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The attack on Ostia was Rome's 9/11
Published on October 8, 2006 By Bahu Virupaksha In History
One of the nice aspects of being a historian is that the past provides a whole range of parallels which illumine and help us understand the present. It has become almost a cliche to state that Islamic Terrorism is the biggest scourge of this era, in much the same way medieval Europeans looked upon the Mongols. Surprisingly the language used to describe the phenomenon of Jehadi liberation idelogy evokes the same kind of apoclyptic exuberance which was once used to describe such horrors as the palague and the mongol hordes. How many can realise that the child's verse, ringa ringa roses pocket full of poises, is actually a description of the symptoms of the palgue. My point is simple: with time the nation states which lie at the very root of all the problems in the world today will disappear and in its palce will come about a new, and hopefully more humane ways by which human society be organised.

In the year 68 BC when the Roman Empire in the dramatic words of its historian Edward Gibbon covered the fairest and the most civilied parts of mankind, an event of unspeakable horror ocurred in Rome and hence my parallel with 9/11. Rome the world's greatest hyperpower at that point in time was dealt a devastating blow from which it appears the Empire never quite recovered. Pirates from the Phonecian territories on the coast of the Meditteranean attaked the port of Ostia in which was anchored the entire war fleet of the Roaman military. The pirates set the fleet on fire destroed the entire fleet and its harbor and kidnapped a few prominent Roman politicians. This event seared the consciousness of the Roamns in much the same way the events of 9/11 did.For the first time Roman homeland was attacked. Forget the fact that the Roamns like the Americns now have been attacking and killing all over the world, but they were just not prepared for the attack on their own home territory.

The rersult of this attack was an early Roaman version of the "War on Terror", documented ably by Plutarch in his Parallel Lives.Pompey was put in charge of making another fleet and he built a fleet of 500 war ships, an army of 120,000 men and 5,000 cavalry.Pompey, unlike Bush and the Bushmen, was highly successful in his self declared "war on Terror". It appears that the Roman politicians had used the Osxtia incident to whip up the passions of the Roman people. And the first step toward the civil war that ulitmately brought about thed end of constitutional rule in Rome was taken. The response to the Ostia incident like the military adventurism of Bush, Rumsfeldt, and other Bushmen resulted in the complete erosion of the rule of law.

Come November when USA votes for the mid term Congressional election, let us hope better sense will prevail.

on Oct 10, 2006
Ya know the NY Times ran this article on September 30th. Not this exact one, but the same message.

on Oct 17, 2006
You seem to think that the demise of the Roman Republic was a bad thing. Personally, I think that the limits of Roman 'democracy' (a very limited form, hedged about with qualifications that meant the vast majority of the population had no political voice) had made themselves too readily apparent, so that the polity became once more a Monarchy.

The rule of law did not vanish. Two or three of the Emperors (notably Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero)made the law their private plaything, but they were the notable exceptions and not the rule. And while there are certain psychological similarities in the effects of the attack on Ostia and 9/11, the parallel you draw is largely ludicrous. Ludicrous, because the worlds of power politics in which the incidents took place could not be more dissimilar. There are far more constraints operating on Bush and his government than would ever have been tolerated by Pompey; the nature and operation of military power was radically different, and far more limited in its possible consequences, than the 'force projection' of today; and while Americans are perhaps more aware of themselves as members of one polity, the American Republic, than other peoples are aware of being members in their own polities, nothing in the West of today in any way resembles the sense of tribal belonging characteristic of both ancient Greece and Rome. If you had asked an ancient Roman who he was he would have answered 'a Roman'. Only later would he have given his family and personal names. Romans were a part of their City first, then of their Clan, then of their family. Only after these other affiliations were recognised and taken into account would such a Roman have considered himself as an 'individual'.

The individuals of the West are not so radically traumatized by an assualt upon the homeland as an ancient Roman would have been: the connection is not as real, not as intense. And to suppose that there is a direct connection between the attack on Ostia and the final collapse of the Western Empire (have you forgotten that the Eastern Empire endured for centuries after the collapse in the West?) is to directly connect events seperated by centuries and to completely ignore the multitude of other factors contributing to that collapse - the overstretch between revenues and costs in defending and maintaining the Empire; the reliance on foreign mercernaries; the decline in native population; and a bloated, enervated bureaucracy more concerned with etiquette and ritual than with the day to day running of the Empire. Those are just a few of the things you skip over so blithely.

And to suggest that there is some parallel between the fate of America and the fate of ancient Rome is not simply nonsense - it's nonsense on stilts and wearing a party hat.
on Mar 09, 2007
I think you're taking it too far there. There were more than a few incidents where foreigners invaded Italy and threatened Rome, and the attack on Ostia was hardly the first. What about Hannibal? the Germans? The Germans wiped out two entire armies in a single battle, leaving Marius with little choice but to start recruiting from the head-count.

And due to a hostile senate that meant soldiers suddenly had more to gain from supporting their general than supporting Rome itself, because only through their general could they get a pension and land.

The destruction and mayhem from that point on (including Sulla and Marius' invasions of Rome itself and the Pompeiian-Julian conflicts) were merely the most violent indicators of a process that had been in place for decades if not centuries.