"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

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.