Monday, November 04, 2013

Secessio Plebis

While looking into the history of the Ludii Plebeii (Plebeian Games/People's Games) which historians tell us took place from today, 4 November in 3rd century BC Ancient Rome and continuing through 17th November, I came across mention of the secessio plebis (sounds like some kind of physical affliction!)

Secessio plebis was, in 20th century terms, Ancient Rome's version of a general strike.
It was
" informal exercise of power by Rome's plebeian [non-aristocratic, 99%] a general strike taken to the extreme. During a secessio plebis, the plebs would simply abandon the city en masse and leave the patrician order to themselves. Therefore a secessio meant that all shops and workshops would shut down and commercial transactions would largely cease. This was an effective strategy in the Conflict of the Orders due to strength in numbers; plebeian citizens made up the vast majority of Rome's populace and produced most of its food and resources, while a patrician citizen was a member of the minority upper class, the equivalent of the landed gentry of later times. Authors report different numbers for how many secessions there were. Cary & Scullard (p. 66) state there were five between 494 BC and 287 BC."

Might there be some hints here, echoing through the centuries, for we plebs of 2013's equivalent of the Roman Empire? I shall leave passing readers to tease out any broad similarities of circumstance there may be to today's USA. We're all about cycles on planet Earth, cycles of the seasons, of the Moon, of man's inhumanity to man, of all history.

More from
"Magistrates, judges, and priests of the new [Roman] republic mostly came from the patrician order, or upper class. Unlike the patricians, the lower or plebeian class may have suffered under the early republican structure more than they had under monarchy, since they now had, in effect, many rulers. Under the monarchy, they had endured just one. A similar situation in ancient Greece sometimes led the lower classes to welcome tyrants. In Athens, the political movement against a hydra-headed governing body led to codification of laws and then democracy. The Roman path was different.

In addition to the many headed hydra breathing down their necks, the plebeians lost access to what had been regal domain and was now the public land or ager publicus, because the patricians who were in power, took control of it to increase their profits, running it by slaves or clients in the country while they and their families lived in the city. According to a descriptive, old-fashioned, 19th century history book written by the H.D. Liddell of Alice in Wonderland and Greek Lexicon fame, A History of Rome From the Earliest Times to the Establishment of the Empire, the plebeians were mostly not so well off "petty yeomen" on small farms who had needed the land, now public, to satisfy their families' basic needs.

During the first few centuries of the Roman republic the number of chafing plebeians increased. This was partly because the plebeians' population numbers increased naturally and partly because neighboring Latin tribes, granted citizenship by treaty with Rome, were enrolled in the Roman tribes.

The plebeians were oppressed by hunger, poverty and powerlessness. Allotments of land didn't solve the problems of poor farmers whose tiny plots stopped producing when overworked. Some plebeians whose land had been sacked by the Gauls couldn't afford to rebuild, so they were forced to borrow. Interest rates were exorbitant, but since land couldn't be used for security, farmers in need of loans had to enter into contracts (nexa), pledging personal service. Farmers who defaulted (addicti), could be sold into slavery or even killed. Grain shortages led to famine, which repeatedly (among other years: 496, 492, 486, 477, 476, 456 and 453 B.C.) compounded the problems of the poor..........................."


mike said...

The USA does have some similarities to the plebeian concerns of 500 to 400 BC. But no banana...not yet anyway.

The poor in extant USA are still in the upper 95% of world resources available to them compared to the world's total population. There are many third world countries right now having the Roman plebeian experience, or worse. Most of us American 99% have it pretty good.

I don't think that a secessio plebis would be allowed by us 99% in today's USA. We are too inter-dependent on the systems we would be demonstrating against. What would we eat if the fast food employees weren't available? Our digital toys would go dark (gasp!). The theaters would be shuttered. No utilities...oooops. We'd all have to take an extended vacation to Mexico or Canada and let their systems cater to us spoiled Americans, but the gas stations and airlines wouldn't be operable, so we're stuck right here.

I think there were quite a number of people willing to allow our government to shut down, likewise for the debt ceiling. UNTIL we all realized the impact it could have on our lives. Another big gasp. Hey, we were only kidding...don't do it. You kids start cooperating RIGHT NOW.

We've become a nation of moans and groans...too febrile from apathy-itis. We suffer the "I hate you, but I can't seem to live without you" codependency syndrome. Stop the hurts.

Many of the problems encountered in the USA are actually very solvable. The 1% with their army of lobbyists, congressional puppets, and erosion of our judicial system have made it very difficult for us plebs. But, we plebs can't seem to abate the onslaught of addictive products that the 1% create for us...we love every one of them and stand in line for each new update, whether it sends us (or our neighbors) to the poorhouse or rots our brains.

The rhetoric from the Bush administration on how to get us out of the 2008 economic free-fall was for all of us plebs to get out there and spend, spend, was our patriotic duty. Remember that? That speaks volumes regarding the power of us plebeians...if only we would take advantage of selective consumerism and economic choices we make and create.

Many (most) Americans are too lazy (for whatever reasons) to even prepare real food from scratch. Many Americans are too lazy to even open boxes and cans, and are dependent on restaurants and fast food dives. Food is so basic to the human experience...our treatment of our nourishment is an indicative metaphor for our subservience to the 1%. Satisfy me now...if it takes time and energy, forget it...I'll spend the extra cash for convenience.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks - that's a very good assessment of the US situation, as is.

Back in Rome, 400BC, I suppose the plebs just hightailed it to the hills and countryside outside the city and "lived off the land" as best they could for a few days/weeks, catching the odd rabbit or fish, grinding grain between stones and making some kind of flat bread. Olive groves would be plentiful. Water from streams, maybe a few flasks of wine were brought along for the duration. Temperatures down there in S.Italy were unlikely to be extreme either way, a campfire would suffice in the chill of night.

You're right, it'd be out of the question for us - for long, anyway.

It's interesting, though, how the concept of something along the lines of general strike has been passed down through the centuries, along with the 1% and 99% (ish).

mike (again) said...

Yes, it's interesting that class struggle is part & parcel of history.

A lot of it condenses to humans being animals programmed by our DNA. ALL species have internal mechanisms to determine the 1%...typically muscular power and mating attractiveness. Muscle power in the modern human is money.

If society rid itself of the 1%, there would arise the next level down and so on. Almost impossible to eradicate. Virtually all interactions that I've personally had or have observed have utilized some form of class or level. We humans constantly strive for our position within society. Only a select few reach the high rungs, via graft, greed, or hard work. Next best is to ride the coattails and hope the crumbs come your way.

It's that dirty X-gene again. I know of no governance or social system that is immune.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I was reading an article just this morning about animals and the 1/99% thing. Thought I'd saved it but no - and can't find it in spite of re-tracing my cyber tracks.

I wonder if any sci-fi author has ever written a story/novel about a species without this dirty X-gene?
That species might have another variety of dirty gene though, one even worse to deal with.

I wouldn't feel so anti the 1% if they just got on and enjoyed their wealth in all the many, many ways available to them. But no - they have this need to control the 99%, they have to buy power with their dosh, if it wasn't handed to them via heredity (kings etc). They are, basically, just sociopaths, most of them, anyway. Royalty, in the west, has been tamed over the centuries, but as you've said - the next layer has arisen - and they have potential to be even worse.

David Macadam said...

Love it, and given America's elite's origin from a revival in America of the Roman constitution very apposite :)

Twilight said...

David Macadam ~ Hi! Yes - there's that too! :-)

mike (again) said...

From "The 2013 Forbes 400":

"The 400 wealthiest Americans are worth just over $2 trillion, roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia."

Compare the combined wealth of the American top 400 to total spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan war. Various references on the Wiki page give estimates of these two wars at a conservative $3 to $6 trillion!!! Yeozzzirs! All American taxpayers will contribute to this cause.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institutes estimates the world's top fifteen military spenders expended $1.753 trillion in 2012. All nations combined expended $1.837 trillion in 2012.

Eliminating military spending is one method to redistribute the wealth. I'm sure that some of the 1% have investments in military-related industries...kill (or maybe maim) two birds with one stone.

ex-Chomp said...

Interesting posts and comments. Well, I do garee a “secessio plebis” i highly unlikely today, **not** for it may be theorically impossible but because what really lacks are cutlural condtions to do it

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Eliminate military spending - oh yes - if only! Those figures are obscene. :-(

Twilight said...

ex-Chomp ~ I guess so - too many of us - too many not of the same mind for one thing. Occupy Wall Street was a step in the right direction though. There'll be another such step, only stronger and better, at some point, I'm sure of it. ;-)