Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Where's the Praetorian Guard when it's needed?

Caligula, the third emperor of Rome, never actually appointed his horse to the Senate, despite the popular myth. He certainly wanted to, and fully intended to, but he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guard before he could implement his plan. The historical record suggests that it wasn’t so much that he believed that the horse would be particularly good at the job, it was more about showing that he had the power to appoint it, and that no-one could stop him. It wasn’t his only foible – he also spent huge sums of the empire’s money on building projects, some of which were useful and others merely bizarre, like the 3 mile floating bridge which he ordered to be built from impounded merchant vessels weighted down with sand and tied together across the Bay of Bauli so that he could gallop back and forth across it. It seems that his reign started comparatively normally but after just a few months in the job he suffered a serious illness which left him unhinged and he spent the rest of his life displaying his worst tendencies, including outright cruelty to others (including members of the Senate) and a series of brazen affairs. It was during that latter period that he became famous for the phrase “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody”. In an empire with a lack of checks and balances, he did things simply because he could do them and get away with them.
History never precisely repeats itself, but there are often parallels. Appointing a brother and a whole batch of cronies to the House of Lords isn’t the same as appointing a horse to the Senate, for instance, although the bits about impractical bridges and brazen affairs do strike a certain chord. Suffering a serious illness after a few months in post also rings a bell, although I wouldn’t argue that Covid-19 was responsible for the PM’s unhinging, not least because the evidence for a fully hinged prior state is somewhat lacking. But the most obvious parallel is the apparently untrammelled power to appoint whoever he wishes to the legislature, whether they’re suitable or not, with little control over the process. The parallel which is so far sadly missing is the presence of a Praetorian Guard, even if, in these more enlightened times, a political rather than a literal assassination would suffice.

1 comment:

Gwyn Jones said...

Inreresting view of history repeating itself. Also remember that "the emperor's" great grandfather was lynched by his Turkish opponents in the 1920's.

Gwyn Jones