"Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit."

C. Iulius Caesar - Commentarii de Bello Civili Bk III.68

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sooty faces

The New Year has struck in Rome already. Our Consuls have changed. Looking back on the last twelve months, Nova Roma has hosted a re-run of the film "The Great Race". Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and his sidekick Maximillian (Peter Falk) bumbled and stumbled their way from one failure to another. Wheels fell off their car, plots were laid and went awry, unlikely alliances were forged and forgotten, and of course a huge pie fight ensued. Sound familiar?

Nova Roma's consular versions of Professor Fate and Maximillian managed to accidentally pour sugar in their own gas tank and attempted running repairs to breakdowns of their own making, managing to short circuit their electric system in the process.

If that wasn't enough they stuffed their vehicle full of multiple navigators all of whom seem to have either had no map to read, fought over the same map and tore it in the process or if they had their own map read it upside down and back to front. If they had all pulled together then the result might have been different.

Instead the result, not surprisingly, was that the consular version of the Hannibal Twin-8 bucked and swayed all over what should have been a fairly straight forward course, managed to "go agricultural" by veering off into fields, lost a few of the occupants along the way, caused a fair swathe of damage and saw many onlookers shaking their heads in amazement at this carnival of disaster and mayhem.

Now of course, weighed against the realities of the world outside our virtual gates, none of these events of the last twelve months could be described as a "crisis" or a "disaster". They were however a series of botched ignominious failures, brought about by a total lack of leadership and vision.

The consular engine was fuelled by partisan politics and personal grudges, and therefore it is hardly surprising that the year reverberated to a series of backfires and coughing and spluttering as they ground to a halt. This fuel was simply too explosive. On more than one occasion our own Fate and Maximillian emerged from the driver's seat with soot on their faces, the result of this combustible mixture exploding.

They not only lost the race through navigational errors, coarse steering, hasty gear changing, poor vehicle maintenance, and generally inept driving skills, but they also failed to finish the race. What makes this level of bumbling and stumbling even more staggering is that this was a one car race.

This wasn't meant to be a Great Race, instead it should have been a comfortable little jaunt into the countryside and back, along well maintained roads. They decided however to head off into the great unknown, chart a dangerous and divisive course, stop frequently for extended rest breaks and then drive with reckless abandon in order to make up for lost time.

They didn't even cross the finish line and are still out there in the wilderness of Nova Roman politics. Tonight as the sands of time ran out and as the last grain dropped, Fate and Maximillian were nowhere to be seen. It cannot even be said with any honesty that they passed the first checkpoint.

Instead we have watched them drive around in circles for a year, achieving nothing and wasting their entry form into this exclusive race. Simply staying in the race is not a success or anything to be proud of, rather it is the baseline expectation for elected officials.

So their race has ended without any explosion of champagne corks, no streamers, no honking horns, no adoring looks, in fact nothing has marked its end, other than Professor Fate rushing to enter another race in the censorial Hannibal Twin-9, and it should serve as an object lesson to all current and future consuls, a veritable model of poor planning, incompetence, irritability and impatience.

We can only hope that the year ahead sees our new Consuls embarking on less dangerous and more considerate driving and definitely paying more attention to the road ahead; less haste more speed.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A good day to be Roman

The election of Tiberius Galerius Paulinus as Consul is excellent news. He brings a good combination of practicality, traditionalism and energy to the office. He can be doggedly determined, yet he is also able to negotiate alternative routes to the same goal.

Gaius Equitius Cato was elected as Praetor, an equally excellent result. Anyone who frequents the Nova Roman forum on a regular basis will know this man. Dedicated, witty, charming, relentless in debate and analytical in reflection, this man is the quintessential Roman patrician. He can be a true friend and doughty foe. Justice is safe in this man’s hands.

Titus Iulius Sabinus was not so fortunate in his attempt at the Praetor’s tribunal, which is a great pity for he and Cato were a good team this year as Curule Aediles. Sabinus is organized, methodical, inspiring and a really good man. Nova Roma benefited immensely from all his hard work organizing the various games and festivals his year. He will make an excellent Praetor, and I hope that day will be soon.

Hopefully better days lie ahead for Nova Roma.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ungodly, unspeakable, and unattainable

The proposed elimination of the Collegium Pontificum’s right to issue constitutionally protected decreta signals the most foolhardy risk that could be taken in order to solve an internal issue of voting gridlock. For some, winning is obviously more important than the long-term security of the Religio Romana.

Not content with exposing the Collegium to the possibility of hostile interference, the author has included a raft of duties and functions that are largely impossible to fulfill. This legalistic role-play is exactly the sort of example that the opponents of Nova Roma’s legal system have seized on in the past.

Normally one would have expected these well known Luddites to heap derision on this long-winded shopping list of theoretical priestly duties, but so far they are silent. Since the aim of this “reform” is to allow one faction in the Collegium total victory over its opponents, the normal objections have of course been shelved.

What a classic example of Nova Roman power politics at its best, and better still this long and dreary suicide note is to be tacked onto the already discredited Constitution.

The ungodly married to the unspeakable in pursuit of the unattainable.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Trick and no treat

Its that time of year when juveniles dress up as monsters and the cries of "trick or treat" ring out. Sadly here in Nova Roma the cry is "trick and no treat". Yes, its election time!

Recall those parties as a child when the fat little monster turned up and when offered one cookie grabbed the whole plate and ran off into the corner? You know, the sort of child that could have ended up under a mountain in the dark, whispering about his "precious"? Here in Nova Roma of course we have no rings of power, just another pointy hat to add to a burgeoning collection.

Hickory, dickory, dot!,
The consuls promised a lot.
Hickory, dickory, dot!,
The votes they got,
Then they ditched the lot.
Hickory, dickory, dot!

The question is who got egged in the face? Us or them?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Sawing into freedom

I recently read on one particular Yahoo list the varied views of a small selection of new citizens. The old saw about the rough and tumble nature of the Main List surfaced. The Main List is our forum, and as such it is open to all. Since Nova Roma is a community many issues will be debated there and yes, frequently they involve politics and law, which can certainly evoke heated debates.

An experiment was once tried, where no one posted on any topic concerning those two categories. This was meant to encourage the free flow of debate and discussion on higher and nobler subjects, such as art, literature, poetry, history etc. The result? Very few people posted and there was certainly no renaissance that flowered in place of all these apparently ghastly and verbally bloody debates.

The day that we stop debating politics and law on the Main List is the day we hand over control of Nova Roma to the intellectual elite, or at least to those that consider themselves such.

An intellectual oligarchy would be as much as an anathema to the concept of a res publica as rule by one man.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reform and the Religio

The proposed legislation to reform the activities of the priestly colleges of Nova Roma has, as I predicted, seen the light of day on the Main List and the key theme is accountability. The Pontifex Maximus is accountable for individual members of the religious colleges, while the latter will be accountable as well, for actions and research. Much of this proposal appears to be grounded in tradition and for that alone we should be grateful.

Practicality however has to run parallel with tradition. If it is not practical to introduce “X”, then enshrining it in a law that can lay such a proposal open to the allegations that it is another example of role-playing, regardless of how traditional or accurate it is. That can be true, but equally it can be a precipitate charge and in this case clearly the intention is to provide a framework for further debate and subsequent decisions over the exact meaning of sections and terminology. For example referring to temples would appear to be precipitate, but as was pointed out to me, the relevant religious colleges could decide the exact definition of a temple later. Can a temple be a virtual one? Do we define a temple as including the activities associated with a physical structure? Good questions that would hopefully be sensibly answered after serious debate.

A potential problem arises in that this proposal must be rendered into a lex and a constitutional amendment. As most of us in Nova Roma know, at least those of us who care to honestly admit it, the constitution is a deeply flawed document that cannot be lawfully interpreted, though many will simply ignore that fact and attempt to drive their own interpretations into practical effect.

Therefore imprecision in language or conceptual vagueness, not to mention an absence of definitions can unwittingly create a legal void. A interpretational void in a lex, where the meaning is unclear can sometimes be legitimately filled by edicts, although in the long term it would of course be better to reduce the number of these voids by crafting the lex in a precise manner to begin with. Edicts have a finite lifespan and unless they are renewed by successive magistrates they die, and so too will the interpretations they contain. Edicts are an excellent instrument by which to resolve emergent unforeseen problems. In this case the intention I assume is that the religious colleges will issue decreta to “flesh out” the skeletal structure before us. Then again perhaps this duty will not fall to either of the Colleges and the reason for that supposition lies in the nature of the proposal and comments made on the Main List.

The Nova Roman constitution, as it stands, protects any decreta issued by either of the two religious colleges from being overruled by “any laws passed in the comitia or a Senatus consultum”. However that is a reactive clause that first requires a decretum be issued and then an attempt be made to negate it before this protective clause comes into play. If this law is to be effective a constitutional change will be necessary, a fact already acknowledged on the Main List by Gnaeus Salvius Astur. Additionally Astur writes, in respect of one section of the proposal, that “it reestablishes the role of the Senate as the highest responsible body for the Sacra Publica”. From this one has to deduce that at the very least Section 1.B. of the constitution, that notorious section on legal precedence, together with sections VI.B.1 and VI.B.2.a will have to be overturned.

Having removed the protection currently afforded to the religious colleges and placed the ultimate control of Sacra Publica in the hands of the Senate, that body through a Senatus consultum can be the ones to put flesh onto the bones of this skeletal proposal, one assumes in consultation with the one or both of the colleges, but there will be no evident mandated requirement to do so. In other words the balance of power in respect of the Sacra publica will be stripped from the colleges and placed into the hands of the Senate. So to me it appears that one possible scenario, should this proposal pass into law and the constitution be changed, is that the Senate will define those elements of the Sacra publica, relegating the colleges to issuing decreta on purely internal matters pertaining only to the mechanics of college affairs. While this may be said to be historically accurate, it is also extremely fraught practically speaking, and we should all consider the consequences quite carefully.

The Senate is not just comprised of practitioners of the Religio privata. It contains, as does Nova Roma, people of many different religious faiths and possibly those who have no faith at all. It is by nature a secular body and a political one too. Nova Roman politics can be quite “intense”, to say the least and while that, to me, is a healthy state of affairs it also inevitably results in quite polarized differences of opinion, compounded by personal likes and dislikes.

The Senate therefore can be said to be quite an accurate reconstruction of its late republican ancestor. The fundamental difference lies in the fact that it contains many people who are not practitioners of the Religio privata and have no intention of ever becoming one. Moreover those people have not grown up in a society utterly drenched in the traditions and ceremonies of the Religio publica. Few practitioners of the Religio privata have either, being “converts” later in life, but they do have their beliefs as a yardstick against which to judge proposals.

By contrast non-practitioners will have to approach such a judgement from a logical analysis, rather than an emotive one. Some may say that that is a better approach, but the Religio publica means, obviously, far more to a practitioner than a non-practitioner. The latter can genuinely afford it respect but the emotive “fall-out” of a proposed Senatus consultum, or in a wider sense a lex, can utterly escape them. This is not a deficiency on their part, but a simple result of a lack of emotional investment in the Religio, be it privata or publica.

Religious belief of all sorts involves an emotional investment to fully appreciate, for example, the deep significance of rituals. One can appreciate their historical importance and even take a reasonable stab at grasping the current importance attached to them, but I would suggest that the full religious importance of a Hindu ritual will not be experienced by an atheist, any more than a Christian can fully appreciate the Religio publica and privata. Respect and emotional intuitive understanding are two different concepts.

Therefore if the true significance of proposals that affect the Religio publica are to be grasped by non-practitioners, regardless of what positions they hold in Nova Roma, it is absolutely essential that the views of the religious colleges are invited and respected. The moment that the view of the majority of the Senate is in conflict with the view of the majority of one or both of the colleges constitutes a very dangerous flashpoint. Legally the Senate will be able to impose its view, but it would do so at grave risk at exacerbating the evident dislocation that a number of practitioners evidently feel, given the views expressed on the Main List and elsewhere.

There is a feeling abroad that Nova Roma currently has very little to do with the strengthening of the Religio publica, and there is the continuing risk that the majority of practitioners that remain will end up being polarized in the view that they are an isolated and endangered group within Nova Roma whose voice is paid little heed. That could all too easily develop into an open, continuing and very fractious conflict.

So we will be dependant on the good sense of the Senate to fully involve the colleges and defer to their views if, as a secular body, it wishes to preserve the religious peace in Nova Roma. As it will be legally the supreme decision maker there can be no checks or balances that prevent it from deviating from the views of the colleges, for obviously that would result in it no longer being supreme.

Indeed the Senate could elect to dismiss the views of the colleges as unrepresentative of the views of practitioners based on its “analysis” of the situation. The members of the Senate are fallible and prone to the same human failings we all are, and those personal and ideological divides that clearly place individual Senators at odds with each other, so much so that they could reasonably be described as personal enemies, could influence the “analysis” of a proposal that affects the Religio publica, compounded by the fact that a number of the protagonists are not practitioners of the Religio privata.

Therefore this legislative proposal with voids of this sort, combined with relegating the religious colleges to what is inevitably a legally subordinate role, and the existence of personal animosities, makes for a volatile mix. It maybe alleged to be historically accurate but practically it is exceptionally risky. Since the Senate is not a static body, changes in its membership may further increase the risk of a breakdown of what can only be a “gentleman’s agreement” to rely on the advice of the religious colleges to guide the decision making process of the Senate.

Further, what happens if the Senate elects to support a minority, rather than majority, view of the colleges? Legally, nothing but again practically the consequences could be disastrous. At a time of its nascent development, is it appropriate to place the final authority for the Religio publica in the hands of a secular body, not all of whose members are practitioners of the Religio privata?

This proposal could under ideal circumstances work, and work reasonably well, but the provision relating to electing the Pontifex Maximus is in my opinion utterly unwise and should be struck. I equally believe that the risks to religious peace in Nova Roma are too great to place the Senate in a dominant role over the Religio publica. The remainder of the proposals have merit, although again there are elements that are currently impractical at face value and would require more detailed definition. Should that definition be left solely to the religious colleges I would rest more easily, as I suspect would many others of all shades of “political” opinion.

After carefully considering its provisions I respect its attempt at historical accuracy, I hope that the motivation for this proposal was to enhance the Religio publica and not emasculate a faction within the Collegium Pontificum, and I am concerned that the fundamental shift in responsibility will make the Religio publica and the Religio in general even more of a battleground than it has been in the past.

For this proposal to work, it will require, in my estimation, an immense amount of good faith, trust, respect and adherence to an unwritten rule that the views of the colleges will be heeded and not contradicted. I am far from hopeful that all these conditions will come into alignment and remain so.

Monday, May 22, 2006

And yet another theory on Jesus

Jesus, son of Roman soldier?

After The Da Vinci Code, which upset many Christians with its premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered a child, would anyone dare make even more shocking claims? This author does and he’s no fiction writer but a respected historian

The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity
By James D. Tabor
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 384 pages
(ISBN: 0-743-28723-1)

Review by Dr NG KAM WENG
AT first glance, The Jesus Dynasty seems like another dubious book cashing in on the notoriety of Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code. However, a quick perusal of the book will dispel this notion, given the academic credentials of the author, James Tabor. Tabor comes across as an archaeologist who has patiently collected and coordinated solid evidence to support his bold thesis. The Jesus Dynasty bears the marks of a well-researched academic book.

At the outset, the book argues for an alternative history of the origins of the Christian faith in Jesus the Messiah. Some of its provocative theses include the following:

1) There was no Virgin Birth. Mary, the mother of Jesus was either seduced or raped by a Roman soldier named Pantera (whose grave Tabor allegedly found in Germany). This claim, if true, would shatter Christian faith considerably.

2) Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, from whom he got his understanding of the Messianic vocation. John and Jesus took on the role of Jewish Messiahs and preached the coming of the Kingdom of God amidst political turmoil. Jesus included his four blood brothers in the Council of the Twelve, which he formed in anticipation of his success in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.

3) Christianity traditionally identifies the “beloved” disciple as John. Not so, says Tabor. It was actually James, Jesus’ brother. After Jesus was crucified by the Romans, his brother James – the “Beloved Disciple” – took over the leadership of the Jesus Dynasty and ruled for 30 years, although to say “ruled” might be an exaggeration since he had no more than a motley band of impoverished, persecuted Christians in his charge.

In short, Tabor claims that, “Jesus by age thirty functions as head of the household and forges a vital role for his brothers, who succeed him in establishing a Messianic Dynasty destined to change the world” (page 81). In this regard, both Tabor and Brown promote the conspiracy theory that the Church continues to suppress the truth of history out of vested interests.



Roman treasure to stay in Bristol

Thousands of Roman coins will go on permanent display in Bristol after the city's museum was awarded £22,500 of lottery money. The hoard of 11,460 coins - the third largest found in the UK - was unearthed in 2004 by a gardener in Thornbury.

Since the discovery, Bristol Museum has been seeking cash to put the copper and silver alloy coins on display.

Grants totalling more than £40,000 have now been raised to keep the coins, which date back to AD 270, in Bristol.

"We are delighted that the coin hoard is able to remain in Bristol and are able to give the public access to one of the most exciting finds in this area," said Kate Brindley, director of Bristol's museums, galleries and archives.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Baalbek Roman-era treasures

Baalbek excavations unearth Roman-era treasures
Artifacts found in Unusual Burial structure shed light
on long-lost traditions

By Rym Ghazal Daily Star staff
Friday, April 21, 2006

BEIRUT/BAALBEK: A pair of beetle-shaped gold earrings, finger-sized glass flasks, glass and bronze rings, scattered gold leafs - some twisted into the shape of a mouth or eyes - iron nails, and remains of skeletons were just some of the "treasures" recently unearthed in Baalbek from Roman-era burial caves - each piece carrying its own tale from the past.

Burial sites and the artifacts found within have been the "most critical records of the past," - shedding light on long lost practices and traditions.

"We just keep dipping into a paradise of treasures from the Roman-era," said archaeologist Khaled al-Rifai, who heads the archeological team sent by the "General Antiques Department" to accompany the construction company working on a sewage network in Baalbek because of its archaeological importance, and who have been making headlines this month with their series of discoveries of Roman-era treasures dating from the 2nd or 3rd century AD.



Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Instant Vision Fertilization

Our two Consuls have just nine months left in which to produce a vision for Nova Roma and they now need a premature birth in order that they have sufficient time to smack some life into it. So far the sum total of the year has been a botched attempt to circumvent the Collegium Pontificum and, currently, the latest attempt at resolving the methodology for resigning from citizenship and/or office in Nova Roma.

Some of us of course still remain unconvinced that “I quit” needs a Byzantine depth of officialdom and rubber-stamping to occur before we are all allowed to “officially” recognize that yet another horse has bolted out of the stable. In fact by the time this tortuous process is complete our escaping horse will probably have lived a full life, expired and been boiled down for glue.

It remains unclear if the vision that may yet be born has actually even been conceived and which of the two prospective parents will carry this wonder child. Maybe they are planning the gynecological equivalent of pass-the-parcel, where each of them has a turn at baking this baby to full term, or they may elect for just one of them to play mommy. Certainly there are no evident signs that conception has occurred, as neither of them looks the least bit swollen with one iota of an idea, let alone an embryonic vision.

Possibly the relative silence from Mommy and Daddy can be explained by visits to the IVF clinic, otherwise known as Instant Vision Fertilization. It could be that at this very moment a white clad and masked technician is inserting a horse sized syringe up a nose. Thousands of tadpole tailed little bursts of inspiration could be surging and coursing upwards, desperately swimming against time, trying to reach a gray barely pulsating cranial egg, before they expire from exhaustion.

If we are lucky one of them may finish this marathon and burrow deep enough to cause a neuron to fire. On the other hand, it may all just dribble back down and out of the nostril, so I’m not rushing out yet to buy a gift for their baby shower.

In fact there may not be enough stock in the Idea Bank to handle this gargantuan task.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The power of fear

The debate has commenced again over two related issues, the Constitution and potential threats to the Religio Romana.

Those in favour of the retaining a rigid Constitution that occupies a position of superiority in the hierarchy of legal authorities claim that fire walling Nova Roma with this document is necessary in order to preserve the Religio and the principal organs of the state, such as the Senate.

Those that believe, myself among them, that the Constitution should not be legally dominant contend that it fails to deliver the requisite protection claimed by its supporters, and instead is often both the catalyst and focus of intractable problems and serious discord.

The Constitution was an understandable effort at the creation of Nova Roma to provide a substitute for an established and powerful mos maiorum. It was seen as necessary to enshrine in a legal document sufficient constraints that would serve as legal, rather than socio-political, brakes against any efforts to disestablish the Religio or tamper with the basic organs of a Roman republic.

That effort, however laudable, not only laid the seeds for the seemingly endless examples of the failure of the Constitution to live up to its inherent purpose, but also has created the very discord that it sought to protect against.

The Constitution establishes itself as the supreme legal authority, with the exception of a dictator or in more limited scope the Senate acting under the authority of a Senatus consultum ultimum. It does not allow for anyone to interpret it and thus what is written has to be applied literally, and not bent to the shape that those influential enough to ignore logic and reason demand. Because the wording is often muddled and the underlying concepts poorly thought through, the result of any application of those sections is a precursor to a fractious debate.

The Constitution is an utterly inappropriate medium to capture the social and political mores of republican Rome. In large part these were unwritten conventions, the application of which would inevitably be driven by the prevailing political and military dictates of the day. There would be occasions when the Senate no doubt was comfortable with ignoring the established mos maiorum.

Only a fraction of the debates and issues have survived the passage of history, and not all would have been classed as momentous or critical. Consequently it is logical to assume that there may well have been occasions when the Senate conveniently forgot about the mos maiorum, for the sake of expediency.

Trying to circumvent the Constitution is, if one is to be intellectually honest, virtually impossible where it is clear and unequivocal, and thus trying to represent it as an alternative to the mos maiorum is conversely fundamentally dishonest. Now of course one could argue that it is as possible to change the Constitution as it was the mos maiorum. Certainly the similarities at a very high level of analysis are apparent. Both enshrine the prevailing “sacred cows” of the day and both can be changed, albeit with difficulty. There is a fundamental difference between the two however that concerns the rationale for creating and preserving both.

The mos maiorum was generally speaking the accepted limitations or usage of law, power, economics, in fact all aspects that affected the life of a Roman, in particular those at the more influential end of the social spectrum. The mos maiorum probably had more significance and importance to a resident of the Palatine, than an insula dweller in the Subura. It was a collection of customs that had proved acceptable to those in power, and to those who on occasions had harnessed the latent power of Rome’s masses.

Some aspects of the mos maiorum seem eminently sensible; others can only be explained rationally by reference to the self-interests of a powerful, yet small, elite. It comprised the most fundamental with the most specific and narrow of concepts, some of which dated back to the birth of the res publica. Other parts were the consequences of more recent struggles. It was a veritable bazaar of rules, jumbled, muddled and thoroughly Roman, the end product of years of trial and error, compromise and practicality. It included principles so basic to the Roman character that one could not imagine a republic without them.

By contrast the Nova Roman constitution is meant to serve at least four functions. Firstly it is meant to serve as the bylaws of Nova Roma Inc., the US corporate entity that underpins the day-to-day activities of Nova Roma the Republic. This can be dealt with by stating that the laws of Nova Roma form the bylaws of the corporation. Secondly, it is meant to be the protective shield that ensures the survival of the Religio Publica specifically and the Religio in an encompassing sense. Thirdly, it provides the framework for the government of Nova Roma and fourthly it guarantees certain rights to the citizen body.

These are fundamental core concepts inscribed in the e-waves of the Internet. The social attitudes of the day as reflected in the political or administrative life of Nova Roma are not present, for these would prove to be difficult to distil into a comprehensive and by nature necessarily limited document.

For example there is a currently a determined effort in the Censor’s office of Cn. Equitius Marinus to improve the quality of names granted to new citizens and to gently encourage existing ones with names that flout Roman naming conventions to change them. Much of these efforts have been reduced to the form of laws, in order that we all gain clarity of understanding and in order, no doubt, to add a permanency to the process.

In Nova Roma this may be necessary, but in Ancient Rome it was the natural order, not a law. People then did not need a law to govern their choices when naming their children, social custom governed them. The laws in Nova Roma speak to the processes, while the mos maiorum would have spoken to the higher-level facts, not the minutiae of administration within the Censor’s office. The Constitution, and indeed any law, compels compliance, whereas the mos maiorum inspired it. It was an unwritten code devised and enforced by the social elite and complied with by people who were proud to be Roman. Many would have considered it untenable to flout the directives of the greatest in the land, quite simply un-Roman.

The power of the mos maiorum lay in this appeal to the patriotism of all Romans, and in a class delineated society, the desire to fit in and to climb the social ladder. Attempting to tamper with the mos maiorum would have led to, at the very least, political suicide and sometimes, as the brothers Gracchi discovered, physical death. The Romans would have scoffed at the need to enshrine certain basics, such as the structure of government, in a law. During the glory days of the Republic the fact that there should always be a Senate was so widely and completely accepted that a law would have been redundant.

The critics of abolishing the constitution will claim that as we in Nova Roma are years from this form of compliance it is absolutely necessary to create, maintain and protect a Constitution. This however precludes the evident result that what is included in that document will never substitute for the mos maiorum, due in no small part to the limitations of the law.

Law requires a precision of language that would render the translation of the mos maiorum into a shadow of itself. Since it was unwritten and instilled in the future policy makers throughout their formative years, by example as well as by instruction, the definition and interpretation of the mos maiorum varied, but the underlying concepts were general enough to ensure a commonality of compliance.

For example, the law might say, “A is defined as X and must exist within the confines of Y, except where condition Z exists. Failure to obey the content of A will cause result B to occur.” Since those parts of the mos maiorum that were unwritten could never achieve the clarity that the law could, at least in its most theoretical state, a verbal explanation of “A” would probably be a simple statement linked to the historical circumstances surrounding its creation.

My interpretation of what “A” is will not necessarily be that of the next person, and the description of its historical setting could be substantially different. The result was compliance with core concepts and divergence over the details, with the consequence that when circumstances arose that brought this aspect of the mos maiorum into focus, there would likely have been a general acceptance of the principle but debate over the applicability of the details.

This ensured the relevance of the mos maiorum and allowed for a gradual erosion of parts of it that could not be maintained in the face of external forces. The principle could still be acknowledged as valid and desirable, but the practicalities of the moment could gently push the untenable part to one side. This model of change would have been most applicable to reasoned debates within the Senate. Change initiated by the people could be more dramatic and in the latter years of the republic, violent.

Trying to achieve the same result through codification in a law will be a hopeless task. The details of the topic are rendered fixed and immutable, while the underlying principle is probably not even described. Even if some form of preliminary introduction is included, cementing the details in concrete form makes the likelihood of debate over relevance very remote. If it does occur, particularly in the context of the Constitution, it can only be as a debate over the general desirability of the section in question, rather than its applicability to the issue of the moment.

The absolute nature of the law will terminate discussion, for the law is the law and compliance is mandatory. Any attempts, even with the best of motives, to deviate from that principle will result in similar attempts being made in circumstances where there is no overwhelming consensus to ignore a law. Laws have to be strictly adhered to, where no ambiguity in the drafting exists, for to do otherwise invites contempt for the rule of law and ultimately anarchy.

Clearly if the Constitution is not to grow so ridiculously large that it becomes useless as a body of law, there is a limit to how much of what would normally be part of the mos maiorum could be included in it. Equally the level of detail and explanation must be similarly curtailed. The end product must therefore be a document that has only the most transitory relevance as a vessel containing the social, political and legal mores of Nova Roma.

These facts ensure an unhealthy dependency on an inferior product, with limited ability to affect change. The duality of voting and the majority needed to change the Constitution make this a tedious and slow process. Historically in issues of policy the Senate could elect to follow the mos maiorum or adopt a new course, whereas in Nova Roma this flexibility is absent.

For the mos maiorum to assume its fundamental characteristic of constancy, change could not be affected lightly, so while I make reference to its ability to change (due partly to it being largely unwritten), it should not be inferred that such changes were regular or frivolous. That said, we in Nova Roma have a process that has subverted the traditional role of the mos maiorum, with a foundation resting on concrete absolutes set in a framework that is cumbersome, focused solely on process, relying on the dictates of modern constitutional law and drafted in a restrictive yet not definitive manner.

This brings into focus the claim that is starting to surface as a defence for the continued existence of the Constitution, that its substitution for the mos maiorum is only necessary until such point as the citizen body as a whole has clearly developed a sense of Romanitas to the degree necessary to be able to competently understand, respect and abide by the mos maiorum. This is an approach which can be characterized as a “Nanny’s Charter”, where control is deemed necessary in order to prevent opportunistic magistrates from herding the voting populace into courses of action aimed at dismantling Nova Roma’s structure and disestablishing the Religio. For this latter reason to be a valid reason for maintaining a Constitution four sets of general circumstances would have to exist in a post-constitution Nova Roma.

Firstly, it would presuppose that the voting population in the upper level centuries, consisting particularly of those who had given service to Nova Roma in positions of central and provincial responsibility, would be swayed into dismantling a fundamental part of the Republic. What makes it so unlikely is that the people who would have to vote in favour would have owed their advancement to the system and to individuals who in all likelihood would be sitting in the Senate or the Collegium Pontificum. While of course not clients of their “sponsors”, there would still be an influence that could be legitimately brought to bear on them. Additionally such a “revolution” would be unlikely to begin from within the system, among those that have served and benefited from it. Thus it remains only a theoretical possibility, not a credible one.

Secondly, it is based on the supposition that there is either a deliberate “plot” to undermine the Religio Publica or at best a dismissive and negligent attitude exhibited towards it survival. The sad truth is that the Religio Publica, as distinct from the Collegium Pontificum, doesn’t merit any determined plot because its pulse and respiration can be barely measured.

Why would a gang of rabid Christian zealots waste time trying to eradicate what to all intents is practically dead anyway? To do so would in fact be to their disadvantage as such a policy may generate sympathy and support for the Religio Publica. As to the existence of a negligent attitude, that undoubtedly does exist, in part due to the very determined political efforts that have been made in recent years to oust the strict conservative reconstructionists from the Collegium Pontificum.

Thirdly, it presupposes that no veto would be interposed. This is highly unlikely. A rogue Consul would have his colleague’s veto to contend with, as well as the Tribuncian veto. Two rogue Consuls would still have to contend with the Tribunes. Even allowing for the Consuls and Tribunes being in league, the Senate would have to sit idly by and not pass the Senatus consultum ultimum or appoint a Dictator. If all these normal checks and balances failed, then once again the people would have to vote for it.

Fourthly, this assumes that influential supporters of the Religio would not be canvassing support to defeat such a measure. Clearly under these circumstances the Religio as a whole, or at the very least the Religio Publica, would have lost all support in Nova Roma. While the Collegium Pontificum may come under scrutiny and criticism, this is in large part due to political and personal differences. To destroy the Religio Publica in order to destroy the Collegium Pontificum is a step that is barely credible as a policy and highly unlikely to command support, for to amputate one’s head to cure a headache is ridiculous.

The desire, of those adherents of the Religio opposed to repealing the Constitution, to maintain the firewall provided by it is very understandable, but totally misguided. The Constitution can be changed. The Senate could also see its composition and thus its prevailing views changed. The Constitution can only offer limited protection, and if like the Maginot Line a future “enemy” simply circumvents these limited protections, then defeat is inevitable.

If there were a total failure of the checks and balances listed in the four factors above, then the protection afforded by the Constitution would also be totally overwhelmed. It is far more likely that the normal protections, as opposed to constitutional ones, would simply eradicate the threat before it was ever necessary to rely on the Senate’s 2/3rd majority provision. If the four fail, then the constitutional protection will also have inevitably failed. Thus the Constitution is a paper tiger and utterly unnecessary to defend the primacy of the Religio. With or without the Constitution the Religio will have the same chances of survival, no greater or smaller.

If then the Constitution can never deliver more protection than the normal checks and balances, and in fact is likely to do less, and it can never act as even a poor substitute for the mos maiorum, what then is the reason for keeping it?

There is only one rational explanation, namely that the power elite in Nova Roma has little to no faith in its citizens. Those that cleave so passionately and desperately to the Constitution obviously have little trust in the people in whose name they exercise their “authority”.

For some this is rooted in the hostile attitude that elements of this modern world show towards their beliefs. It is an entirely understandable reaction to being marginalized and persecuted for over 1,700 years. They have absolutely no reason to place their trust in those that don’t share that faith, and yet they stand to loose everything if they do not.

For the others, the seekers of power and titles, they are utterly beyond the power of rational debate or logic. They cannot see that people become citizens because they are fascinated with Ancient Rome, and have been delighted to discover Nova Roma. Instead they view every new member as a potential fifth columnist, presumed guilty until they prove their allegiance to the power bloc of the day. They pay no heed to the fact that a new citizen or even groupings of citizens who have been here years have little voting power if they haven’t accumulated the required century points. Certainly the small amount they have and the likelihood that they are capite censi, relegates most new citizens to the ranks of the lower centuries and/or the urban tribes. They pose no threat to Nova Roma, so reference to plots, potential plots, misguided voters, the influence of rogue magistrates are all smokescreens to hide behind.

The simple truth is that the secular power elite has no reason to fear or suspect the people, but everything to loose, in their own eyes, by having faith in them. The further one climbs the greasy pole of power in Nova Roma, the more likely that one is to be contaminated by this nonsense. It all seems so rational of course, the benevolent wise ones ministering to the intellectually unwashed and misguided. The refrain of all elites, of despots and dictators has echoed through the ages, and shadows of it can even be seen here in Nova Roma. This attitude could be best summarized by this, as yet, imaginary address:

“Citizens, leave it to your betters to decide what is best for the state, for there are dark forces gathering and waiting to strike at the heart of our Republic. Place your trust in us and in the Constitution!”

There is no gathering storm in Nova Roma and there never has been, nor is it likely that there ever would be. At our current rate of growth we are simply insignificant and not worth the bother. One would have to be a very shortsighted anarchist that expended time and effort infiltrating Nova Roma, and a very under-employed religious zealot that sought to destroy the Religio.

There will never be a time in the future when the citizen body is developed enough to allow for the mos maiorum to play a full part in the life of Nova Roma, nor will there ever be an optimum time for the “ordinary” law to regain its place in the legal chain of authority, for the people to be trusted enough to be given the ultimate authority through the law to decide their own fate, for better or worse. Why? Because the power elites of Nova Roma will never judge that those times have come, for their agenda is one of tight and limited control. They mouth the phrase that the people of Nova Roma are supreme, but they invest no energy in trusting the people and yet plenty in constraining them through the Constitution.

The Constitution is just one method of “control” amongst many. Maybe its adherents really on some level believe the myths about its protective power, but then again after the sad experience of Tiberius Galerius Paulinus in his failed attempt to claim his right of provocatio, who but a charlatan, a mountebank, a carpetbagger, could delude themselves that the Constitution is anything other than a means to prevent the people from determining their own destiny?

What is at stake in Nova Roma for so long as we have the Constitution is freedom and respect. Each day that the Constitution remains in force is another day of shame. A shame that those powerful elites are so insecure in their paltry positions of “power”, with all the built in restraints and checks that they have at their disposal, that they refuse to grant the people the right to choose that destiny.

Each day that the Religio Publica hides under the skirts of the Constitution, and its adherents lack the courage necessary to take it out into the open, to convince, to persuade, to be proud, to be an integral part of Nova Roma rather than some sickly child that has to be kept in its room out of the sunlight, is another day that demeans those who follow the path of the Religio.

Enough of hiding in the dark, let us understand a simple truth, that if the majority of the people reject the Religio Publica, and even the Religio as a whole, then it cannot survive, Constitution or no Constitution. The longer the Religio remains trapped by its past and fearful of the future, the more likely that it will suffer a slow death through increasing irrelevance to the life of Nova Roma. The Constitution is an impediment to its potential and future growth, because it promotes a siege mentality. Trapped in a far from gilded cage, the Religio will wither and die. It is time to release it.

Likewise release the people from the shackles of the Constitution and treat them as the adults that they are. Have faith in them, for if you have no faith and instead fear the consequences, they will repay you with an equal amount of distrust and hostility.

Be vigilant by all means and be prepared for the unlikely, but ultimately believe in Nova Roma by believing in the common sense of the people to be given the power to legislate at will, unfettered by the tarnished chains of the Constitution.

Believe also that they have the capacity to learn enough about Roman society that they can follow the mos maiorum. Do this now, for now is as good a time as any to begin to build Nova Roma from within. No better time will come and unless we do this soon, all that awaits Nova Roma is a slow and painful death through all-consuming fear and lack of growth as a Roman citizen body.

We can either ascend to heights only dictated by our willingness to go further, or we can plumb the depths and eventually disappear from view completely into the abyss of irrelevance.

I choose the heights. What do you choose?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dyrrhachium or Pharsalus?

In an earlier post, “The Barge of the Dead”, I commented on the fact that there wasn’t any actual “work” for our citizens. It appears that the Consuls of this year have responded to this dire state of unemployment, and particular credit for this act of social welfare must go to Modianus. He has taken eleven citizens, which equates to 4.6% of our taxpayers, into the fold of his paternal toga making them his Accensi, thereby relieving the state of any responsibility for keeping them occupied and off the streets.

Before you jump to the wrong conclusion that these are mere ragamuffins, left to wander our republic bereft of support, let me point out that four of them are consulars and former censors, five are senators and two are propraetors. No ordinary waifs and strays here, no residents of the Subura need apply. A number of them hail from Nova Roma’s Palatine. This is a powerhouse of support for our Senior Consul, and if they are all actively involved in giving him advice, his ears must be dinned. These intellectual praetorians will no doubt be deployed at the first hint of a crisis, and if between them they can’t avert it, surely the end-of-days must have come upon us.

I await, in eager anticipation with stopwatch in hand, the advent of such a calamity. How long will it take from the first appearance of trouble to its eradication? Will there be a stampede of eminent personages togas flying, racing into our virtual forum to confront and strike down the problem? Can Modianus restrain these seasoned war-horses from galloping to the sound of battle, or will his posterior, up-ended, be the last we see of him as they trample over him?

It must have seemed eminently sensible to Modianus to recruit these heavyweights into his corner, for with their degree of influence in various quarters of Nova Roma, his consular path would be far less rocky. At first glance it seems very advantageous to have a wealth of experience at one’s disposal. The reality of the situation may prove somewhat more vexing, for Modianus is a newly promoted general in a tent full of Field Marshals.

The problem arises in the strength of some of their characters and firmly established beliefs. These men are not wallflowers and even if they remain publicly silent the assumption is that there will be many private discussions taking place. It is during the course of these that one asks oneself whether Modianus will be allowed to play with the big boys? Worse still, even if he is the master of his own destiny, will anyone actually believe that?

Now of course these eminent Accensi have too much couth to deliberately eclipse our Senior Consul, but given their wealth of experience it will be hard to judge over the course of the year whether Modianus is leading or being led. His noble Accensi could all take an infinite number of oaths swearing that Modianus is the general in his own tent, and I would accept their word that they truly do believe this, but even they may not understand how their opinions, both individually and combined, are affecting the resolve of Modianus to steer an independent course.

The job of an Accensus is of course to offer advice and any Consul would be wise to listen to it, but ultimately he must balance that advice against his own convictions. The more advice one seeks and the more varying the opinions, the more complex the decision-making formula becomes. That difficulty factor increases exponentially the greater the auctoritas of the Accensi providing it. The final exponent in the formula is that relating to the personal relationships existing between Consul and individual Accensi. A strong friendship can inadvertently lend itself to extra weight being attached to opinions, more so than they may deserve if viewed dispassionately. It requires a strong character to master these complexities.

So if a crisis does erupt, the speed of Modianus’ response maybe reduced. If that speed slows to a crawl it maybe hard for some of his Accensi to resist the temptation to take matters into their own hands and cure the problem. Equally if such dithering continues on other occasions these Accensi will have to try to speed up Modianus’ response without eliminating the advice of their less experienced colleagues in the cohors, or becoming Gepetto the puppet master.

If by contrast Modianus tries to assert himself by making fast decisions, especially if they fly in the face of the advice of his noble Accensi, he needs to make the right choices if he is to retain their continuing support and involvement, for there is a danger in stuffing the command tent so full and then ignoring the advice offered.

Modianus will need to constantly assert himself if he is not to become Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus:

"… Although his feelings of anger were justified he nevertheless concealed them and from hesitation and fear held his tongue, like a man no longer giving the orders, but receiving them and forced to act in every respect against his better judgment. Such was the extent of the despondency that overwhelmed this man…" Appian, Civil War, II, 65.

The lesson is clear, and the similarities with the position of Pompeius Magnus are striking. If one is to truly exercise command one needs to ensure that one has a unique vision, a competent plan, that advice is sought in measured quantities, that one possesses both the capacity and authority to make decisions in an expeditious yet prudent manner and that one commands both the loyalty and support of advisors.

We will have to wait and see whether Modianus can meet this acid test, or whether he goes down on his own field of Pharsalus. Since he now occupies the curule chair, albeit by default, we better hope for all our sakes, and the future of Nova Roma, that this man is up to the task. It will benefit none of us if defeated he disguises himself and quits his camp for a life of exile.

Failing that, we better hope for a very quiet and uneventful year.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Arms against a sea of troubles?

It will be interesting to see the volume of legislation introduced to the people by our new consuls. Fabius Buteo has always been sceptical of the need for volumes of laws and his appointment of Marcus Octavius Germanicus as accensus should mean that an even more doughty foe of needless laws will bolster Fabius Buteo’s resolve.

It will be equally interesting to see what legislation, if any, his colleague P. Minucia-Tiberia Strabo throws her weight behind. She is probably less fettered by previous pronouncements decrying excessive legislation, and one suspects already has a draft agenda prepared. In her declaration of candidacy she stated, “reforms might be merited to prevent unnecessary alienation of those seeking the counsel and example of the CP.”

If the declarations of candidates’ intentions mean more in Nova Roma than they do in the macronational world, then this would appear to be a clear indication that the rudiments of a plan have already been devised. Yet in the same declaration she says “I leave these issues in the hands of the Pontifices”.

To observers of the Nova Roman “political” scene this means that she will leave the promulgation of reforms to those pontifices that would favour such measures and once they have secured a majority vote in the Collegium Pontificum they will no doubt take that result to Strabo for the introduction of, or support for, legislation. Even if they remain in the minority they could still ask for the matter to be put to the people. What would that legislation be?

The answer can probably be found in the attempts in 2757 to promote legislation to have pontifices elected rather than appointed. As the numbers stack up in the Collegium one could predict a slight majority in favour of the more conservative element likely to oppose such moves. As it is highly unlikely that they will willingly allow the balance of power in the Collegium to be eroded by the appointment of new pontifices more in tune with the “reformers”, one assumes they will block any such attempts.

In this event the only solution of course for the “reformers” would be to see one or more of the conservative pontifices leave Nova Roma or be removed as citizens, for once they surrender or are stripped of their citizenship they could not be members of the Collegium. An alternative strategy was publicly promulgated by the Pontifex Maximus, namely one of cooperation with the conservative block on issues which all the pontifices agree need to be resolved, which is a sensible and practical alternative.

As the Pontifex Maximus is also an accensus of Buteo, does this mean that the latter also favours this approach, or does it mean that both agree “something” has to be done to alter the voting power of the conservative element? It could mean that neither agrees with each other, a state that both have experienced in the recent past. What degree of agreement exists between Strabo and Buteo, if any, on the need for “reform”?

If this year comes and goes without any movement on “reform” will some of its proponents give up hope and leave for greener pastures? This year could mark the final chance for the “reformers” to produce tangible results and both Consuls have an a considerable amount of their own auctoritas, not to mention dignitas, tied up with making good on a year of public statements about the need to alter the status quo in the Collegium.

If they fail to make any tangible attempt that could considerably damage any degree of influence they have built up. At the moment the odds are still in the favour of the conservative pontifices and it is far from certain the “reformers” can prevail.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Exposed at birth

The shambles that passes for an election process in Nova Roma has concluded. There was a complete loss of focus in some quarters on the crux of the issue, namely what would happen when the clock in Rome struck midnight on the 31st December. Either the votes would have been counted, the ties broken and the results properly delivered, or the process would still be unfinished.

An interrex was not some subversive attempt by patricians to seize control of the government, nor was it unconstitutional since that office is established under the authority of the constitution. It was a practical and sensible attempt to provide for the possibility that the new consuls would not be in place..

The common sense efforts of Cn. Equitius Marinus and C. Popillius Laenas were then quickly seized upon and carried to the nearest hillside in an attempt to expose them shortly after birth. This was generated by the usual paranoia that grips a number of individuals in Nova Roma whenever a small crisis develops, a paranoia that stems in part from the fear that someone must be plotting, something, somewhere.

Of course the electoral process this year was a mess, but Marinus and Laenas acted with highly commendable promptness and decisiveness, and that was the root cause of the complaints that followed. They had had the temerity to take action.

Procedure is important and in the normal order of business the usual timeframes for calling the Senate would have been followed, as they have countless times before. This however was a crisis, not a very big one, but still a crisis. With the clock ticking it was important for our senior magistrates to develop a solution.

We should all be grateful that we don’t live in Rome of antiquity, beset as we are by this paralysing fear, for the Gauls would be busy dispatching us all to meet the ferryman, with some magistrates insisting, as the heads were rolling onto the floor, that due process would have to be followed before the Senate could meet to order the Consuls to close the gates and defend the city.

It is at times like this that the Senate performs its historic role, and we should be grateful we had two magistrates that had the gumption and backbone to try to deal with the problem, rather than ignore it.