"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.