America's reflection in Rome's past

I interviewed Barry Strauss, the acclaimed military history and author of The Spartacus War, a page-turner about one of the world's most successful insurgency leaders. Spartacus was a slave and gladiator who should have been freed.

Later Roman writers believed the rebellion, which scorched the countryside and beat nine Roman armies, could have been avoided. Strauss says Roman sources blamed Rome's leaders, not the guerilla fighters, for the war, because it could have been avoided were Spartacus not inspired by a desire for revenge.

Add to that a revolt fueled by religious fervor. Spartacus was a charismatic leader who whipped up support by calling on the name of Dionysius, a revered god of rural Italy, where he got most of his 60,000-man army. Strauss says it's not too much of a stretch to call the rebellion a jihad waged for the sake of God's revenge.

Strauss also points out what became obvious after a while -- the enormous similarities between then and now. America is an empire by any standard in world history. It's also a superpower like Rome. The latter was bogged down in a insurgency just as the former has been in Iraq and will be again in Afghanistan. The old empire fought men who believed they were on the right side of God, just as this new empire has been in the Middle East.

"The similarities leap off the page," Strauss says.

You can read the interview at Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Evidently, Strauss isn't alone in finding similarities between then and now. The coming months promise at least a handful of titles focusing on ancient Rome. I don't know how tight the comparisons are, but the volume at this moment is worth taking note of. They are:

March 26, 2009 8:05 AM |



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