Monday, September 21, 2009


Does nothing ever change? Looking back on the so-called "Golden Age" of the Roman Empire, 50 years after the death of Nero, here is the emperor Hadrianvs Avgvstvs (Hadrian), the second of the adoptive emperors advertising his standard method of mollifying the Roman population to keep them quiet in the face of his foreign and domestic policies. Like Barack Obama, Hadrian toured Europe and visited Egypt, giving speeches and making his presence known. And like Barack Obama, Hadrian used his government to provide cash handouts for his clients and supporters. He issued coins like the one above and similar ones, in their millions, commemorating his every exploit, as if they were tweets, the better to remind the people of his generosity and his patronage.

On the reverse of the coin above, a silver denarius, the emperor is shown sitting on a raised platform behind two officials, one with an abacus, while the other dispenses cash to a citizen who stands, unapologetically before the dais, the folds of his robe open to receive the coins. Under the dais the inscription reads LIBERAL AVG, a commemoration which remains to this day, 1,890 years after the minting of this coin, an easily understood paradigm for political success.

Like Hadrian, Obama is a famous patron of the arts. Like Hadrian, Obama has the the support of the glitterati and the governing elites. Like Hadrian, Obama has forbidden torture.
Like Hadrian, Obama is a fervent (albeit hetero), supporter of gay rights. As Hadrian did, so is Obama in the process of surrendering his predecessor's conquests in Mesopotamia to the Persians. Like Hadrian, Obama has taken the side of the Palestinians against the Jews. In fact, it was under Hadrian that the land formerly known as Judea came to be called Palestine for the very first time. Like Hadrian after his death, Obama has been "deified", despite being still in office. It remains to be seen whether Obama will continue to channel Hadrian, that most benevolent of autocrats, in forming his own version of the frumentarii: loyal followers who, at the the emperor's insistence acted as his personal spies.

Despite being called by some of his critics ignorant of the past, it seems pretty clear that Barack Obama is well on his way to re-enacting almost verbatim, a fairly sophisticated slice of history. Of the ancient and imperial variety.

No comments: