Friday, September 08, 2006
7: The Roman Republic
The Romans had the first proper empire to have any lasting effect on the world, and a lot of their ways of doing things are still with us today.
Why it sprung up when and where it did is anyone's guess, but at any rate Rome started around 1000BC when the city was, according to legend, founded by two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were raised from infancy by a wolf - hardly an auspicious start for a pair of future city-builders - unless wolves have an innate talent for town planning which, being wolves, they seldom get a chance to exercise. Similarly, many humans of course have a gift for stalking caribou and the like, an activity best left to wolves, who at least have the dignity to do it the hard way, by pouncing on them and using their teeth. Though perhaps Prince Charles feels he'd just look silly.
Little is known about Roman history until about 600BC, when they threw out their royalty and declared themselves a republic. This worked quite well for a few hundred years, so much so that by 300BC Roman influence stretched across the Mediterranean to the City of Cartlidge, (part of modern Two-Knees) where it somehow raised the hackles of local big man Hannibal, who decided it was time for a change of leadership.
Strong on Leader but short on Ship, Hannibal marched on Rome the long way round, by way of Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain, France and the Alps - or whatever they were called then. Not satisfied with taking a huge army, he also took a bunch of elephants, possibly for dramatic effect. The impact of these beasts on the locals must have been awesome. It's not even as if they might amusingly have mistaken them for giant cats or sheep because elephants look utterly unlike anything else, beyond having four legs and two eyes. The first guy to see the creatures must have had a terrible job trying to describe them to his mates when he ran home. The problem wouldn't have been so bad for those living directly in Hannibal's path, because his bizarre description would pretty soon be backed up and followed by those satisfying 'Oh, yeah-! Crikey!' noises - but if you lived a few miles from the route and just happened to be in the area when the elephants were passing, you'd have to suffer a lifetime of ridicule, known forever afterwards as the guy who got all excited over what could only have been an unusually fat horse. And you wouldn't get the satisfaction of being able to say 'told you so' as your critics' homes were trampled to a pulp.
Rome was still there after Hannibal had a go at it; no doubt they had plenty of time to prepare while those elephants stumbled over the Alps. I don't know what happened to the elephants afterwards but the Roman army probably didn't want for meat for a while.