Badass diplomacy

I’m reading a terrific book about ancient Rome. I hope to discuss it more in the future, once I’m finished reading it. In the meantime, this nicely self-contained passage astonished me.

The style of this imperium is vividly summed up in the story of the last encounter between Antiochus Epiphanes and the Romans. The king was invading Egypt for the second time, and the Egyptians had asked the Romans for help. A Roman envoy, Gaius Popilius Laenas, was dispatched and met Antiochus outside Alexandria. After his long familiarity with the Romans, the king no doubt expected a rather civil meeting. Instead, Laenas handed him a decree of the senate instructing him to withdraw from Egypt immediately. When Antiochus asked for time to consult his advisors, Laenas picked up a stick and drew a circle in the dust around him. There was to be no stepping out of that circle before he had given his answer. Stunned, Antiochus meekly agreed to the senate’s demands. This was an empire of obedience.

Mary Beard
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, 2015

Rome had an empire and an army of such size and efficiency that the mere written demand, delivered by a no-nonsense envoy, that this Greek king and his army go home succeeded with no fuss. And having occurred in 168 BCE, Rome was still a republic. There was not yet a single leader with a Caesar-sized personality and reputation to cow Epiphanes.

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