I just finished reading Michael Parenti’s book, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome. I found this book to be very interesting, because it is a history of the end of the Republic from the view of the plebs, rather than the patrician side of things. History is written by the rich, the winners, and the few. The poor either could not write, or did not have time to write because they were too busy working to feed their families. Unlike so many “gentleman historians,” Parenti does not simply call the people of Rome “the mob” or “the rabble.” He portrays them as working, honest people. Yes, of course, as we do today, there were those people who were on the wrong side of the law, who were lazy, etc. But how can we lump all of the lower classes of Rome into this category?
I enjoyed Parenti’s portrayal of Caesar very much. He did not simply show the man as either a tyrant or a saint, he showed Caesar as he probably truly was, using plenty of sources to back up his statements. He calls Cicero a “slumlord,” and how can one argue, when Cicero all but admits to this in his letters? Of course, when writing to his friend, Cicero merely complains about the loss of income brought on by the collapse of more than one of his apartment buildings. Not a word is expressed about the plight of the tenants. Never does Parenti make a statement in this book without back his words with those of a Roman living at the time. Parenti’s writing is very accessible and readable. His point is not to show Caesar as a good guy, but to show things as they may have truly been, rather than that picture painted for us by the golden boys of history. A paragraph from the book sums things up nicely:
Many latter-day historians are immersed in this age-old ruling ideological perspective [poor depend on the elite; feeding the poor leads to their laziness; social programs lead to bankrupt countries, though there is aways enough money for war; etc–MRM]. So they explain away Caesar’s assassination in terms that are rather favorable to the assassins. They emphasize how Cicero and the other “constitutionalists” boasted of a republic founded on law and selfless virtue. But they take little notice of how these same “constitutionalists” swindled public lands from small farmers (in violation of the law), plundered the provinces like pirates, taxed colonized peoples into penury, imposed back=breaking rents on rural and urban tenants, lacerated debtors with usurious interest rates, expanded the use of slave labor at the expense of free labor, manipulated auspices to stymie popular decisions, resisted even the most modest reforms, bought elections, undermined courts and officeholders with endless bribery, and repeatedly suspended the constitution in order to engage in criminal acts of mass murder against democratic commoners and their leaders. Such were the steadfast republicans upon whom most classical historians gaze so admiringly.
I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about the fall of the Roman Republic, and for those interested in history from the viewpoint of the actual people.
This is a talk given by the author, about the topics covered in the book. It’s long, but very informative.
Novel Update: I’m working hard, and am going to be attending my first writers retreat this weekend, where I hope I will get a lot of work done (as well as have a lot of fun). What I have so far seems to be pretty solid. Hopefully the next section will work out as well as this one did!