rome up for sale! …everything must go!

There was a night they auctioned off the Roman Empire. From the west coast to the east, it was released, from Araby to Aragon, including the Eternal City Rome at the height of its glory. All in all, it was a vastly impressive piece of real estate…

…Commodus pushed the prefect into the imperial swimming pool, then in front of his three hundred concubines, he made him dance. Then he killed him. Rome had suffered madmen before, but this insouciance had gone a wee bit too far. The new prefect, named Laetus, instinctively understood his first order of business: Commodus had to go. He found co-conpirators in Marcia, the emperor’s mistress and Eclectus, his chamberlain. On New Year’s Eve of 192 they poisoned the self-styled “Young Herculses.” The potion seemed to be working too slowly, so while the emperor was soaking in one of his eight daily baths, they sent in a professional wrestler to break his neck.

—“Obviously you can’t have the emperor going out there and getting killed by some random slave, so Commodus typically fought pre-wounded opponents or, more commonly, opponents who had been given a lead sword to match up against the emperor’s sharpened steel … Adding a malevolent edge to his somewhat ridiculous displays of alleged gladiatorial prowess was the fact that Commodus took particular delight in killing anything that seemed freakish. He would bring in midgets so he could pretend to be a mighty giant, he would bring in amputees and watch them hobble around feebly as he toyed with them, and at times he would put his surgical skills to the test and slowly dismember victims while avoiding major arteries.”—Read More:

The new year began in a truly new way. As successor to Commodus, Laetus had chosen an excellent man, a venerable and virtuous senator named Pertinax. The troops approved their prefect’s candidate, but immediately began to grumble when Pertinax told them that their motto would thereafter be, “Act like soldiers.”

Act like soldiers? After twelve years of laissez faire? Surely he was joking.

But he wasn’t. Pertinax was earnest and honest and too good for that world. He wanted a return to discipline and austerity, those most ancient of Roman virtues. He undertook all kinds of idealistic reforms, even cutting palace expenses in half. Pertinax auctioned off Commodus’s luxurious furniture, as well as the ambisexual harem. Imperial meals became extremely ascetic: salad and veggies with a pauper’s portion of meat. He was a truly noble man. Which is why everyone hated him.

From the earliest moments the palace servants urged the Praetorian guardsmen to kill the disciplinarian who had come to interrupt their anarchy.

—T. S. Eliot, c. 1925: “We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity.”
So has the world really been in constant decline? Or perhaps, as Gibbon put it in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776): “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.”
Words to keep in mind as we try to assess objectively our own generation’s serious problems. —Read More:

And so, eighty-seven days after he took office, Pertinax was confronted by Laetus and a band of his troops, who, as one historian expressed it, “were outraged by his righteousness,&

1; and they killed him and marched back to camp carrying his head. It was March 28, 193, and there was one slight problem.

They had no idea who would be emperor on March 29. They had not considered a replacement.

One would think that with the future of the entire world at stake they might have done some advance planning, but they hadn’t. They didn’t. Now, in a way, it was too late.

It was early evening. The sun had just set after the assassination. Rome was at dinner. In the imperial courtyard lay a body without a head. The head of the emperor was a few hundred yards outside the city walls- in the hands of the Praetorian Guard. Dramatic. Symbolic. And true.

It was a wild moment. Frightening. The emotional pitch of the soldiers was so hight that Laetus was afraid to speak- to propose himself or anyone else as emperor. What next occurred was called by the senator-historian Dio Cassius “the most disgraceful thing that ever happened to Rome.”

It is not known who thought up the idea, but soldiers were soon racing through the streets of Rome shouting that the imperial office was up for sale to the highest bidder. Rome was for sale! ….( to be continued)

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