Of all the civilizations of antiquity, I’ve always held a special place for the Romans, both the Republic and the Empire. The sheer time scale of this civilization is almost hard to comprehend. The Republic was founded around 510 BC, started faltering around 130 BC, was replaced in fact if not in name by an Empire in 29 BC. The Empire in one form or another lasted formally until 1453 with the fall of
What I respect most about the Romans was that they understood that the world was a constantly changing place, and that to fail to adapt to changing times was to surrender power, and thus to surrender their ability to determine their own future. This came to mind today because I was reading an old history book about the Roman wars with Carthage – in particular the Battle of Cannae (216 BC) at which some 50,000 Romans of an army of 86,000 were casualties.
That was the thing about taking on the Romans, as later opponents were to find out to their chagrin – they were incredibly adaptive and just kept coming. A defeat on the field of battle to the Romans was a defeat, but they learned and the war went on. Just as important as being able to field army after army of the willing after each defeat was their ability as a people to look at the world as it was in practice not theory, in peace and in war, and change their own military, their own government, or their own policies to maintain what they wanted the most: the ability to control their own destiny. They got the joke: being right about everything is great, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t call the shots.