Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The military-backed President Musharraf of Pakistan has been dragged, screaming and kicking, into retirement. He doesn't know how lucky he is.

How power maddens people! In 5th-century BC democratic Athens, on average two out of the top ten officials every year were found guilty on a capital charge and either fled or were executed. It never stopped men putting themselves forward.

The prospects were even worse for Roman emperors. From the start of the principate in 27 BC till the technical end of the empire in the West in AD 476, there were 90 emperors. Of these nearly three in four were killed, usually by their own troops, or committed suicide. The problem was that the Roman army was never fully depoliticised. Every emperor depended on it, and the army expected its kickback.

The sole exception was Diocletian. He fell badly ill in AD 303 and retired on 1 May 305.

Later he was invited back and famously remarked: 'If only you could see the cabbages we have planted at Salonae with our own hands, you would never again judge that a tempting prospect.' In republican Rome, only the blood-soaked Sulla, who appointed himself dictator during the republic's collapse, retired early (81 BC). …

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