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The Roman Way, Part One

Peter Paul Rubens, Mars & Rhea Silvia, the parents of Romulus & Remus, the mythical founders of Rome

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Part 1 of 2

Much pen and paper is spent analyzing the fall of Rome, but there has been much less concerning the rise of Rome. This is understandable, since Western Civilization is by all measures in decline, having reached the terminal phase of foreign invasion and the replacement of its people. Parallels between the American empire and the Roman are plentiful, perhaps inescapable if Spengler’s morphological destiny of civilizations is true. Regardless of the similarities between ancient Rome and the present-day West, the causes of our demise are known and treatable. There is no need to look to Rome for answers to our current paralysis.

The West is dying because it adheres to a dominant ideology of individualist materialism wedded to the morality of equality and tolerance, which has produced the death-knell of diversity and multiculturalism. The solution is a return to sovereign white homelands based on aristocratic virtues like honor, duty, and loyalty, with the primacy of the national over the individual, and the spiritual over the material.

The wisdom of the ancients and the vast knowledge that can be gleaned from the collapse of Rome should continue to be cultivated; after all, those who fail to lean from the past are doomed to repeat it. But since we know what ails the West and what needs to be done to secure its future, let us not focus on the fall of Rome, but on its rise.

If the Alt Right is to reverse the course of the West, then we will need to revive the Spirit of the West – the Spirit of the Romans.

In the wake of Trump’s election, the Left has taken the danger posed by the Alt Right seriously. A massive campaign of doxing, censorship, character assassination, and even physical attacks were launched against us as punishment for electing Trump and posing the first real threat to the liberal order since the fall of Communism. If we are to win, then we cannot succumb to despair because of the attacks that have already occurred and are to come. We must overcome.

Regrettably, our journey is destined to have its setbacks. Infighting will arise (I wish it weren’t so), scandals will erupt, horrible blunders will be made. With near-certainty, all of this will transpire. Henceforth, it matters not what befalls us, but how we respond to our failures. What course of action will we take: despondency and squabbling over who is to blame, or closing ranks and redoubling our efforts? When disaster ensues and the light grows dim, what spirit will define us? Despair or perseverance? In this, let Rome be our guide.

The Unconquerable Spirit

America’s founding principles are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” while it could be said that Rome’s founding principles were honor, duty, and the relentless pursuit of victory.

What history has shown us is that the Romans were not the best warriors, farmers, tradesmen, builders, strategists, thinkers, or conquerors, but became all of them through a continual process of overcoming defeats. As Greg Johnson aptly put it in “The Measure of Greatness“:

What makes a man great? A man is not great because he is perfect. Great men often have enormous flaws, make catastrophic mistakes, and face overwhelming obstacles. A man is great if he can overcome his flaws, learn from his mistakes, and surmount obstacles.

The same is true of nations, civilizations, and movements like our own, exemplified by the Romans. They simply refused to give up, and eventually solutions were found. They kept going with unflinching discipline and unyielding determination, full of vigor for the prize of victory. They embodied Nietzsche’s aphorism that “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” In defeat, victory. That is the spirit of the Romans. They succeeded not in their moment of triumph, but when they thought only of victory even in defeat, renewing their strength and pressing forward once more into the fray. That is the Roman way.

The Making of Heroes

Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii

In the legend of the Horatii, memorialized in Jacques-Louis David’s painting, Rome and her neighboring city, Alba Long,a agreed to avoid a mutually ruinous war in favor of a fight to the death between their representatives, namely the triplet brothers of Rome, the Horatii, and those of Alba Longa, the Curiatti, to decide the fate of the cities. Two of the Horatii brothers were quickly killed at the start of the fight, leaving only the one brother, Publius, opposing the three Curiatii. Despair did not overtake Publius. He concentrated on isolating each Curiatii by feigning to flee. The overconfident Curiatii gave chase one-by-one instead of by encirclement, allowing Publius to furiously strike down each of the brothers as they approached, seizing the victory. Down to the last man, the Romans sharpened their focus, made adjustments, and embraced the fight. These attributes of a hero – steadfast determination in the face of defeat – reappear time and again in Roman folklore.

Another example is Horatius at the bridge, which glorifies a heroic sacrifice made in defeat that secured a greater victory. In this legend, the exiled king of Rome marched with an allied Etruscan army to retake the city after the Romans overthrew the monarchy and established the Republic. The Romans lined up to meet the invading army on the far side of the Tiber River. They were cut down in battle by the Etruscan army, which made haste to cross the Pons Sublicius bridge and into the unguarded city.

Hendrik Goltzius, Horatius Cocles

As the Romans fled across the bridge with the enemy breathing down their necks, Horatius Cocles boldly strode forth to block the city’s entrance, giving the Romans just enough time to destroy the bridge. Thanks to the valor of Horatius, who was willing to sacrifice his life for Rome, the invasion was thwarted and the Romans regrouped to save the city. When faced with certain defeat, the Roman hero rode out to meet it. Or, in the words of Lord Macaulay’s poem:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods.”

The feats of Horatius and the Horatii were surpassed by Publius Decius Mus. During the first Samnite War, Decius Mus, then just a soldier, saved the Roman army from annihilation by leading a contingent of men on a mission of certain death to halt the Samnites from securing a pass and thus encircling the Romans. Miraculously, Decius Mus and his men withstood the Samnite army until nightfall, slipping through the enemy’s camp under the cloak of darkness to rejoin the Roman army. Reunited, the Romans defeated the Samnite army in battle. His feat of bravery earned Decius Mus the Grass Crown (today’s Medal of Honor), but his acts of heroism were not over.

Exemplum Virtutis

At the Battle of Vesuvius between the Romans and the Confederation of the Latin League, both of the ruling Consuls for that year, Publius Decius Mus and Titus Manlius Torquatus, had the same dream that if Rome were to win, then one of the Consuls must die. After confirming the meaning of the dream with their haruspices (diviners), the Consuls solidified a pact that whoever’s part of the army began to falter first in the battle would sacrifice his life to secure victory from the gods. As fate would have it, the wing under the command of Decius Mus began to collapse first in the heat of battle. Recognizing his duty to the gods and to Rome, Decius Mus performed the sacred rites of the Devotio by offering himself as a sacrifice to “bless the Roman people . . . with power and victory” in devotion “to the Divine Manes [divine dead] and to Earth” (i.e., for Blood and Soil).[1] Then, in full view of his legions, he leapt upon his horse arrayed in full armor and charged into the enemy line.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Death of Decius Mus

The shocking nature of the act stunned the Latins and threw their line into confusion, opening a gap for the once-faltering Roman wing to plunge into. Galvanized by the sacrifice of their commander, the Roman army decimated the Latin forces, granting them a victory that would make the Romans the preeminent power in the region.

Men like Decius feared dishonor, not death. Only in death could a Roman prove his ultimate loyalty to the Fatherland. These were not marginalized outcasts seeking a moment of fame to redeem their small lives. These were men of renown at the height of their power. Decius was the Consul of Rome, the nation’s leader, who sacrificed everything his people. This is the mark of a true leader and hero.

Military foes were not the only enemies Rome fought to overcome. Famines were commonplace in the early Republic, as were epidemics (a facet of ancient life not unique to the Romans). They did not fear death, but were intimately attuned to it. Memento Mori (“remember that you must die”) was their maxim. Loved-ones died abruptly and frequently in their world. Given the paradox of life, this was in many ways a blessing, not a curse.

Life is never more vivid than in the shadow of death. It is defined by death. Modern man, with all his comforts and cures, has lost sight of this truth. Life is not about escaping death, it is about making a life worthy of death. When Decius Mus charged into the enemy lines, he was only the next link in a chain of heroes stretching back to Achilles, who chose a tragic death of lasting glory over a comfortable life of insignificance.

A History of Defeats

Not all battles had the fortune of ending in heroic victory. Many ended in devastating defeats unredeemed by any last-minute acts of heroism. What made Rome great was that despite horrific losses that would have doomed any other city, the Romans never gave in. Rome became Rome because no other city came back from so many losses.

The Sack of Rome

This point is exemplified by the barbarian Sack of Rome. This is not the final one, which marked the end of the Western Empire, but the first one, which marked its beginning. In 390 BC, at the Battle of the Allia, a terrifying force of Gauls eviscerated the Roman army, which had been thrown into disarray by the swiftness of the Gallic advance. The left flank of Rome’s army collapsed into the Tiber River and was obliterated; the right flank scattered entirely, with some fleeing to Rome and others to the subject city of Veii, where, according to Plutarch, the survivors believed “Rome was lost and all her people slain.”[2]

Rome, however, had other ideas. The remaining Romans retreated to the Capitoline Hill, Rome’s citadel, and secured the fortress while the rest of the city was pillaged by the Gauls and then burned to the ground. The barbarians laid waste to the city in an effort to force a surrender.

Paul Jamin, Brenn and His Share of the Spoils

The cries of rape and slaughter of those unable to make it to the citadel reverberated through the city, but still the Romans did not surrender, repulsing multiple attempts by the Gauls to breach the Capitoline Hill.  For months, they held out in defiance, until finally the Gauls broke under the miserable heat of midsummer and the pestilences it brought. They offered terms of peace, which required the Romans to give up an enormous amount of gold. Nearing starvation, the Romans agreed to the shameful act of buying off the barbarian invaders.

To add to their shame, the Gauls used rigged scales to measure the gold, increasing their bounty. The Romans were incensed by the injustice and expressed their indignation, to which the Gallic Chieftain Brennus responded in kind by throwing his sword upon the scales and uttering words “intolerable to Roman ears: Vae victis! (‘Woe to the vanquished!’).”[3]

It was at this time, before the “infamous ransom was completed,”[4] that the banished dictator, Marcus Camillus, arrived in Rome with a force he had gathered from the countryside, and ordered the gold removed from the scales. The Gauls protested that a compact had already been made, but Camillus informed them that only the Dictator of Rome had the authority to make such a compact. He ordered the Gauls to prepare for battle and declared that “not with gold” but only “with iron” would the Fatherland be regained.[5]

This fortuitous arrival is likely apocryphal, but it encapsulates the Roman spirit as defined by Livy, which forbade “the Romans from living as a ransomed people.”[6] The rescuing army led by Camillus drove the Gauls from their city and routed them on the battlefield. Rome triumphed.

But this victory was just the beginning. The Romans now had to choose between rebuilding their city from the ground up, or the easier path of relocating to the conquered city of Veii. Naturally, there is a reason that Camillus is called the second founder of Rome. Livy recounts that he rallied the beleaguered denizens and reminded them that Rome was sacred land, the birthplace of their people, and the home of their gods. They could not abandon Rome, for they would be abandoning themselves. Camillus commanded the Romans to immediately rebuild, which is why Rome, unlike other Roman cities, was a haphazard maze of winding roads and city blocks. It was a daunting task as the citizens were continuously being called away to suppress provinces in revolt that were seeking to capitalize on Rome’s destruction. Brick by brick, sword in hand, the Romans reestablished control over their territory while rebuilding their city. Overcoming, striving, this unwavering will to power is what made Rome great again.

Although the Gallic Sack of Rome was arguably the worst defeat in Rome’s history, it was not the first or the last. Roma Invicta was shattered. Its people and spirit were not. The desolation of Rome was not an epilogue, but was rather the prologue to Imperium.

And so it shall be with us. The suicide of the West is not the end. It is the beginning of our future, reborn in the fires of struggle from which we are emerging.

 

Notes

1. Livy, The History of Rome, 8.9.

2. Plutarch, The Parallel Lives, “Camillus.”

3. Livy, The History of Rome, 5.48.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., 5.49

6. Ibid.

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One Comment

  1. Leon
    Posted March 14, 2017 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Great article. Inspiring. The author’s right that the rise of Rome doesn’t get enough attention among right-wing scholars and thinkers. It should.

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