Diminishing The Majesty Of The Republic, A Crime In Rome, Enforced Stupidity


Rome fell into plutocracy, and fell and fell, and fell… the famous case of the Saxons who committed suicide rather than becoming gladiators, show that some who arrived in Rome were deeply revolted by the Roman plutocracy, and absolutely refused to play along. But the Romans themselves were so dull that they didn’t revolt until the mid-Sixth Century in Constantinople, against emperor Justinian, and that happened just once, and utterly failed (although the Arbogast struggle against Theodosius should be viewed as another revolt, it is telling that it was led by a Frank, not a genuine Roman… And it failed in part because Theodosius bought some of Arbogast force… Another example of greed superseding all other values in Late Rome.)

The comparison with the European Middle Ages is enlightening. After the terrible “Black Plague” of 1348 CE, which killed around half of Europe, workers, now fewer in numbers, asked for higher wages. The French and British monarchies passed laws cancelling the rises and forcing people to work. Extremely ferocious revolts ensued, complete with noble families roasted on spit like vulgar pigs. No less than 1,000 revolts would happen on the next two centuries. They soon got entangled with major wars. However, real progress, in all sorts of dimensions, came out all of these rebellious spirits…. whereas the Roman intellectual life, supposing it ever existed, seemed to have died long before it turned to Christian Derangement Syndrome. Why were the Romans so dull?

Why was Rome so intellectually lackluster, and Athens so bright? A factor was the ancient nature of Greek civilization: by the time (753 CE) Rome was founded, Minoan-Greek civilization was 23 centuries old, and was re-emerging after the Bronze Age civilizational collapse. It had been closely entangled with many civilizations just as old in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Egypt…  Athens was resting on a colossal accumulated civilizational base. 

One thing clear in Homer is that intelligence is the most human, most domineering quality, and triumphs from adversity best. Intelligence is born of debate. Intelligence is also born out of adversity. Thus Athens went all out for Direct Democracy, fostering debate, increasing intelligence. 

Athens was not ruled by the enforced respect for the greatness of the state as much as by the greatness of reason, directly. Even Socrates pretended this [1]… 

In Republican Rome, the respect for the “greatness of the state” was imposed. By law.  It was a criminal offense to adversely affect the greatness of the state: major + status; MAJE-STA = greatness-state [2]. This meant, in particular, not making fun of elected Roman officials, let alone criticizing them (that worked well until Tiberius Gracchus tried to enforce the limit on wealth). Whereas Aristophanes pursued a relentless war against the major demagogue Kleon…

In the Roman Republic the word “majestos” (biggest) was used in the case of major magistrates and We The People. The title “Majesty” transferred from emperor to emperor, but Trajan, one the best emperors refused to use it, contenting himself with “Optimus”, the best.

Ulpian (170-228 CE) was a top jurist and top adviser of emperor Severus Alexander. Ulpian (Dig. 48 tit. 4 s1), defined crimes against majesty to be “crimen illud quod adversus Populum Romanum vel adversus securitatem ejus committitur.The crime that is committed against the Roman People or against its security.

Further, “crimen majestatis” was defined as “crimen laesae, imminutae, diminutae, minutae, majestatis.” That is: “crime against majesty as any offense which hurt, reduced, diminished, minimized the greatness of the state (majesty).

Ulpian glorified in Belgica. It is interesting to see modern states (here is the Belgiae Palais de Justice) glorifying fascist imperially stupid Rome… An unwitting symbol of the continuity of plutocracy.

The expression “minuere majestatem” consequently signifies any act by which this majestas is impaired; and it is thus defined, 250 years earlier, by Cicero (de Invent. II.17), “Majestatem minuere est de dignitate, aut amplitudine, aut potestate Populi aut eorum quibus Populus potestatem dedit, aliquid derogare.” (See Cic. ad Fam. III.11. “Majestatem auxisti.”)

Minimizing majesty is any lessening of the dignity, or greatness of People power, or of those to whom the People gave power to.” [Personal translations.]

Reporting crimes, such as attacking the majesty, the greatness of the state, was encouraged under the Republic. In the late republic patriotism waned and so those who reported grave crimes were encouraged with the potential reward of acceding to the position of the suspect, if convicted. Thus the domination by the majesty of the law was replaced by greed.


Under Augustus, self-described son of a god, the respect for majesty was transferred to his person, and not just for affairs regarding his safety. Any disrespect, of whatever excited his caprice, jealousy, disquiet or frustration, even relating debauched intrigues women of his household engaged in, were viewed as treason.

Inquisitors and informers kept the salacious suspicion flowing up, in the hope to extract more advantages from confiscated property. 

Emperor Domitian insisted to be called a master and god (dominus et deus). He was stabbed, starting in the groin, and, although he killed his hired special force assaillant, he died from his wounds. 

Domitian seemed to have been a good, fastidious emperor in many ways. He pushed the legions all the way to Azerbaijan. He also heavily prosecuted corruption among public officials, removing jurors if they accepted bribes and rescinding legislation when a conflict of interest was suspected. 

However, Domitian ensured that libellous writings, especially directed against himself, were punishable by exile or death. Actors were likewise regarded with suspicion, as their satire at the expense of the government was feared. Mimes were forbidden from appearing on stage in public. It’s too bad, because Domitian was (contrarily to repute) a relatively good emperor. Had he learned to suffer humor, he would have been more open to philosophy beyond stoicism (the only philosophy Domitian liked) … and his complete tolerance of Judaism and Christianism (contrarily to future Christian lies, there was no persecution whatsoever). 

In the Dominate, or Late Empire period, the emperors eliminated the Republican trappings of their predecessors and began to identify the state with their person. Although legally the princeps civitatis (the emperor’s official title, meaning, roughly, ‘first citizen’) could never become a sovereign because the Roman Republic was never officially abolished, emperors were deified as divus, first posthumously but by the Dominate period, while reigning. Deified emperors enjoyed the same legal protection that was accorded to the divinities of the state cult; by the time it was replaced by Christianism, emperor Constantine modestly adopted the title of “13th Apostle”, and what was in all but name a sacred monarchical tradition had already become well-established.

Could it have been different? Could Rome have acquired a sense of humor? Possibly. Caesar, disembarking in Africa for war against his Optimates enemies, falls on the beach, flat on his belly. According to Roman religion, a very bad omen. But the general grabs the sand with both hands and exclaims:”Now I hold you, Africa!”. But that was Caesar (was that one of his mini strokes?) Two centuries earlier, a Roman high lady was caught in a traffic jam. She got infuriated. Her brother was a famous admiral. His fleet, the entire Roman fleet, had been completely sunk in action against Carthage. Hundreds of ships sunk, dozens of thousands of sailors and soldiers, drowned. The irate lady exclaims:”How come there are still so many Romans? Couldn’t my brother have killed more?” 

So there was some hope for Roman humor and thus, transcendence of the spirit.

However, the crime of Lèse-majesté (hurt majesty) prevented the expansion of the mind. It was one thing for the grandees of Rome to dare to joke. Lesser orders couldn’t risk it: Roman magistrates were “majestos”, and it was crime to risk a joke. Early Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence were careful to present their plays as mostly translated from the Greek and happening in Greece, lest they be accused of having offended the Roman Republic. 

The final prosecution for lèse-majesté occurred in 1715 CE in the United Kingdom. In France it partly survived as “offense contre le président de la République” until 1898, when it was used to re-establish Dreyfus. Zola and company accused the president of being a liar, ensuring a trial which would demonstrate for all to see the shaky evidence on which Dreyfus had been convicted. The plan worked perfectly well, except that a lunatic chimney sweep took it on himself to kill Zola with carbon monoxide by blocking his chimney. By 1908, Dreyfus was retired with great honors, and would become a lieutenant-colonel in WW1… while Zola enjoyed the dubious pleasure to be buried at the Pantheon (the original Pantheon is in Rome, and is smaller). 

Fundamentally, Rome died of a lack of appetite for high mental performance, the call of the honor of the human spirit. This was no doubt forged by centuries of criminalizing, under the Republic any demonstration of “esprit”. In other words, the Republic imposed mental fascism, through its humorless magistrates… for centuries.

The opposites happened in France, from Rabelais to Saint Just… and actually, one could go back as early as Clovis who seemed to have enjoyed making fun of Catholicism, in the guise of celebrating it. Certainly, in the century preceding the Revolution of 1789, avoir de l’esprit, making fun of others, came to be seen as the highest art… It prepared the revolution, because that form of humor criticized all authority. In a way, humor directed against others, is the opposite of the self-deprecating humor which is viewed as the highest refinement in the USA. Of course, with self-deprecating humor, one only lowers oneself relative to the masters… whereas, to resist masters, especially the humorless, abominable sort, one first has to learn to enjoy disrespecting them, in such a way that they are completely defenseless.  

Confronted by a host of problems, defenseless after the assassination of Caesar, the betrayed Populares were excluded from the leadership of the state, leaving the army and the wealthiest to fight, and help, each other for the control of the empire. Neither of these actors worried a bit about the honor of the human spirit, the only thing which could have saved Roman civilization. Roman civilization, or lack thereof, had to be burned; something Christianism did very well. Thus the better angels of the Greco-Roman world could be reborn like phoenixes, but not all of them have spread their wings of wisdom have not fully spread yet. 

The fundamental lesson from the failure of Rome is that civilization has to be led, not by plutocracy, but by optimal thinking, the best thinking which can be achieved at the time. And that thinking always originates from outside of the box of privilege and the establishment.

Middle Age Europe understood this need for the highest thinking, after the fall of Rome. Examples abound, here are a few. Look at Bathilde, the highly educated queen who outlawed slavery, but originally, a slave captured in Kent. Look at Charlemagne, surrounded by philosophers, some, like Alcuin, from the British isles (not yet part of the Frankish empire then). And the French and British monarchs would keep on being advised by intellectuals: several French kings took advice from Buridan, François I used Leonardo Da Vinci (a top physicist, among other things) as a substitute father, and of the deeply iconoclast writer, physician and Pagan philosopher François Rabelais (?1494 – 1553 CE). Henri IV and Margot, queen of France and Navarre were so close to Montaigne she co-worked on his essays (and thus Henri IV was one the very best kings, his passions moderated by the other two)… Even the dreadful Louis XIV would fund many intellectuals, including the top Dutch physicist Huyghens, author, among other things, of the wave theory of light.

Top intellectualism feeds revolution in science and technology, necessary to insure not just the progress, but the survival of civilization. Because no civilization can stand still, not anymore than a bicycle can, be it only because of the back reaction its own success brings. The short of it, is that Rome didn’t have enough brains to survive… or even to distinguish itself from the invading Barbarians.

Patrice Ayme


P/S: Plutocratic authorities can be publishers such as Twitter, and other social platforms, deciding what’s tolerable, and what’s not, and being a law onto themselves. Many have, behind my back, decided what they would show of my work, to whom… Thus some religious terrorists published by, say, Twitter, can get away with fatwas to prevent publications of others, such as yours truly…


[1] Two cases are opposed here: Aristophanes, and the one he harshly criticized and ridiculized, Socrates. Aristophanes said whatever, about whoever, including the greatest politicians. Socrates ended with hemlock… Well, Socrates was fundamentally accused of the greatest betrayal: having taught his students to become dictators. So he was a special case (and the only one to whom the general amnesty was not applied!)


[2] maiestas) “greatness, dignity, elevation, honor, excellence

Tags: , , ,

4 Responses to “Diminishing The Majesty Of The Republic, A Crime In Rome, Enforced Stupidity”

  1. Gmax Says:

    Smart. I mean you, not Rome. How did you find this stuff? Ain’t in books I know of. How does this apply to the riots?


  2. ianmillerblog Says:

    As for Roman humour and posthumous deification, apparently Vespasian’s last words were, “I fear I am about to become a God.”


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, that was hilarious. Vespasian had a good sense of humor. When his son Titus told him it smelled bad to tax latrines, Vespasian replied:”Money doesn’t smell”…


What do you think? Please join the debate! The simplest questions are often the deepest!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: