Ronald Syme

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Sir Ronald Syme, OM, FBA (11 March 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a New Zealand-born historian and classicist. Long associated with Oxford University, he is widely regarded as the 20th century's greatest historian of ancient Rome. His great work was The Roman Revolution (1939), a masterly and controversial analysis of Roman political life in the period following the assassination of Julius Caesar.


The Roman Revolution (1939)[edit]

  • In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade; and Roman history, Republican or Imperial, is the history of the governing class. The marshals, diplomats, and financiers of the Revolution may be discerned again in the Republic of Augustus as the ministers and agents of power, the same men but in different garb. They are the government of the New State.
    • Introduction: Augustus and History
  • Without a party a statesman is nothing. He sometimes forgets that awkward fact.
    • Ch. 4.
  • Security and aggression are terms of partisan interpretation.
    • Ch. 7.
  • The best party is but a kind of conspiracy against the Commonwealth.
    • Ch. 9.
  • The political cant of a country is naturally and always most strongly in evidence on the side of the vested interests. In times of peace and prosperity it commands a wide measure of acquiescence, even of belief. Revolution rends the veil.
    • Ch. 11.
  • At Rome all men paid homage to libertas, holding it to be something roughly equivalent to the spirit and practice of Republican government. Exactly what corresponded to the Republican constitution was, however, a matter not of legal definition but of partisan interpretation. Libertas is a vague and negative notion—freedom from the rule of a tyrant or a faction. It follows libertas [liberty], like regnum [kingship] or dominatio [despotism], is a convenient term of political fraud.
    • Ch. 11.

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