The intro chapters of John Crossan’s The Historical Jesus paint a picture of life in the
Roman Empire at the turn of the first millennium.
If you were a peasant or lived anywhere near the piece of real estate the
Romans planned on conquering next? Well, it sure doesn’t look the “good old
days” to me. If you were lucky the taxman and your landlord let you keep about half of what you grew. In the conquered lands death was probably preferable to ending up on a Roman auction block.
When Octavius Caesar became Augustus and took control of what was left of the old republic and finally admitted
Rome was really an empire the country was
coming out of nearly a century of civil war. Imperial mythology and the
apologetics of historians built the image of an empire meant to rule the world
and enforce the peace. Gee, where have we heard THAT recently.
“Augustan peace is real and still has much to do with fertility of field and prosperity of city and it would be untrue to confine its benefits to
Rome or even to Italy alone.
But peace at home now goes hand in hand with war abroad. Maybe peace is
retained at home precisely by wars maintained abroad. “ Crossan in Historical
Jesus pp. 41.
Gaius Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman senator and historian born mid first century CE. But, he was born in
may have been at least partly Celtic by birth. At any rate he was more sympathetic
to the resistance of the native British to the conquest of the island by the
His father in law was one of the generals who helped conquer
and later served as governor. In his biography of Agricola he attributes this
speech to the Caledonian general Calgacus.
“Harriers of the world, now that earth fails their all devastating hands they probe even the sea: if their enemy has wealth, they have greed; if he is poor they are ambitious; East and West have glutted them; alone of mankind they behold with the same passion of concupiscence waste alike and want. To plunder, butcher, steal these things they misname empire; they make a desolation and call it peace.”
“They make a desolation and call it peace.” That ancient Scotsman may have been the first to say it, but he wasn’t the last. And
wasn’t the only
empire to make war abroad to keep something called “peace” at home. Rome
Only we aren't at peace are we? We call it peace yet the death toll mounts. The land is poisoned and the stock market climbs. The country's vegetable basket is in the worst drought since the middle 1800's and the farmland closer to where we live is covered in subdivisions and parking lots.
They make a desolation and call it peace. Not in this world or the next.