Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

PETER Mandelson has been ejected from government for omitting to mention that he was personally involved in enquiring about passports for wealthy Indians. We seem to be living in an age of purer-than-pure political Aryanism. The ancients would have been amazed both by his ejection and his omission.

In 33 BC, Antony (ruler of Rome's Eastern empire) and Cleopatra were headed for a show-down with Octavian (adopted heir of Julius Caesar and ruler of the Western empire). They were doing all they could to shore up their position in the light of an impending battle for supremacy with Octavian.

A newly-discovered document from Egypt is a copy, perhaps the top copy, of a document dated 33 Bc and authorised by Cleopatra herself. In it, she permits Canidius Crassus to export wheat from Egypt (Egypt was the bread-basket of Rome), import wine into Egypt and live there, entirely tax-free. Canidius Crassus was a lieutenant of Mark Antony.

The deal with Canidius was a perfectly legitimate exercise in keeping powerful friends on-side and serving Egypt's interests at a critical time. Canidius profited from it, but so what? There was no such thing as Big Business in Roman times - one dealt with individuals - and no one complains today when government does tax-deals with Big Business to profit from it, save jobs and win elections. …

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