A classicist friend sent me this from the Times online:
By the early 60s BC, pirates had become such a menace to Mediterranean shipping that in 67 Rome gave Pompey a “special command” and vast resources to try to get rid of them. It was great opportunity for this general ‘on the make’ to demonstrate his military genius. So he divided the sea into separate operational regions and, using loyal subordinate officers, he swept the pirates off the waters in just a few months.
But Pompey was smart enough to realise that, unless they were given some other form of livelihood, they would soon be back. (This is basically the Afghanistan problem: if they don’t make their money out of the poppy crop how ARE they going to survive.) So in a wonderful, early ‘resettlement of offenders’ initiative he offered the pirates small-holdings near the coast, where they could make an honest living for themselves.
I’m not saying that something like this is the right solution to the current pirate problem, but can you imagine what would happen if an American president did attempt this approach? President sends pirates candy and flowers. We are all pirate ransomees now. This is Munich all over again. A Churchillian never would have done this.
I’ve always been struck by the pragmatism of ancient Rome. I have to believe that a practical approach to governing (do whatever you want as long as you pay your taxes) may have been part of what allowed the empire to last as long as it did. I don’t think they would have lasted as long if they’d adopted a Freedom Agenda or tried to convert conquered peoples to some crackpot religion.
Update. The first comment there is a classic:
This is hogwash! What the pirates feared was torture and death. This was exactly what Pompey and Caesar used to clean up the Middle Sea.
Update #2.Commenter CapMidnight writes:
We could give the pirates free boat rides to the places with the off-shore corporate tax havens.
This reminds me of my favorite joke headline of all time:
Somali Pirates in Discussions to Acquire Citigroup
I’ve been hoping we’d take an approach like this in Afghanistan for something like forever– why hasn’t anyone seriously talked about letting people grow poppies for medicine? Why are we using antifoliants, when they worked so spectacularly in Vietnam? Where the hell is the pragmatism?
Thank the FSM Palin will never be president.
Though to be fair, much of the empire’s decline can be traced to people with too much time on their hands.
People still say “hogwash”?
How groovy to use terms. Totally rad.
I know you’re not be talking about Pastafarianism, Doug, ’cause otherwise we’d have a problem here…
To quote the former Presidential office holder: “A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it”
The problem with the Roman approach was that it didn’t actually get rid of the pirates. It just gave the thugs and murderers enough personal property such that they could go back to pillaging their own people.
Right now, if you were to increase the prosperity of the local Somalians, various guerrilla groups and warlords would just turn around and raid their now more affluent neighbors. There is no law and order and the handful of local strong men have depleted their native populations.
This is the same problem you have in delivering aid to countries like Cuba or Libya. You give the impoverished citizens some milk money, send him off to the store, and watch him get beaten up and robbed by the street corner bully. Without security, any aid Obama would hope to deliver would just got into the pockets of the guys causing all the trouble.
Anon. Wingnut Commenter:
I’m always simultaneously appalled and ironically amused by the Right’s ostensible conviction that they would never give in to torture or death threats, but than anyone not of the Right would cave in an instant.
It’s almost like they think everyone outside their tribe is non-human.
Ok, not almost, it’s exactly like that.
We could give the pirates free boat rides to the places with the off-shore corporate tax havens.
Consternation turns to elucidation: we just load up all of the Wall Streeters and ship them one-way to Somalia so that they can teach the nuts and bolts of our system to the benighted Somalis. Professional courtesy on the part of the thugs, thieves and pirates would ensure the ‘Streeters personal safety while they lifted that country out of the mire.
Well, to be fair, Pompey didn’t just hand out free farms. He also killed a bunch of the pirates, many of them in pretty gruesome ways. Carrot here, stick there.
Pretty much Rome’s entire modus operandi, really. As long as you were loyal, Rome was your protector. When you fucked up, they came down on you like a ton of Legionary bricks. See, for example, Rome’s reaction to the Jewish revolt.
We could learn a few things from the Romans. Conversely, we could also learn a few things from people like George Washington, who warned Americans against “foreign entanglements.”
I say turn Afghanistan and Iraq over to the Chinese. The Taliban doesn’t like American infidels? Let’s see how they like the People’s Liberation Army.
Confronted with torture and death most of these jerks would drown in their own piss.
Huh. I was always struck by the bloodshed and instability and slavery, myself, but then I still haven’t finished “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” yet. Perhaps all the pragmatism isn’t in my abridged version? So far the US is imitating Rome a little too much for my comfort.
There’s a Roman road not far from where I live, though, and it’s still nice and straight after 1,900 years. So they had that going for them.
As someone who’s studied a lot of Roman history, the comparison isn’t great. Gnaeus Pompey Magnus did end the pirate problems, but he was facing an enemy with clear strongholds to attack. And buying up their ships or something would just have encouraged them to keep pirating ships(if memory serves, either Caesar or Crassus tried that tactic a decade or so earlier by negotiating with the “kings” of the Aegean islands to buy up the pirates’ goods[or ships] at inflated prices to drain them of a reason to raid).
Pompey would have recommended outposting Afghanistan in strategic areas(how he fought the Pontians and eventually broke their great guerrilla fighting King), but then again he did lose an chip shot battle at Pharsalos.
Feed the holier then thou Christians to the Lions?
Free sex for all?
A decent aquaduct system?
Roads that are maintained?
That’s basically it. Scrub stock have different incentives, you know. Not to mention that only Jesus’ kids are capable of forming enduring civilizations, so why bother not killing them?
@R-Jud: Thats the late Empire. After Marcus Aureilius, it was only a matter of time. When the legions(which were basically just hired tribes who didn’t run their military like the Romans did in the past) decided to try and put any General on the throne, they couldn’t stop the invasions anymore.
It’s worse than that. Because the wingnutters continue to think that piracy just kinda happens. Like people wake up one morning and think, “Fuck it, I’m gonna steal a boat and grab some booty!” There’s no cause and effect.
Sure, pirates fear torture and death. You know what causes torture and death? Disease and famine. You know what solves said disease/famine problem? Stealing shit from local merchant cruisers.
The “pirates” (really just young local fisherman pushed to the brink) aren’t going to stop trying to feed themselves because Americans start dropping bombs on them.
Um, I dunno, the entire media establishment would have to say “the SURGE is working,” like when we started paying off Sunni guerrillas to not bomb our soldiers?
Well, the basic lesson of the Roman/pirate conflict is you don’t get anywhere with poor outlying peoples without serious land reform.
Given that most American foreign policy of the last 40+ years has been directed against land reform in the Third World, good f’ing luck, but let’s all hope it catches on.
Just out of curiosity, what would cause it to not be straight? Did they solve earthquakes, or something? I mean, it’s damn impressive that it’s still there, but that it has retained its straightness isn’t really that impressive a feat.
Of course there is – they haven’t accepted Jesus as their personal savior. That’s all the cause and effect I think the GOP is capable of.
Of course, Pompey’s policy didn’t really work long term. Piracy has always existed in various forms. But more to the point, the Somali pirates operate because their nation has fallen apart (with a little accidental pushing as the US and the former Soviet Union) played games in the area.
I agree with the spirit of what you say here, but the reality is as complex as it was in Roman times. Also, you kinda glide over the fact that when Rome achieved these results, it was an empire. I know that some of the Times of London writers and editors have a soft spot for imperialism, but it doesn’t quite work to assert the same thing for the US. Look what it accomplished for Dubya and company.
The Afghanistan situation is even more complicated. There are crops that could be grown, but the absence of good infrastructure makes it extremely difficult to get these products from areas where they are grown to market (the profits from the drug trade make infrastructure issues less of an obstacle).
By the way, idiot progressive journalist Gretchen Peters offers a kind of benign liberal imperialism to nation-build Afghanistan and solve the opium problem. In a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, she suggests that the US should just move Afghans into regions where they can grow what we want them to grow. Because the Afghans don’t have any territorial ties that we need to respect and the people in the areas where they would end up would obviously welcome them with open arms. Not.
And she also suggests that if we successfully nation-built Afghanistan, the people would magically come to view the Taliban as irrelevant. Because, of course, the Taliban are reasonable folk who respect the views of others.
The interview can be heard here.
It’s animal cruelty to feed the lions to the christians.
Yeah, the Jewish revolt is pretty much a perfect example of Roman tactics in EPIC FAIL. Destroyed Jerusalem in 70, then had major Jewish insurrections on their hands for the next 50 years at least – both in Palestine itself and in the exile community.
The dealings with the Jews is pretty much at antipodes with the pirate war, and a much better analogy for our current terror-war tactics.
I agree, Martin. I only mention it because “Look at how straight it is!” is one of the main things the natives here exclaim upon showing it to someone.
But then, these are the Britons we’re talking about. They lost to Clau-Clau-Claudius, so perhaps they are easily impressed.
They did, sort of. While the Romans were quite laissez-faire with the specific religions practiced by all of their subjects, they did expect everyone living within the Empire to adhere (somewhat) to the Imperial cult – the worship of past emperors as gods. Generally speaking, Roman subjects were expected to at least pray for the health of the emperor. You could worship whatever god you liked, as long as you also followed the cult to some extent. Basically, praying for the emperor was the Romans’ version of a loyalty oath, and one of the main reasons why the early Christians faced persecution was because they refused to adhere to the cult – they considered it idolatry.
The funny thing is that this is another example of Roman pragmatism – not many people took the cult seriously as anything but a political tool or a litmus test for good Roman subjects. Augustus more or less invented it as a way of maintaining the emperor’s power after the Republic’s spectacularly violent death. Of course, another way in which the Romans maintained control was through overwhelming force, which is something wingnuts would like to see the US adopt.
Yes, the Jewish revolts were a clear case of why you do not put your B-team in charge of important provinces/occupied areas. Obviously the Bush administration read up on said revolts thoroughly before staffing the Green Zone.
@Argive: They had respect for some religions. They generally left the Jews alone(they wouldn’t pass up a chance to lampoon their beliefs, like Caligula’s statue in Solomon’s Temple) and this is still debated by historians but they might have tried to put Jesus in the pantheon of the Gods. What really cheesed them off about the Christians(besides the refusal to sacrifice to the Emperor) was that they wanted to treat everyone equally.
@Jon: Both of which just prove how far the modern Jesus kids have wandered from their original thread. How DARE we treat teh ghays as equal! and how DARE anyone not adhere to the so-called state religion of this great nation!
Just about true! Alexander Severus (reigned about the 220’s) had a statue of Jesus in his personal pantheon at his house.
O’ course, perceptions of Jesus outside the church were kind of weird then – a lot of people viewed him as kind of a sorcerer, sort of like many Westerners treat Buddha as nu-age magic man. So! The object might have been more of a personal magic empowerment thing (the statue was next to one of the miracle-working Apollonius of Tyana).
But, in any case, Roman religion was kind of hinky on expansionism, especially around the 3rd century.
Sort of, yeah. In general, any secret, private assembly was liable to be treated as a prima facie conspiracy against the state. Especially if it included poor people and women.
Get a couple pals together and some girlfriends in a backroom, and sooner or later there’d be whispers you’re plotting a coup. Kind of weird, but that’s how it worked.
The Cat Who Would Be Tunch
I would’ve use the example of Alexander and the ancient Greek empire myself. His pragmatic approach of having his generals marry people from the lands that he conquered was instrumental to his conquest. Heck, it even allowed him to partially control (and I’m being very loose with the word *control* here) modern day Afghanistan.
@scav: They aren’t Christians. They’re authoritarians who are so afraid of themselves that they need to oppress that which they fear in themselves.
@Slaney Black: In order..
1-Yeah, I’ve read that about Severus, but its hard to nail down with any definition. They didn’t mind the Jesus, but it didn’t help that Christians fanatics probably were behind the great fire of Rome that Nero is famous for fiddling through(even though he was clearly organizing the help for it).
2-Well, to be fair, there always were about 20 running conspiracies against the Emperor lol.
I don’t know that pirates feared torture and death. I think that they recognized that torture and death kinda came with the job of being a pirate. And here the example of Rome is instructive:
But it’s also not really a left vs right issue, or a matter that conservatives think “everyone outside their tribe is non-human,” since countries have often used pirates (or privateers if you like) to help carry out their agendas. This theme is developed in Jon Latimer’s great new history, Buccaneers of the Caribbean: How Piracy Forged an Empire.
During the seventeenth century, sea raiders known as buccaneers controlled the Caribbean. Buccaneers were not pirates but privateers, licensed to attack the Spanish by the governments of England, France, and Holland. Jon Latimer charts the exploits of these men who followed few rules as they forged new empires.
Privateers were kinda like the “Impossible Missions Force” of the 17th century. If they were captured doing stuff, the offending nation would disavow knowledge or sponsorship.
Or maybe they were like Halliburton.
The Romans put their “B-team” in charge of Judea, because the “A-team” didn’t want it. Who wants to govern a backward, poor province full of Zealots who think there’s only one God and he’s theirs alone and you can’t get any decent pancetta? The plum provinces were Asia or Cyrenaica or Hispania; places with big cities or gold mines or rich wheatfields.
Team Bush (begins with “B”), on the other hand, sent what passed for its “A Team.” It’s just that they graded on a curve, and you got an “A” for loyalty, not competence.
@stickler: Vespasian/Titus was the B-Team?
Very true. But I don’t think I’m wrong in calling the provincial governors incompetent, by which I mean the gentlemen who came before Vespasian/Titus had to bring the legions in.
Of course. But they’re so convinced that they wouldn’t.
Thus, the ironic amusement.
Alexander’s empire lasted less than 20 years. The successor states were all gone in another 300.
At the exact same time that Alexander was conquering his empire Rome started expanding out of Latium. 300 years later it absorbed the remaining Alexandrian successor states. 1500 years after that the last Roman emperor was dethroned.
I’d have to say Rome’s policy of giving the people at large eventual citizenship was a bit more successful than just marrying your aristocrats to conquered people’s aristocrats.
Pompey Magnus, not being a fool, didn’t just toss the Cilician pirates onto a farmstead in Anatolia somewhere, he created a colony for them and granted it the “Latin Right” (a name that dates from the days when they were conquering the neighboring Latin-speaking city-states) which was the entry point for eventual full citizenship. He didn’t just conquer them, he co-opted them.
@Sarcastro: Meant in jest, but there’s a potential solution for the illegal immigration and Afghanistan/army recruitment problems right there…lol.
According to Plutarch, Gaius Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates when he was younger and offered up for ransom. Before he was rescued, Caesar promised that when he was freed, he would kill all of the pirates who held him. They laughed. When Caesar was freed, he built up a navy, captured the pirates and crucified every one of them.
Uh. Yeah — Rome was pragmatic. But it was also pretty brutal on its plebians: “We can’t change the laws to make things better for you! The gods would be displeased. Please go on living miserably in the midst of urban filth and squalor and we’ll go back to our villas by the sea.”
Not to mention that one of Rome’s bigger problems involved religion. If you were poor, you weren’t part of the state religion, really. So where did you turn for solace and a community? Christianity. And what overtook the Roman Empire? Christianity.
Pragmatic or not, nothing ever lasts.
The Moar You Know
Cause: being black
The solution to the pirates has to be holistic without being naive. You can’t just “invade” Somalia and drive out the pirates, or will be there forever and the pirates will eventually come back. And you can’t send them money and hope that Somalia will stabilize. Ain’t gonna happen.
We need to engage the pirates (coopt them counterinsurgency style), maintain a credible force in the waters, win some hearts and minds over there, deter piracy.
There’s a lot more detail here: http://piratewatcher.blogspot.com/2009/05/real-solutions-to-pirate-problem-in.html
There’s a geologic process called “creep” that’s the big destroyer of roads. Water freezing in the soil during winter pushes the soil out in various directions where it settles during the next thaw – repeat process ad infinitum. If a road were made unlevel, it would, in time, start sliding downhill following the general direction of the creep. Even when it is built level, creep often pushes the stones in various directions until you can’t really see a pattern to them anymore. You see it a lot in the rural northeast. Since it’s more of a surface phenomenon, it doesn’t rip apart buried roads or ruins.
Yes, exactly those things and not much more.
Rome was a warring entity who sought increase of empire at the cost of the peoples it conquered, I don’t think the US would do well in that endeavor. Displacing large numbers of people and turning them into something they never were had a tendency to bite the Roman empire in the ass.
The real place where Rome went wrong was in allowing Constantine (my ancestor) to establish Christianity as a formal religion. I wish he was never born, even though it means I wouldn’t have been either.
Oh please. If Constantine hadn’t made Christianity the state religion, his successor would have made Islam the state religion. Or maybe we’d all be dealing with fundamentalist Mithrus-worshipers. Who knows?
It’s not like we had a drought of fanatical cults and religious communities to choose from in the early 200-400s AD.
Honestly, as far as religions go, we could have done much worse than Christianity. Take a look over the Atlantic at the Mayans and the Aztecs. Daily blood sacrifice and Pharoh-style god-king emperors don’t strike me as more appealing than the Jesus-hippies. Christianity has been a relatively benign religion for the last 300 years. Discounting your occasional witch hunt or abortion bombing, you’re looking at a faith whose primary tenants revolve around combating war, sickness, and poverty.
The biggest “problem” Christians are those that adhere most loosely to the faith.
Wow, they’ve been quiet for 300 years – previous to that they sent people to die in bonfires and torture chambers who refused to believe as they did. If a woman didn’t confess she was a believer in Jesus Christ, they not only threw her on the bonfire but her little baby as well. Just because Christianity has been quiet for a while on the death front (and don’t think it didn’t have anything to do with the confusion they have been dealing with debating protestant/catholic differences) now that they are getting bored of such debates they are ramping up their anger and getting involved in politics. So because they have been tending to their inner activities and not killing people in inquisitions for 300 years, you give them a pass.
I have no problem with passive Christians, but the Bible spells out clearly that Jesus is only passive SOMETIMES. (“I come not to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34) – “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26)
You can make all the excuses you want for passive Christians who believe in a peace-loving Jesus (and I have no problem with them), but the Bible just doesn’t justify that viewpoint and the history of the church if rife with abominations of death and torture in the name of a religion based on this man.
Native conversion and extermination of various non-white areas still falls squarely in this time frame.
We could have done a lot better too.
The various North American (as opposed to their southern cousins) religions.
The Cat Who Would Be Tunch
Valid points. However, the reason I mentioned Alexander is that he was one of the first to push the concept of mingling with the locals on a large scale, something that the Romans later took and greatly expanded upon to much greater success. At least, that’s what I recall from my history classes.
I could be wrong and search is failing me right now.
The current situation in Somalia is the Pompey option in reverse.
The majority of these poeple used to be peaceful fishermen and farmers. The circumstances of the Great Libertarian Paradise that is Somalia lead them to resort to piracy.
If there had been effective patrolling of their own territorial waters, preventing the biological stripmining of their fishing grounds, we wouldn’t HAVE this problem today.
Ah, so THAT’S what they mean by “traditional values?”
Well hell, now it all makes sense …………
The focus shouldn’t be entirely on ‘the pirates’, but on the state and community and economic and governance situations which encourage and feed piracy, just like how large scale terrorist movements tend to need large areas of ungoverned territories and weak institutions to really prosper.
The Cat Who Would Be Tunch
Yes, indeed. The fact is that any nation’s discussions of security is incomplete if the focus is on purely the military solution, which often times only tackles the symptoms and never the root causes. Worse is that as opposed to resolving the issue like piracy, it simply devolves into a never-ending cycle. It’s unfortunate that people are drawn to the blunt instrument of force the moment they feel their security is threatened, as opposed to the slow-moving approach of sustainable development which lends itself much better towards permanence.
We could stop stealing their food and dumping nuclear waste off the Somali coast. That might defuse things a bit:
In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.
I think more than a few Manchurians will disagree with that assessment, after what they went through under colonial state Shinto a few years back.
But seriously, folks. Just about every religion becomes a cancer in the wrong circumstances. Look what those free-lovin’ Buddhists are up to in Sri Lanka right now. And atheism hasn’t exactly been a Great Leap Forward, either (if you catch my drift).
All in all, folk’ll find some way to justify being horrible to one another whatever it comes down to.
Don’t forget about the byzantines (The Eastern
Roman Empire) either. The romans were brutal and slavish but they also made enormous contributions to our modern day legal system(Cicero, the twelve laws and the justinian code to name a few) and the city of Rome had a grain dole (welfare basically) for 300+ after Augustus. They were what they were, but they were the most successfull imperialists in history so you gotta give ’em credit. One does not rule an area at its height the size of the continental US with pre-industrial technology for 1000 years without doing something right. And the byzantines managed to hold out untill 1453. Rome is the gold standard as far as western empires are concerned although the chinese and the Parthians coulda given em a run for their money.
But they were also pagans who were soft on piracy.
Good people do Good things, and Evil people do Evil things, but for Good people to do Evil things it takes Religion.
Hasn’t failed yet.
Wile E. Quixote
The first comment there is a classic:
I was at the gym today watching CNN (unwillingly) and they had a segment on nuclear proliferation on. The vox pops, or whatever they call it when they solicit comments from the viewers, had some real gems, including one guy who said that the US should pick a country and nuke it off the map just so that everyone knows that we’re in charge and what nuclear weapons can do.
Oh, and shouldn’t that quote read “what the pirates feared was enhanced interrogation techniques and death”.