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Grande Ludovisi Sarcophagus

“There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest why, then it was the national honor that had been insulted.

The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for a breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs. They were enemies who only waited to fall on the Roman people…

Thus there is but one way to an understanding: scrutiny of domestic class interests, the question of who stood to gain.

It was certainly not the Italian peasant…

True, it was this class that gave rise to the caste of professional soldiers who remained in the military service beyond the minimum term of enlistment. But in the first place, the rise of that estate was only a consequence of the policy of war, and, in the second place, even these people had no real interest in war. They were not impelled by savage pugnacity, but by hope for a secure old age, preferably the allotment of a small farm… As for war booty, the emperor used it to pay his debts or to stage circuses at Rome. The soldiers never saw much of it.”


From Imperialism and Social Classes by Joseph Schumpeter (Heinz Norden trans.)

Further reading along these lines:

  • How Emperor Tiberius responded to the mindless senate of his day
  • Louis Brandeis explains why “a government’s contempt for law is contagious”
  • How Greeks self-medicated (through booze) to cope with imperialist fatigue

The top photo is of the Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus, an ancient Roman sarcophagus discovered near the Porta Tiburtina in Rome’s Aurelian walls. It dates to about 250 CE and depicts a battle scene between the Romans and Goths.

Joseph Schumpeter