Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

Today's top 15 per cent of earners have been whingeing away at the belts they will have to tighten to deal with the financial crisis.

Ancient historians like Livy would not have been impressed. In the Roman republic, crises were life-or-death ones, and it was those who concentrated on the battle and not its rewards (in the shape of often very lavish booty) who won his admiration.

Livy's history is full of them, such as Cincinnatus who, in 458 bc, 'wiping the sweat and dirt from his face and hands', answered Rome's call from his little farm where he had been ploughing, defeated the enemy and returned at once to his three-acre site. Finding his plough and four oxen still waiting for him, he picked up where he had left off.

Perhaps most famous of all was the consul Manius Curius Dentatus (dentatus because, we are told, he was born with teeth). In 290 bc, when the Romans were expanding south and in conflict with the ferocious Samnite hill tribes, he was approached by some Samnites with a massive bribe of gold.

They found him seated on a crude bench by the hearth in his farmhouse, roasting turnips, eating from a rough wooden dish. …

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