Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The general public, never having felt politicians can be wholly trusted, already believe any discreditable rumour about them that comes their way. Even though the recent expenses scandal has fingered fewer than 10 per cent of MPs, the situation will become far worse, as the Romans knew. The historian Cassius Dio argued that, under the Roman republic, the political system was broadly open: all decisions were taken by the Senatus Populusque Romanus, and made a matter of public record. But under the emperors, there was dramatic change: 'Even though some things were made public by chance, they were not believed because they could not be verified. People suspected that things were said and done in accordance with the wishes of the men in power and their associates. As a result, much that was false became common currency, and much that was true hidden from sight.'

This came about because the emperor took all decisions within the confines of his own cabal of trusted advisers, including freedmen and slaves (loyalty guaranteed because they owed their status entirely to him). For example, in his will the first emperor Augustus left a full account of the military and financial state of the empire. …

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