had fallen, felt himself compelled by the number of persons endangered to refer the matter to the Senate. In their dismay the senators, not one of whom was free from similar guilt, threw themselves on the emperor's indulgence.
“He yielded, and a year and six months were granted, within which everyone was to settle his private accounts conformably to the requirements of the law.