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The History of Rome – Politics and Power

In its initial days Rome was a monarchy, but over the course of time people tired of having a single man rule them until death and so the kingdom became a republic and had a semblance of democratic rule. From 500 to 50 BC, Rome had remained a republic with elected representation at least from the elite patricians (the ruling classes).

However, Hannibal’s war (The Punic Wars) had laid waste to the roman countryside and many people had made their way to the city; this led to a large plebeian population and slave rebellions, especially from gladiators (slaves trained to fight to the death, who had nothing to lose). The increasing population of Plebeians who did not have the hereditary rights of the patriarchs led to the steady erosion of the political power of the Roman republic. This, in turn meant that generals became more powerful and they could command the political class to do their bidding.

Eventually it culminated in the rise of Julius Caesar and after his murder by the Roman Senate (popularized as the ides of March) his adopted nephew Octavian swept away the old republic and became the First Emperor Augustus. This led to Pax Romana or “Roman Peace” as Rome reached the very zenith of her power and reach.

However, with the passage of time the Imperial class became decadent and allowed rulers such as Caligula and Nero to take over the reins of power. Of the latter, it has been said that he was the most inefficient ruler to sit on a throne, at any time in history. While the Roman Empire had outlasted such megalomaniacs (Caligula had once ordered the mighty legions to attack the sea and take the shells as ‘war booty’), it became weaker as corruption and luxury became the order of the day.

The famed ‘Eagles’, as the mighty legions of Rome were called, had their training shortened from a five year period to a few months at most. Once Rome lost the tip of her spear, her decadence and downward spiral was inevitable. The riches ultimately attracted barbarians.

When Attila the Hun attacked there was little the Romans could do against this most merciless of warriors. In perhaps their last hurrah, Rome gathered all her strength and met this destroyer of nations in open battle where he was defeated, in much the same way his predecessor Hannibal was defeated, centuries before. Once again, Roman velour and tactics had triumphed. However, this time Rome had nothing left to go on. And shortly afterward, the invading barbarians started taking over territory after territory and the city was eventually sacked, plundered and abandoned.

But at the height of its power, Rome had been divided into two parts by emperor Byzantine. The Western Roman Empire was ruled from Rome proper and the eastern one, by the city of Byzantium. And while the city of Rome faded into oblivion its military, social and political traditions were carried on by the newly resurgent Byzantine empire, the successor to the original Rome.

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The History of Rome

There can be little doubt that Roman history has arguably been amongst the most influential when it comes to the founding of the modern world, as we know it today. From the Seat of American government on “Capitol Hill” to the Senate, to the very concept of the rule of law all the way to the very creation of the Catholic church (it is centered in Rome to this very day). Rome has been one of the most influential civilizations that the world has ever seen.

While the site that comprises Rome today, has been inhabited for nearly 5000 years, it is the city-state itself that went on to become the globe-straddling colossus that we know. If we were to separate the myths and legends of Rome’s founding, we can see that the city state first appeared around the 7th century BC.

The origins of the city state (Roman legends)

The origin of the city’s name is basically steeped in antiquity, but the ancient romans themselves firmly believed that they were all descended from the founder as well as the first ruler of the city, the legendary King called Romulus. 

They believed that that Romulus and his twin brother Remus, were the direct descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who escaped the sack of Troy during the Trojan war. Romulus killed Remus and named the city after himself.  Once the city had been constructed, he invited all the surrounded towns people to partake of the city’s refreshments at a great festival. This was where the Romans abducted the Sabine women and this in turn, led to a series of wars that were almost won by the Sabines before the women themselves intervened and came between their erstwhile husbands and their fathers and brothers. This way, the Sabines and the Romans were united, and Rome went from being a small town to a powerful city state in its own right.

The archeological and geographical origins of Rome

According to contemporary historians as well as archeologists, Rome essentially grew from various pastoral settlements located on the Palatine Hill and its surrounding territory approximately 30 km to the south side of the Tiber. The place where the city was located was close by a ford near the river Tiber and due to both the river and its ford, Rome found itself on the cross roads of trade and commerce, since rivers were the primary means of transport, when roads and highways did not exist.

Rome and Carthage

With the passage of time Rome became increasingly powerful and started vying for control of not just the Italian peninsula but surrounding areas as well, from other city states, chief of which was Carthage.

There was no room for the development of two powerful city states and their related empires, and therefore conflict was inevitable. Hannibal crossed the alps and almost destroyed Rome, before the Romans prevailed and defeated not just his armies but also Carthage itself. Carthage was razed to the ground and its population either killed or sold into slavery thus cementing the domination of the Roman republic for nearly half a thousand years.

The Mask of Sanity – A Clinical Evaluation of Psychopathy

Hervey M. Cleckley, an American psychiatrist, first released his book The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality, in 1941. The book is based on the interviews he conducted with institutionalized patients. Cleckley uses the ‘mask’ to refer to the psychopath’s ability to conceal their mental disorder. The basic elements he outlined in the book are still relevant in today’s world, and it is considered the most influential description of psychopathy written in the century. There were six editions of the book published, including an expanded fifth edition re-released in 1988 by his family for non-profit educational purposes.

Image: Eversince

The psychiatrist describes a psychopath as having the ability to mimic a normal individual, thus ‘masking’ their true character. They possess an internal chaos that is displayed as repeated destructive behaviour, most often self-destructive. Despite their outward actions, psychopaths can’t feel genuine emotions. The book touches on their ability to tell vivid, fictional stories that they pass off as the truth. Once confronted with a lie the psychopath is quite unphased and tries to pretend it was a joke. The book provides a ‘clinical profile’ of a psychopath, which includes 16 characteristics:

  1. Superficial charm and good intelligence.
  2. Absence of delusions or other signs of irrational thinking.
  3. Absence of nervousness or psychoneurotic manifestations.
  4. Unreliability.
  5. Untruthfulness and insincerity.
  6. Lack of remorse and shame.
  7. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior.
  8. Poor judgement and failure to learn by experience.
  9. Pathologic egocentricity and an incapacity for love.
  10. General poverty in major affective reactions.
  11. Specific loss of insight
  12. Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations.
  13. Fantastic and uninviting behavior, with drink, or sometimes without.
  14. Suicide threats rarely carried out.
  15. Sex life impersonal, trivial and poorly integrated.
  16. Failure to follow any life plan.

Cleckley also tries to find reasons why the disorder occurs, concluding that although life experiences may play a role in the development of a psychopath, that it is not psychodynamic or psychogenic. Their behavior is often a partial, or full, form of social and spiritual suicide. There may also be a subtle defect at the biological level, but the condition is not hereditary.

The author further notes the lack of response by these individuals to treatment, and the difficulty that trying to institutionalise them often presents. He advises that this needs to be changed for the protection of both the individuals, and society on a whole. He observes that neither physical therapy, such as shock therapy, or psychological therapy seems to make much difference, but that the more they are treated the greater the possibility of finding therapy that will help.

Although there have been questions that have arisen from the book’s content, The Mask of Sanity continues to be a reference for those in the profession. The details it provides helps to identify psychopaths, as well as keep more people safe.

Leonardo da Vinci – The Works of a Great Artist

Although Leonardo da Vinci is known as one of the best artists in history, there are fewer than two dozen of his paintings in existence. The artist pioneered two painting techniques, in his lifetime:

Chiaroscuro – Da Vinci used this technique to add three dimensionality to the figures in his paintings, by employing a stark contrast between light and darkness.

Sfumato – The use of subtle gradations to infuse paintings with a soft, smoky aura.

Some of his most famous art works include:

The Vitruvian Man

In 1490, as da Vinci studied proportion, and attempted to relate man to nature, he sketched this now world renowned piece. It depicted a male figure in two superimposed positions, with his arms and legs apart, inside both a square and a circle. This shows that the human body’s proportions relate to the geometric shapes. The ink drawing is kept on display at The Accademia Gallery in Venice.

The Last Supper

Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, commissioned this painting on the back wall of the dining hall inside the monastery of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. The piece depicts the moment when Jesus told the twelve apostles during Passover dinner that one of them would soon betray him. Their  reactions are exquisitely captured, and account for much of the painting’s fame. The piece took three years to complete, and began to deteriorate quickly because da Vinci had used paint with tempera and oil on dried plaster. Improper restoration caused further damage to the piece, but modern conservation techniques have now stabilised it. Although very little of the original painting remains, the talent da Vinci displayed in this creation cannot be denied.

Mona Lisa

Arguably the most famous painting in the entire world, da Vinci began work on his Mona Lisa in 1503. It is believed that this was a privately commissioned piece, and da Vinci used his sfumato technique to create the enigmatic smile of the woman in the half portrait. As the artist’s attempt at creating a perfect piece, da Vinci never released the painting and the subject’s identity hasn’t been conclusively determined. Speculation has ranged from Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, Princess Isabella of Naples and even da Vinci’s apprentice, Salai, dressed as a woman. One of his early biographers identify the woman as Lisa del Gioconda, the wife of a wealthy Florentine silk merchant. Although this theory is supported by the painting’s original title, ‘La Gioconda,’ art historians have yet to confirm this.

Salvator Mundi

In November 2017, the Salvator Mundi, which some art historians believe may not have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, was sold at an auction for a record breaking U$450.3 million. The work is now on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Leonardo da Vinci – The Life and Death of a Great Scholar

Often referred to as ‘The Father of Palaeontology, Ichnology and Architecture,’ Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian scholar who lived during The Renaissance. He also accumulated extensive knowledge in other areas, including painting, sculpture, mathematics, anatomy, engineering, astronomy, botany and writing. Da Vinci also made discoveries in civil engineering, anatomy, geology, optics and hydrodynamics which, although not published at the time, were later discovered in his notebooks.

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, to unmarried parents. He spent the first five years of his life with his mother, moving to live with his father’s family thereafter. Here he received an informal educated in Latin, Geometry and Mathematics. At 14, da Vinci became an apprentice to the finest artist and sculptor of the period Andrea di Cione, better known as Verrocchio. He remained with the artist for seven years, and received exposure in many other areas including metallurgy, chemistry, leather working and carpentry. By the age of 20, da Vinci had been accepted to The Guild of Saint Luke, which included doctors and artists. He subsequently set up his own workshop, with his father’s assistance.

Leonardo da Vinci continued to work with Vercocchio, however, collaborating with him on the ‘Baptism of Christ’, which was completed in 1475. It is believed that da Vinci was responsible for painting the young angel holding Jesus’ robes, as well as a part of the background. He received his first independent commission in 1478. Which was an altarpiece for a chapel located in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Within three years he was also commissioned to paint “Adoration of the Magi,’ by the Augustine monks.

Leaving both projects unfinished, da Vinci created a silver lyre at the request of Florentine ruler, Lorenzo de Medici. He took this as a peace gesture to Ludovico Sforza, the future Duke of Milan. Da Vinci used the opportunity to secure himself a job, as a military engineer, by writing a letter which included sketches of various war machines that could be used in battle. For the next seventeen years he continued his work in Milan, where he was also commissioned to work on various art projects including ‘The Last Supper.’ Da Vinci viewed the areas of Science and Art as intertwined, and believed that acquiring extensive knowledge of scientific ventures made him a better artist.

In 1515, the King of France, Francis I, became highly impressed with da Vinci and offered him a position as ‘Premier Painter, Engineer and Architect to the King.’ He moved to France, to reside in the Chateau de Cloux, near the king’s summer palace, until his death on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67. Da Vinci’s assistant, Melzi, became his principal heir and the executor of his estate. After his death, many notes from his journal surfaced showing that he was even more advanced in his ideas than previously recognised.

The Pilgrim Fathers – Coming to America

During the reign of James I, the religious persecution in Protestant England was rampant and a group of English separatists fled the mother country to America, for the freedom to practise their religion. They established the second English colony, Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, in the New World, and became known as The Pilgrim Fathers. Many of the separatists had previously moved to Holland, due to the country’s religious tolerance, but felt that remaining there would result in them losing their English identity. They made a deal with a group of English investors to make the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic and help them create a profitable colony in the New World.

The journey began on September 16, 1620, when the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth. During the voyage one of the ship’s main beams cracked and the pilgrims considered turning back. They were able to repair it using a great iron screw and pressed on. While they were at sea, they experienced one birth and two deaths. Land was sighted on November 20, 1620 and the following day the ship was anchored in what is now known as Provincetown Harbor.

The historical charter of the new colony, known as the Mayflower Compact, allowed for self-rule and established the precedence that political rights were God-given. It was a brief contract signed on November 11, 1620 while the ship was still at sea, in response to mutinous speeches. The charter promised cooperation amongst the settlers ‘for the general good of the colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.’ The document was signed by 41 adult male passengers and ratified by majority rule. John Carver was then chosen as the colony’s first governor.

Even after they had arrived in the New World, many of the passengers had to remain aboard as they were gravely ill. Those that were well enough began exploring the area and on December 29, 1620 a place to set up the colony was chosen. Construction began immediately, with each family being given a plot to create their own dwelling. The settlement was mostly complete by early February 1621, but only 47 colonists remained alive in March, due to the disease they had contracted. 

Image: chrisdorney / Shutterstock.com

The pilgrims developed a good relationship with the Native Americans in the area. They signed a peace treaty with the Massasoit and Wampanoag people shortly after their arrival. After the death of Carver in 1621, William Bradford had become governor and served for 11 years until his passing. After their first harvest Bradford invited the Native Americans to join in a feast of Thanksgiving, which is now celebrated as a major holiday in The United States.

The journey of the pilgrims, and their perseverance to overcome the hardships of early travel, resulted in the birth of the United States. The way they risked their lives for the freedom to practice their religion, also became enshrined in the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right of all men to practice their religion freely.