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Joanna Kenty walk not work for, consult, very own shares in or receive capital from any firm or organization that would advantage from this article, and also has expose no relevant affiliations past their academic appointment.

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In the wake up of his acquittal indigenous impeachment charges, chairman Donald Trump has been trumpeting his power and firing federal government officials who had testified against him.

Can he do that?

It’s an essential question, in light of an discussion his legitimate team offered to defend him in his Senate trial. Alan Dershowitz suggested that any kind of act through a president seeking reelection was naturally in the national interest. That insurance claim sparked critics’ latest round that allusions to dictatorship, authoritarianism and monarchy. One democratic senator even called Trump’s acquittal “the coronation of chairman Trump as king.”

I to be a scholar of Roman background and rhetoric, and also these comments reminded me that a moment more than 2,000 years ago, when mark Antony, among the most prominent and powerful politicians in the roman Republic, available the nation’s chosen leader, Julius Caesar, a crown.

What happened next shifted the course of history – and also shortened the course of Caesar’s life.


A depiction of Caesar and his military crossing the Rubicon. The print Collector via Getty images

A brief history of Rome

According come legend, the Romans had actually banished their last king in 509 B.C., when they founded the republic and also vowed never ever to be rule by majesties again.

Instead, roman inn citizens chosen magistrates, led by two consuls, in a republic which available a model to America’s own founding Fathers. Sometimes, in time of crisis, they chosen a “dictator” come wield sweeping strength (a kind of martial law), because that a term of six months, or till the emergency had actually been resolved and the government could go earlier to normal.

In the an initial century B.C., military commanders like Marius, Sulla, and also Pompey had upset the equilibrium the this system, amassing extra-constitutional powers v the assistance of the masses. Yet Julius Caesar took points a action further. In 49 B.C., the led his Roman army out that Gaul and throughout the Rubicon River right into Italy, and was elected dictator. The kicked off 3 years of civil war. Throughout the war, that was chosen dictator again, because that a entirety year. Climate again, for 10 years. Climate in perpetuity, through no ax limit. The was elected consul too, v his right-hand guy Mark Antony together his co-consul.

‘Where did you obtain the crown?’

On Feb. 15 in 44 B.C., Caesar, now dictator because that life, was ago in Rome. He was sitting ~ above a phase watching the celebrations the a purification festival called the Lupercalia. In ~ one point, Caesar’s co-consul note Antony approached Caesar’s stage.

Cicero, a lawyer and also leading politician of the time – and one the the biggest Roman authors – defines what taken place next, together if he were addressing Antony:

“Your co-consul was sitting on the speakers’ stage, wearing the purple toga that a triumphant general, seated on a golden chair, attract a laurel wreath of victory. Girlfriend rise up, approach his chair … and also show the a crown.

"The entire forum groaned. Where did you acquire the crown? You no just find it lied there, you lugged it native home, a premeditated and also carefully planned crime. You placed the crown on Caesar, and also the crowd wailed; that rejected it, and also they cheered. Girlfriend criminal, you advocated for kingship and wanted to make your co-consul right into your master, you were the only human to test what the Roman people could placed up with and tolerate. …

"Caesar also ordered an inscription in the main record: ‘At the Lupercalia, as soon as the consul mark Antony readily available the kingship come Gaius Caesar, dictator for life, through the bespeak of the people, Caesar said that that did not want it.’”

Power by any type of other name

According to Cicero (a servant owner himself), Antony want Caesar come be an ext than simply a consul and dictator because that life: He wanted Caesar to be a king. Antony wanted the Romans to be subjects rather than citizens, as slaves are to their master. No glory was too good for Caesar, in his eyes.

But Caesar stated he didn’t desire that power. Chroniclers are unsure that what was yes, really happening in that minute at the Lupercalia. Perhaps Caesar didn’t want to be a king, and devised Antony’s stunt together a method to demonstrate to the human being that he respected the republic.

Or probably he did want to it is in a king, however the crowd’s reaction changed his mind. Possibly Cicero was simply being paranoid or politicizing the event.

If some human being wanted Caesar to be king, and everyone believed he had the strength of a king, maybe note Antony thought he was just formalizing what everyone currently knew: that the republic to be no much longer subject to the preeminence of legislation or the magistrates, but to Caesar.

But claiming new powers with no expiration day was various from explain the location of king: The location was much more symbolic, and also maybe much more dangerous, due to the fact that it would stand for a judgment about what sort of power Caesar assumed he had actually over Rome. Coming to be king wouldn’t have meant just changing the label of the mechanism of government – it would have actually shifted the communication of Romans’ nationwide identity. They to be citizens that a republic, owners of a “commonwealth” (in Latin, “res publica”), totally free and self-governing – in name, if not always in reality. Come be rule by a king would be providing up that identity.


Caesar’s life didn’t finish well. Universal background Archive/Universal Images team via Getty images

A risk of tyranny

Ultimately, the didn’t matter what name Caesar placed or didn’t put on his power. A month ~ he refused the crown, Brutus, Cassius and also their co-conspirators murdered Caesar in the roman Senate since they thought he had become a tyrant.

To them, one-man preeminence by any kind of name was unthinkable, a treason of roman inn values and also the death of freedom. Note Antony offered the assassins amnesty in exchange for keeping his very own power, but later drive them the end of the city and also seized power as an excellent as any type of Caesar had actually held – despite it was organized jointly through two others, as part of the oppressive second Triumvirate.

Caesar to be clever, a gifted orator and writer, a fearsome armed forces strategist through ambitious plans because that Rome. Plenty of Roman citizens it seems ~ to have been happy to provide up whatever civil free they had actually to celebrate your heroic leader. ~ his death, lock worshiped him as a god.

Perhaps, like some americans today, some Romans hoped that authoritarianism would solve society’s ills. But to part Roman senators, the surname of monarchy – represented by a symbolic crown – was worth dying for, and worth death for.

Cicero explains Mark Antony as using the Lupercalia event as a type of check balloon, to see where the roman people’s limits were. In a time once we’re inundated with breaking news stories and unprecedented scandals, it may seem silly to worry about names and labels. However in my view, it’s worth stepping earlier and looking in ~ the big picture.

Is the political system working the means Americans think that is? are they the free, self-governing citizens they mean to be? it’s not always clear as soon as a new chapter in the background books begins, yet a symbolic test in a publicly forum can reveal alters in what’s politically acceptable.

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