April 27, 2011 | Graham

What would the Romans do?

I am amazed at how poor some of our prominent “analysts” are at analysing, particularly when it involves other countries, or even other people. I think it is a failure of imagination, which is not to take away from the fact that it is a catastrophic failure. If you can’t get into your opponent’s mind then you are of little use as an advisor, or leader.

Take the North African revolutions. I was talking to one of our regular contributors who opined that Gaddafi was making a mistake attacking his own people. I said I thought not. If you are a dictator, this is what you do to maintain power. And anyway, it was starting to look like a civil war, so who would he suggest Gaddafi shoot? Or should a dictator just roll over and let the nearest majority carry him away?

Now the Syrians are following my advice. Or rather, they know exactly what they should do.

We live in a nominally Christian country and we have just celebrated Easter. It’s worth dwelling on some of the things that the Bible teaches us.

A popular mnemonic in Sunday schools is WWJD – “What would Jesus do?” That’s one set of Bible teachings.

But we can also learn a lot by asking “What would the Romans do?” That’s another set of Bible teachings that are less explored, but valuable nevertheless.

We know one thing they would do, and that is crucify any trouble makers. We also know that they found the Jews so troublesome that they crucified thousands of them, demolished their temple and scattered the rest to the four ends of the earth. It’s all there in the Bible.

The Romans ran one of the most successful empires and dictatorships that the world has ever seen. So if you want to be a successful dictator, then it’s worth studying what they did, and projecting yourself into their shoes. And if you want to understand dictators, then the Bible is a very good place to start.

Perhaps more attention during RE lessons might have actually helped our analysts to analyse.


Posted by Graham at 11:49 am | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Well, Julius Caesar – one of the better Romans – would generally take hostages, treat them well and turn them against their own people, then send them back as puppet rulers. The Romans didn’t always butcher their enemies – only the dumber Emperors did that. Though it was a brutal and undemocratic system, subject peoples evidently saw some pluses in being Roman citizens – or they would not have tried so hard to earn citizenship.

    Comment by Julian Cribb — April 27, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  2. You couldn’t be crucified if you were a Roman citizen – now there’s an inducement. Perhaps Mubarak has taken the Julian route. Or is that what the US does? My commentary is informed by Macchiavelli, and Gadaffi stays close to some of his advice using the good cop/bad cop routine that Macchiavelli advises.

    Comment by Graham — April 27, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

  3. Paulinus fought Boudica at the battle of Watling Street about 60AD. Reportedly some 80,000+ Iceni and and Tinovantes were slaughtered by some 10,000 Romans who lost about 400. Britain knew some 400 years of relative peace afterwards, who’d take on such an army. Yet Nero replaced Paulinus with Turpilianus who was far more conciliatory. Were there not other more attractive reasons to be Roman? The rule and certainty of law let alone advantages of trade in the empire rather than brute power?

    Comment by James — April 28, 2011 @ 1:20 am

  4. Julius Cribb.Julius Caesar was the instigator of the Gold currency with his head on it.Prior Caesar,the Roman Empire thrived under the freely available bronze money.Since the elites and Caesar had all the gold,their economy went into a huge depression since both production and consumption could not happen without a balanced medium of exchange.

    The USA consistantly backs dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere.I suspect they are behind much of the unrest in Arab countries since they just want another despot of their choosing to give them more access to their oil.

    Despots are not the answer.We have never had true democracy in the West since the corporate power over our Govts is just too great.

    Comment by Ross — April 28, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  5. I doubt if Gaddafi has the intellect or prestige of Cesare Borgia,who would believe him when he scapegoats the ‘bad cop’?

    Julian Crib,

    Agreed,the Romans would never have even survived the first centuries of independence without loyal allies,they would have suffered the same fate as the Greek city states. By the standards of their time they often treated defeated enemies leniently,but not rebels.Then of course there was Roman “soft power”.

    Comment by Russell W — April 29, 2011 @ 12:38 am

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