The Wisdom Of Priests And Solon

22 Mar

FetialesTwo things I learned from The Ancient World, Episode #24, about Romans under the first kings, Carthaginians, and Athens.

1. Roman priests did something useful. Under Ancus Martius, the fetiales were specialized ambassadors.

In the span of several centuries Rome was but a small city in Italy until the fourth century B.C. In contact only with the surrounding tribes. The relation with the neighboring peoples primarily on the Council of elders, and the Senate (a function governed by it until the dawn of the republic in 30 B.C) A college of priests was established called “feciali” which included 20 people. Amongst them the bearer of the flint and scepter (symbols of the Roman authority) the “pater patratus” was in charge of the embassies.

A ritual described by Titus Livius (Livy) tells of the priests sending an offer with their demands to a foreign territory, should the interest of the roman people “offended”, then, for 33 days they would wait, until the priests would ask the senate to declare war, summoning the gods as witnesses to their just cause, should their demands are not satisfied. This kept the consions of the people clear, that they didn’t step over any agreements and that its their soon to be adversaries fault for the conflict, and thus gaining favor from their deities.

This “pater patratus” “…wore a band of white wool on his head, with a wreath of sacred herbs. If satisfaction were not achieved and the Roman Senate declared war, the pater patratus launched an iron-tipped spear (or a charred and bloodied spear) into the foreign territory, and with proper formulaic speech, declared war.”

The United States could use a little more ritual, to stoke a little more circumspection about just war and a lot less preemption. And, if a priest could make wool fashionable again, I’m sure farmers would be very grateful.

Solon of Athens2. And then, there’s Solon of Athens.

“…there was conflict between the nobles and the common people for an extended period. For the constitution they were under was oligarchic in every respect and especially in that the poor, along with their wives and children, were in slavery to the rich…All the land was in the hands of a few. And if men did not pay their rents, they themselves and their children were liable to be seized as slaves. The security for all loans was the debtor’s person up to the time of Solon. He was the first people’s champion.”

That’s the least of what Solon accomplished, but that’s enough right now for a president to consider.

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