History lessons

Four years had passed since the brutal slaying of Julius Caesar. Four years of civil war for the once-great Republic. Four years of bloodshed, all settled when two men met on a small island in the middle of a river. The first was the bloodthirsty Mark Antony, one-time confidante of Julius Caesar and mighty general in his own right. The other was named Gaius Octavianus, great-nephew of the great Caesar and commander of countless soldiers. He was barely twenty years of age. They had spent years battling each other to a standstill; fields across Europe were littered with the bodies of dead legionnaires, Latin blood soaked deep into the loamy earth. Now, though, they had come to make a kind of peace. With a third man, Lepidus, Octavian and Antony formed an alliance and carved up the once-great Roman Republic into a tripartite dictatorship.

“Naturally, they disguised their purpose with specious and familiar words. They claimed not to be pronouncing the obituary of the Republic but rather setting it back in order. In truth, they were executing it.… And the Republic’s quietus, fittingly, was sealed and signed with blood.

The lists went up within days of the triumvirs’ entry into the city. Ruthless bargaining among the three men had determined whose names would appear on them. One factor more than any other had influenced their decisions: with more than sixty legions needing to be paid, the triumvirate was in desperate need of funds. As a result, the fruit of riches… became death.

Some were murdered for factional reasons – to remove potential adversaries of the new regime – and others were victims of personal enmities and feuds. Most chillingly of all, as proof of their commitment to the new triumvirate, Antony, Lepidus and Octavian had each sacrificed a man they might feel otherwise obliged to save. So it was that Antony agreed to the proscription of his uncle, and Lepidus his brother. Octavian, meanwhile, had put down the name of the man he had once called ‘father’.”             (Tom Holland, Rubicon)

‘Father’ was Cicero; no blood relation. He was a senator, a philosopher, and one of the greatest orators of his or any age. He had been Octavian’s tutor, in earlier years. Eloquence could not save him from the bounty hunters. At the end, he bared his neck like a gladiator.

The triumvirate didn’t last too long, of course. They never do. Lepidus, always the weakest partner, was kicked out of the alliance a few years later and forever confined to history as ‘the other one’. Antony seduced the notorious Cleopatra and was seduced in turn by the dark wonders of Egypt. His apparent decadence was – thanks to Octavian’s propagandistic efforts – seen by the Roman public as weak, effete, decidedly unLatin. Octavian defeated his fellow triumvir’s troops and, ten years after the triumvirate was formed, Antony committed suicide. Unopposed, Octavian became Augustus, first emperor of Rome.

Not much changes in politics. Alliances shift, fall and are re-made. Blood is the constant, although it’s watered down nowadays. It’s harder to wash out of white collars and suits, I suppose.

The proscription lists went up the other day. The corporate triumvirate formed years ago; we’ve just been waiting for the wolves. I’m safer than most – no need to bare my neck, not yet – but some friends will fall. Good men and women. The company will be worse off for their loss; not set back in order, but irrefutably lessened.

History doesn’t repeat though, not entirely. This triumvirate didn’t bother sacrificing those close to them, this time around. More’s the pity, from my perspective.

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