81 Generosity: On the Greatness of Rome

I know that Montaigne’s essays are sometimes whimsical in subject matter, but the recent ones have leaned heavily towards the self indulgent. Not making any attempt to make a larger, more universal point of it, Montaigne in this essay decides to extol the greatness of Rome. Zzzzzz.

Rome was great because they didn’t hold tight to all the land they conquered, they often just gave it away:

It was no new thing for a simple Roman citizen, as Caesar then was, to dispose of kingdoms, since he relieved King Dejotarus of his to bestow it on a nobleman of the town of Pergamo who was called Mithridates. And his biographers mention several other kingdoms which he sold; Suetonius says that he extorted from King Ptolemy three million six hundred thousand crowns at one go – which was tantamount to selling it to him!

And this custom continued with Augustus:

All the kingdoms which Augustus conquered by right of war he either restored to those who had lost them or bestowed on foreigners.

Okay, great. The U.S., by contrast, not only turned Germany back to the Germans, Japan back to the Japanese and Iraq back to the Iraqis, we spent fortunes rebuilding these nations. When the American Empire’s days have passed, it’s not our “freedoms” that will be best remembered, but our generosity.

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