Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE Robinson-Mandelson debacle of recent weeks may have had us all in stitches, but Romans would have been baffled at the reasoning behind it all because of course you needed money and friends to get anywhere in politics. So what?

First, gifts and exchanges were the oil which kept Roman social and political wheels turning; in particular, a politician needed to show he was on good terms with the established political elite. Second, a politician needed to build up a broad base of supporters outside the family and its network. Third, he needed to win popularity with the people, and the best way to do that, on top of showing off his connections with the great and good, was to lavish large sums of money on `bread and circuses'. As well as that, to become a member of the Senate (which you did automatically on gaining your first big administrative post) you needed, in modern terms, to be worth something like 1 million. Julius Caesar racked up debts of around 30 million as he climbed the greasy pole, on one occasion staging 320 pairs of gladiators in single combat. The people loved him.

But once you had made it, the rewards came thick and fast, especially after you had been consul (the highest executive position), when you would be sent out to govern a province. …

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