Christianity and the decline of Rome
Why study Christianity, especially its origins and early evolution? Many comrades I come across on the left, including allies in the Socialist Alliance and members of the CPGB, adopt a hard, dismissive pose. Christianity, along with every religious manifestation, is 'bunk' - to paraphrase a supercilious 20th century American capitalist.
But such atheist economism is profoundly mistaken. Frankly it owes everything to vulgar materialism and nothing to authentic Marxism, which considers religion to be a specific form of consciousness reflecting the alienated human condition. Uncontrollable natural and social forces are projected into the heavens in the constructed collective imagination. To grasp religion by bringing it back to earth and back to its origins is therefore to grasp a vital aspect of humanity.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, it hardly needs pointing out, wrote numerous works directly or indirectly analysing religion and its many and varied manifestations. This applies equally to the young and old Marx as it does the young and old Engels. For instance Marx's doctoral thesis The difference between the natural philosophy of Democritus and the natural philosophy of Epicurus, finished in March 1841, cunningly highlights the superiority of the materialism propounded by the ancient Greek thinker Epicurus over religious-based speculations. Its introduction contains the paradoxical and inspiring maxim - the "consciousness of humanity" is the "supreme divinity" (K Marx CW Vol. 1, Moscow 1975, p30). As for Christianity, Engels insists, four decades later in 1882, that it cannot be disposed of simply by "declaring it to be nonsense". Christianity can only be overcome if first we succeed in "explaining its origins and development from the historical conditions from which it arose" (F Engels CW Vol. 24, Moscow 1989, p428).
Excellent advice which we have done our best to follow. To equip the working class with a strategic understanding, to make it capable of mastering society, communists must, using the method of Marxism, develop and disseminate an ever-expanding body of knowledge embracing all issues. This applies no less to Christianity and its place in history. History is after all the natural environment of humanity as a self-making species. Hence for Marxists the study of the past is no fact-grubbing, academic pursuit or a mere fireside hobby. Instead it serves as a powerful weapon in the class struggle of today, which we wield so as to achieve a better tomorrow. Those on the left who disdainfully shun the history of Christianity and its study in effect hand it over to our enemies.
My own particular interest in religion dates back to childhood and what passes for a Church of England and then a state school education. For someone who has always found joy in rebellion militant atheism offered a convincing and intellectually thrilling response. I also thought it smart and daring to cross-examine hapless RE teachers and mock naive vicars. Later this atheism logically led to communism and Marxism. A first tentative exploration of the vistas of Marxism confronted me with what is rational and human in the Christian cult. In its way a revelation. Previously I had simply dismissed with unconcealed and sneering contempt the running flaws and all too evident untruths of Christianity. Now I know much more is demanded.
However one may regard Christianity as an epistemological system, there can be no denying the impact of this 'bunk'. Almost uninterruptedly, for over one and a half thousand years, Christianity, in various institutional forms and guises, high and low, has been a dominating cultural influence over the minds and imaginations of the peoples of Europe.
Despite a McCarthyite persecution Christianity secured a mass base for itself throughout the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, especially in the army and amongst urban women. Constantine found he could exalt himself into the position of an oriental despot by adopting Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Christianity more than survived the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Medieval wars were holy and always sanctified by god. Book, relic and pulpit served every lordly coalition. The masses too had their own Christian sects and heresies. Albigenses, Taborites, Flagilants, Lollards.
Nor should we forget that as a nation state Great Britain was founded in the early 18th century as aggressively Christian and protestant - catholic France its defining 'other'. Indeed until the enlightenment and the French Revolution of 1789 European politics of virtually every hue were fought out using arcane justifications culled from the bible. Religion and politics did not exist as separate categories, but interpenetrated.
A communist like myself - whose Party was only established in 1920 and is now reviving slowly after nearly being completely destroyed from within by Marxism Today, Straight Left, and Morning Star traitors - must respect, albeit grudgingly, the longevity of Christianity and its enormous contemporary authority. There are at least a billion Christians in the world today. And, whatever the proponents of 'multiculturalism' maintain, Britain in not yet post-Christian.
The official religion of the United Kingdom remains a nationalised form of Christianity, alongside which countless coexisting and semi-incorporated factions operate - Roman Catholicism, Baptism, Methodism, Seventh Day Adventism, Greek orthodoxy, etc. State, religion and constitutional monarchy form a single organism. In state schools our children are taught the myths of the New Testament as verity or at the very least that Jesus was some sort of well-meaning founder of an admirable new religion. Nativity plays inculcate Christian myths in tender minds and reaffirm them for adoring, camcorder-pointing parents. Nor is it all sweetness and seductive delight. Britain's warships, military aircraft and army units are ritualistically blessed in the hallowed name of the Christian triple-godhead. Archbishops and bishops of the Church of England, the lords spiritual, sit by "ancient usage and statute" in our parliament. Royal weddings and state funerals are conducted according to high church ritual. And, of course, Elizabeth Windsor, head of state, is also head of the established church. As for the 'impartial' BBC, it broadcasts Christian services and homilies almost daily.
Yes, over the last 50 years or so regular church attendance by the mass of the population has plummeted. Nevertheless top politicians still find it advantageous to parade their religious affiliations. Tony Blair is a well-publicised Church of England attender (when not receiving communion at his wife's Roman Catholic Church). Other government ministers noisily sing from the same hymn sheet: e.g., Paul Boateng. Unwilling to be outpointed in terms of pseudo-morality, William Hague suddenly rediscovered the affinity of the Tory Party to C of E Christianity (nowadays, New Labour at prayer). Alongside that nauseating spectacle we find Christian Tories by conviction - most notably the catholic convert Ann Widdecombe - who peruse a particularly bigoted and spiteful agenda.
Regrettably religion is not just a haut etablissment affliction. Historically the Christian cult has unmistakably shaped the development of our working class movement and national social psychology. "There is no country in Europe," remarked Leon Trotsky in 1921, "where church influence in political, social and family life is so great as in Great Britain" (L Trotsky Writings on Britain London 1974, p19).
It is commonplace, though nonetheless germane, to describe the Labour Party as more coloured by Methodism than Marxism. Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden promised voters a New Jerusalem. James Connolly himself bowed an intellectual knee before the catholic faith of Ireland. Even Tom Mann - leader of the 1910-14 syndicalist revolt and chair of the early CPGB - seriously considered entering the priesthood at about the same time he was secretary of the Independent Labour Party. Certainly religious notions, fused with the programme of reformism, helped to smother class consciousness throughout the British Isles and thereby buffer and protect the system of capital.
What characterised the stormy first quarter of the 20th century applied to its final quarter. Once prominent leftwingers, such as Tony Benn, Jimmy Reid and Arthur Scargill, when pushed, still readily pronounce upon their Christian ideals and their inspirational value.
Christianity thereby remains a vehicle for just about every contending viewpoint in society. We have a tough, but caring New Labour Jesus who tells the unemployed, the disabled and single parents that they are obliged to work for miserable wages so as to benefit their souls; a Conservative Christianity urging the rich to get richer in order that they have the monetary wherewithal to carry out the command of Jesus and donate to charity; an Old Labour Christianity dully preaching social justice within the cage of wage slavery; and a Scargillite Christianity which holds out state socialism as a veritable heaven on earth. The historic Jesus is of no concern. Nor is the real emergence and evolution of the Christian religion - except, it seems, for us Marxists.
Not that we can afford to be smug. Comrades who claim, no matter how dubiously, to represent our tradition argue that with the seemingly relentless forward march of technology and science - itself a thoroughly modern phenomenon - religious ideas are bound to undergo a natural death. Such an essentially passive outlook might provide solace, but is in itself a secular form of religion (i.e., an idealist worship of the means of production).
The United States proves the point. Here is the richest and most capitalistically advanced country on the planet (to use Istvan Mészáros's perceptive emphasis). It is also one of the most religious. There is, in other words, no automatic correlation between capitalist progress, or its constant revolutionisation of the productive forces, and the diminution of religious superstition. Class consciousness is enhanced exclusively through organisation, self-activity and scientific - i.e., thoroughly rational - theory.
Britain for its part is not immune. It is culturally predisposed to religion and hence a new religious contagion. Moreover Britain remains notoriously conservative. Workers still drag behind them the prejudices of their ancestors. So despite dramatically falling church attendance and a shrinking belief in the god prescribed by ecclesiastical doctrine there is no room for complacency. A clear majority in Britain is convinced of the existence of a supernatural divinity or spirit. What is more, astrology, palmistry, mysticism and other such 'bunk' fills the vacuum, not socialism.
Take the millennium. The official billion-pound celebrations were, of course, half about remaking Britain's battered and attenuated state-national identity. But also half about collectively marking western civilisation's common era, which begins with the supposed birth of the man-god Jesus.
Only a fool would say that fundamentalism is the exclusive preserve of Muslims and North Americans. Behind Sir Cliff Richard's number one 'Millennium prayer' lies not bad taste alone, but a commercial echo of Victorian religious revivalism. Indeed, as capitalist social relations grow ever more alienated, increasing numbers will surely search for comfort and consolation not only in astrology, drugs, the lottery and new age mysticism, but old-time Christianity too. The perceived failure of working class politics and the entire socialist project can only but intensify the felt need for a soul in a soulless world.
All this makes it vital to comprehensively challenge Christianity in the name of human liberation and through an historical materialist theory reveal its revolutionary origins in Palestine and transformation into the main ideological prop of the Roman empire and its ruling elite. Communist politics, let me emphasise once more, is about more than strikes, fighting cuts, student grants and other so-called bread and butter issues. A prerequisite for anything decisive is securing hegemony in the realm of ideas.
Actually we have an inherent advantage. The cause of the working class needs the unvarnished truth about the past with all its different social formations, class antagonisms, world-historic personalities, violent ruptures and democratic movements. In contrast our rulers prefer myth, legends, seamless apologetics and passive resignation.
To maintain and reproduce ideological domination the bourgeoisie employ, flatter and promote all manner of philosophers, academics, theologians, journalists and broadcasters. These dons and divines, pundits and post-modernists manufacture or propagate a history which downplays or obliterates those below. Capitalism is presented as the natural order, or the last word in civilisation. Piecemeal change is their totem. Revolution only brings disaster and disappointment. Revolutions and revolutionaries are therefore with equal disingenuousness demonised or diluted.
Typically here in Britain the revolutionary past of the bourgeoisie is denied by enervation. Aristocratic cavaliers are the arrogant, but dashing heroes of biography, film and novel. Roundheads are at the same time dour proto-Stalinites and passionate believers. Charles I is bumbling, but well-meaning, inoffensive and courageous. Oliver Cromwell sincere, but narrow-minded and bigoted. This whole 'balanced' approach was, in fact, launched by Sir Walter Scott, who sought, or so Georg Lukács has it, to find a "middle way" between himself and the warring extremes of his particular 19th century social situation (G Lukács The historical novel Harmondsworth 1969, p31).
What of our dead leaders? Marx, Engels and Lenin have all been transformed from dedicated revolutionary politicians into mere interpreters of the world - by reformists and left-leaning professors alike. They have also, however, been deemed responsible for the gulags and the system of terror instituted by Stalin in the 1930s by rightist academics and their anarchist co-thinkers.
Such demonisation is socially sustainable because not only was Stalin's 'second revolution' - i.e., the 1928 bureaucratic counterrevolution within the revolution - carried out under the guise of Marxism, but so too were the Chinese, Korean, Albanian, Kampuchean and other bloody and disastrous experiments in national socialism. 'Official communism' in power created and lived an anti-Marxist Marxism. From the materialist theory of universal human liberation what was called Marxism functioned as a creaking idealist doctrine which excused (non-capitalist) statist oppression and exploitation. In the absurd propaganda claims, ideological trappings and actions of Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Hoxha and their descendants the permanent persuaders of capitalism found their truth.
Suffice to say, turning the likes of Marx, Engels and Lenin into their opposites - i.e., advocates or heralds of national socialism - requires intellectual dishonesty on a grand scale. Capitalism ensures conformity to its interests in general through assimilation - fat salaries, research grants and all manner of petty honours and privileges. Bureaucratic socialism in contrast had to resort to blanket censorship, the destruction of all genuine political debate and the cult of an all-knowing leader. Lying about such giants as Marx, Engels and Lenin is endlessly difficult, however. Deceased they may be. But their thoughts and aspirations live on in our active reading of their innumerable published writings (crude doctoring is easily exposed and was therefore in the main never attempted or quickly abandoned).
Communists must, and will, defend our own. We must also, being part of a class uniquely interested in the truth, seek to put the personalities and movements of official history back on to their feet - not least those who in some way articulate the age-old popular striving for freedom. In the tinselled and mystical, drunk and pious, commercial and joyous run-up to Christmas that especially applies to Christianity.
1. A recapitulation
Over the last couple of years we have published two supplements on Christianity. Basically the first described the ancient Hebrew background to the 1st century Jesus movement in Palestine. How the Jewish monotheistic religion was invented as an integral part of a subordinate theocratic social order and how it heavily borrowed from Babylonian sources (the garden of Eden, tower of Babel, the flood, etc).
We also argued that endemic Jewish military weakness and later Roman domination created a ready audience below for apocalyptic revolutionaries, who promised to instantly end foreign rule and the sufferings of the poor. Such a national and social revolution would be achieved through god's divine intervention via the mediation of his chosen agent. Jesus was one such self-selecting figure. Neither Jehovah nor his avenging legions of angels appeared on the sixth day. A Roman cohort did. Jesus died, executed for crimes against the state, on the orders of Pontius Pilate.
The Jerusalem masses bayed not for his crucifixion, but bravely rallied to demand his freedom. The followers of Jesus anointed him king of Israel and expected his prophetic ministry to culminate in a world communist theocracy. Uniquely his party drew courage from the humiliating end by inverting it into a thoroughly Jewish doctrine of imminent return (see 'Jesus: from apocalyptic revolutionary to imperial god' Weekly Worker December 17 1998).
Our second supplement painstakingly showed how James, the brother of Jesus, carried on the apocalyptic revolutionary tradition. He gains such popularity and repute with the Jerusalem masses that as leader of the Jesus party, the nazoreans, he could serve as a dual power high priest within the temple and enter its inner sanctum holy of holies. James, like Jesus, was a pious Jew. He eschewed meat and alcohol and practised lifelong sexual abstinence.
It was the pro-Roman and aristocratic Paul (Saul) who broke with Judaism and founded a new religion. After the defeat of the great Jewish uprising and the sacking of Jerusalem in 73 AD the nazorean party was virtually snuffed out. Paul's disciples could almost without opposition claim the mantle of Jesus and begin manufacturing the gospels by doctoring his sayings so that Jesus appears as a supernatural man-god who willingly sacrifices himself in order to redeem a sinful humanity (see 'James and the genesis of Christianity' Weekly Worker January 13 2000).
In writing this third supplement my aim is to show how, having emerged as a split from the Jesus movement, Pauline Christianity rapidly proliferated throughout the Roman empire to the stage where it counted as a physical power, almost a state within a state, and therefore a potential theocratic rival to the emperor and his authority. Religious toleration was cast aside. Starting with a deranged Nero and systematised by Diocletian, wave after wave of savage persecution followed before the state opted for assimilation and an historic compromise as the best policy.
By degrees the emperor Constantine went from being a protector of the church to an eventual death bed conversion. Early in his reign, in 313, Constantine enacted laws, the edict of Milan, which restored to the Catholic Church all confiscated lands and buildings without expense and without delay. Once Constantine secured an undisputed hold over the empire east and west, with his victory over Licinius in 324, he immediately published a general circular letter, which exhorted his subjects to follow the example of their sovereign and embrace the divine truth of Christianity. Effectively Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. But this triumph, it must be stressed, was under the aegis of the empire. Emperor and church functioned as dual powers, but the former occupied the first place.
My contention is that, while the role of Constantine and the adoption of a Hellenised Judaism was in narrow terms purely accidental, the Roman empire required, and was ripe for, a monotheistic and universal religion. In the last analysis I locate that phenomenon in the crisis, or decline, of slavery as a mode of production. As a system of reproduction it had long before reached the stage where it had became moribund. New, highly contradictory, and often anticipatory, constitutional and military forms had already emerged three centuries earlier with Augustus and the principate.
Besides that underlying theme we shall in passing examine the effect Christianity had on the Roman empire and its class relations and antagonisms. Did Christianity lessen the exploitation and oppression of the poor and preach equality? Was Christianity opposed to exploitation, slavery, torture and state terrorism? In other words did Christianity usher in humanitarian values? Karl Kautsky's magnificent Foundations of Christianity and the two main works of Geoffrey de Ste Croix have proved to be of particular value here as they have on the subject of ancient Graeco-Roman society in general.
The flawed, but thought-provoking theory of decline presented by the outstanding Russian historian, Michael Rostovtzeff - that is, that Rome decayed due to the revolutionary insubordination of the peasant army - will be touched upon, particularly because of the light it casts on the autonomy achieved by the empire's state machine - especially pronounced after its assimilation of Christianity. Rostovtzeff fled Russia after the October 1917 revolution and hated with a passion the soldier-proletarian Bolshevik state and its terrorism. Actually a not unassociated observation can be found in a range of bourgeois anti-Christian thinkers - for example, the Rev Edward Gibbon, an enlightenment sceptic, and Frederick Nietzsche, an irrationalist reactionary. For them the Roman Empire underwent a decline due in part to moral decay brought about or accelerated by Christianity.
Mention must also be made of the propagandist parallel skilfully drawn by Engels between primitive Christianity and the modern socialist movement. Both withstood persecution, both preached human freedom - one in heaven, the other on earth. Furthermore Engels cheekily claimed that the triumph of Christianity represented the triumph of socialism - "as far as it was possible at the time" (F Engels CW Vol. 27, Moscow 1990, p447). Suffice to say, in an epoch of absolute and general regression, the Christian church, in the productive form of the monasteries, were no more than islands of surviving industrial and agricultural sophistication and relative, albeit purely scholastic, learning. As we shall see, the church did not contain within it the seeds of a higher social formation.
2. Roman society and land
To grasp why the Roman world - crucially its emperors - took up the Christian cult, it is necessary first to understand the dynamics and contradictions of its dominant mode of production and the drives and ideologies of its different classes of people. Needless to say, for Marxism, in the last analysis, economic life - or, to put it more scientifically, the continuous conditions for the production of society's prime wants - determines intellectual development.
We can afford to dismiss with contempt notions of the isolated individual used, for example, by Adam Smith and Thomas Hobbes as their methodical starting point. That goes double for Margaret Thatcher and her crass outburst that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families. Our starting point is rightly humanity, as existing within and living through definite social structures, or what is to all intents and purposes the same thing, social relations. Individuals only become human individuals as social individuals. So let us begin our discussion on early Christianity and its elevation into the official religion not with the personality of Constantine, his convenient visions of Christ, or the purported appearance of a luminous cross in the sky before his astonished army. Instead we shall outline a materialist theory of Graeco-Roman society as a social system.
Every exploitative society is characterised by definite social forms - crucially the essential means through which surplus-product (surplus-labour) is continuously extracted from the basic producers. There is invariably a combination of methods here, ranging from pure ideological mystification to unmediated violence. Obviously the exact mix depends in no small part on the degree to which the exploited see themselves as exploited and are able to effectively resist.
Underlying this contested and constantly shifting consciousness is the determining determinant - the forces of production. This is not an autonomous sphere. While in the last analysis the forces of production determine society, they are themselves socially determined. For example, under capitalism the introduction of dead labour, i.e. machines, to replace living labour is often carried out in direct response to the shortage, price or combativity of living labour.
The economic foundations of civilisation in the ancient Graeco-Roman world were land and agricultural labour. Wealth was always essentially wealth in land and with that came social standing. Xenophon, a 4th century BC Greek traditionalist, writes of land ownership as a noble way to gain a living. Centuries later Cicero and other Roman orators extol the virtues of farming for a man of wealth and taste in almost exactly the same manner.
Though Graeco-Roman society was characterised by splendid and well organised cities they were not the result of an urban mode of production. Behind the dazzling facade of Athens, Corinth, Alexandria, Carthage and Rome lay agriculture. Cities were centres of consumption, not production. Aristocratic landowners lived in cities in the lap of luxury, but derived their wealth overwhelmingly from the countryside. Compared with agriculture, city-based mercantile trade and artisan industry were entirely subsidiary for the system as a whole.
The Roman Empire was highly urbanised. Nevertheless country dwellers, says Rostovtzeff, "formed an enormous majority of the population" (M Rostovtzeff Social and economic history of the Roman Empire Vol. 1, Oxford 1998, p346). Elsewhere the same author estimates that in terms of the empire's gross product agriculture accounted for 95%, industry and trade the other five percent.
Industry could not overcome the barrier set by limited consumption. Transport by land was prohibitively expensive. So industry lacked a unified mass market and rarely transcended simple, essentially individualised techniques. Local circumstances provided the stimulus and fixed the parameters. For its part mercantile trade derived the bulk of its surplus from moving products - typically luxuries, grain, olive oil and wine - over long distances, mainly by sea, between locations or zones which were in terms of necessary labour inputs and skills disconnected and profoundly uneven. Because there was in antiquity no abstract labour or socially established average labour time, returns were fabulously high. Products could be brought cheaply and sold dear. But risks were almost as high as the returns.
In the absence of compasses, sailing ships had to land-hug or navigate by the stars. On top of that handicap these slow, fragile craft faced the danger of pirates - especially active in the 1st century BC. Above all there were the fickle gods of nature with their storms, countervailing winds and awaiting rocks. So if by good luck a citizen-merchant amassed a fortune he would retire, purchase land and settle down as a gentleman farmer. It was more than a matter of physical and financial survival. Status, and thereby more respectable sources of revenue, was the spur. Successful foreign merchants in the Roman Empire typically transformed themselves into Roman citizens and landed aristocrats through marriage or other methods of social climbing and integration.
Let us add that, in general, agricultural production was carried out for direct consumption. Most inhabitants of the Roman Empire were peasants and practised an agriculture which usually "aimed at subsistence rather than the production of an exportable surplus" (P Garnsey, R Saller The Roman empire Berkeley 1987, p44). Numerous other sources and authorities could be quoted, but the domination of self-sufficient agriculture over other forms of production is universally accepted. Put another way, commodity production was a secondary feature within the overall social metabolism. It never at any point subordinated to itself its aristocratic personifications. Even merchants and artisans frequently engaged in farming and this was invariably closely associated with their domestic life. Production took place mainly for the kitchen and household needs: i.e., wood for heat, flax for clothes, etc.
With some notable exceptions (pharaonic and Ptolemaic Egypt) land in the Graeco-Roman world was alienable and held privately. Suffice to say, class differentiation set in early. One tightly knit group of people - the rich, the aristocracy - won for themselves a privileged position whereby they accumulated ownership of large tracts of land and/or extracted, by political-military means, product or direct labour time from the primary producers: i.e., the peasants. Such an exploitative relationship - whereby a surplus is obtained by the minority class from the labour of the majority class of peasants - inevitably affects every aspect of society.
Aristocrats might constitute a tiny fraction of the overall population. However, by virtue of their wealth and power, they function as the ruling class. Such people have connections and cohesion, leisure time and resources and so can culturally rise far above the cramped mental horizons of the rustic masses. The arts and philosophy of the ancient world were regarded by these people as their birthright. Moreover the aristocracy establish special armed bodies of men (the state) to maintain their position, along with laws and other forms of political oppression. For example, constitutions were inaugurated based on the principle of government of the people by the rich, for the rich (we take tyrannies and monarchies as to all intents and purposes being variants).
Of course, those below constantly fought back and could, given sufficient determination, and a "rich or even blue-blooded" leader of the demos, overturn the oligarchy and replace it with a democracy (GEM de Ste Croix The origins of the Peloponnesian war London 1985, p41). So peasant-citizens and aristocrats battled with each other. Sometimes to the point where the masses are reduced to poverty and rightlessness. Sometimes to the mutual exhaustion and ruination of both classes. Sometimes to the benefit of the peasant-citizens (nowhere more so than democratic Athens; which, possessing a compact home territory, Attica - no more than the size of Luxembourg - was both the home to peasant-citizens and could see the rest of them travel within one day's journey to the city and its popular assembly, etc).
Either way, the absolute general tendency in the ancient world was for the aristocracy to accumulate larger and larger landed estates and thereby liquidate the free peasantry as a class. Democracy might temporarily counteract this tendency: for example, the radical reforms of Solon in 594-3 BC which abolished debts and debt-bondage in the polis of Athens. But, once popular power wobbled or weakened, the land-hunger of the rich would immediately reassert itself.
From the dawn of class society the aristocracy sought to attach to its land and household forms of additional labour that were both cheap and reliable. With the growth in the size of their estates the problem became ever more pressing. Free peasants did on occasion hire themselves out as wage labourers. That though was expensive and, more important, unreliable. They had their own farms and families and especially during sowing and harvesting showed little enthusiasm in selling their ability to labour. Wage labour therefore existed only on the margins of society. Prime producer and the means of production had not been separated. As of yet no readily available pool of 'free' labour exists within society.
Unfree labour offered a way out of the conundrum and became increasingly widespread. This took a number of forms, including serf labour: i.e., labour tied by custom or command to the land owned by another person (or collectively by the state as in Sparta). But the usual form of unfree labour performed by peasants in the Graeco-Roman world was as a result of debt-bondage: i.e., labour that is performed as security for, or in repayment of, a debt.
Such solutions had their own contradictions and were, as we have noted above, always subject to stiff resistance. Robert Brenner famously locates the decline of medieval serfdom in the sphere of class relations and the class struggle (TH Aston and CHE Philpin The Brenner debate Cambridge 1995). The ancient world was no different. Two polar opposite examples will suffice: Athens and Sparta.
Plutarch, the last of the great classic Greek historians, writes of the Athenian people being "weighed down with the debts that they owed to a few rich men". The city "stood on the brink of revolution", says his chapter on Solon (Plutarch The rise and fall of Athens Harmondsworth 1976, p54). Athenian democracy radically shifted the balance of power against these "few rich men".
Authority was directly concentrated in a popular assembly made up of all male citizens (women as a sex formed an oppressed 'class' throughout the ancient Graeco-Roman world). Administrative posts were rotated and chosen by lot. There was an absence of bureaucracy and no self-perpetuating political elite. Moreover poorer citizens benefited from an "extensive redistribution of public funds": confiscated land and generous payments in return for service in the navy, attendance at the assembly and sitting on a jury. For "nearly two centuries" this Athenian welfare state brought prosperity and internal peace, notes Sir Moses Finley, the outstanding Anglo-American historian of ancient Greece (MI Finley Democracy ancient and modern London 1985, p56).
Yet, while Athenian democracy preserved and entrenched the citizen-peasantry for a time by institutionalising popular counterweights to the socio-economic power of the aristocracy, this constitutional settlement rested in no small part on the precarious foundations of imperialism, or indirect collective exploitation - namely overseas tribute extracted from often unwilling and restive allies. Once this external source of surplus product was removed - not least with the intervention of Spartan soldiers and Spartan-backed tyrannical and oligarchic coups, above all during the Peloponnesian war - Athens faced its nemesis.
What of Sparta? Though an oligarchy, Sparta actually froze the class conflict between its rich and poor citizens. However, Geoffrey de Ste Croix tellingly explains this - and Sparta's xenophobic militarism, extreme conservatism, instability and ultimate eclipse - by the "cardinal fact" of the enserfment of the Messenian people-class of helots (GEM de Ste Croix The origins of the Peloponnesian war London 1985, p89). Yet not only did the resulting Spartan constitution fail to stem the decline in the number of full citizens (by the 4th century BC there were only some 1,000-1,200 of them); but, with the final rising and liberation of Messenia, Sparta was reduced to limping on as a third-rate power.
An aside. With the removal of its internal colony, class struggle in Sparta broke out and took extreme forms. Under the tyrant-king Nabis, 207-192 BC, those below made tremendous gains. The Roman historian Livy has Nabis saying of his social programme that he exiled the rightful king, fought for "an equalisation of wealth and position", increased the citizen population by "freeing slaves", and won a larger number willing to bear arms for their country by "distributing land to the needy" (Livy Rome and the Mediterranean Harmondsworth 1976, pp171-72). Another, much later, and decidedly modern political comment I stumbled across on Nabis that I would like to bring to the reader's attention is penned by the centrist, Raymond Postgate. He claims that Nabis carried through the "standing Spartan revolutionary programme": ending private property in land, cancelling debts and abolishing class distinctions between Spartiates, neighbours and helots (Fact September 1937).
3. The slave mode of production
Anyway we must pick up the thread of our argument. Without reliable supplies of additional labour accumulating landed property is pointless. The Graeco-Roman aristocracy solved the problem in the main by turning not just to unfree, but slave labour.
We must therefore modify somewhat our categorical description of the foundations of ancient Graeco-Roman society - i.e., being land and agricultural labour - by specifying that in classic times this labour was slave labour. Mass slavery was "archetypal" and that is why it is correct to classify the successive phases of classical antiquity - first Greece, then Macedonia, and lastly Rome - as a slave mode of production (GEM de Ste Croix The class struggle in the ancient Greek world London 1983, p173). The ruling class reproduced itself socially and culturally as a class through the forced (i.e., extra-economic) extraction of surplus product from slave labour, and this essential relationship in turn moulded the class, ideological and power contours of the whole of society.
Slaves were gained through military campaigns and conquests and in huge numbers. Robin Blackburn evocatively talks of "slave hauls" (R Blackburn The making of new world slavery London 1997, p34). Exact figures have always been subject to hot dispute. Nevertheless even the most conservative appraisal I have come across puts the slave population in classical Athens at somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000. There were something like 45,000 full citizens (all male, of course). Estimates for imperial Rome give not dissimilar proportions. Within Italy in 43 AD there are said to have been 3 million slaves, compared with 4.4 million free inhabitants (see PA Brunt Social conflict in the Roman Republic London 1971, pp34-5).
They were housed in bleak, single-sex barracks and worked in gangs under a slave driver. Slaves were considered sub-human and their masters had the power of life or death over them. In Roman law they were designated as mere speaking-tools. Aristotle, perhaps the most outstanding thinker of antiquity, had justified this status, which put them just above animals, by coining the doctrine of natural slavery. No wonder Engels warns of classical philosophy carrying a poisonous sting.
Almost invariably these poor wretches were disunited by a wide variety of languages - originating as they did from countless places around Europe and the Mediterranean world. The impossibility of effective communication - apart perhaps from a smattering of Greek or Latin gleaned from their oppressors - added to their powerlessness, lack of solidarity and therefore lessened the likelihood of coordinated resistance. Slaves could never form themselves into a class: i.e., a class for itself. They had no innate ability to rise above a local or subordinate existence. Slaves, including the rich slaves of the imperial household, sought individual freedom as clients under their former owner, not general freedom. The great Spartacus was the exception, and the counterrevolutionary Roman slavocracy quickly learnt that particular lesson.
Such a system of slave labour must be distinguished from earlier, more benign forms of slavery. From the earliest stages of civilisation war-captives had been put to work instead of being summarily butchered. These 'strangers' existed outside the polis - having no blood relation to the community through tribe or gen. Nevertheless they were incorporated into the family, albeit in a lowly position.
In the event of total defeat that fate befell entire populations of cities and even countries. Men, women and children were divided up between the conquering warrior elite. E.g., having sacked Troy, the Greeks - or Achaeans, as Homer calls them - enslaved all those inhabitants who had not managed to make an escape, the lion's share of the most handsome captives going to the commander-in-chief Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae. Lesser kings and princes too returned to Greece with their allotted human cargo. During these times merchants added to the supply of slaves by raiding lightly defended coastal towns and settlements - merchant and pirate then being indistinguishable.
Drunken boasts by swaggering warrior-heroes aside, the numbers involved were small. Far less than in the classic era for certain. Moreover, according to a standard textbook, these slaves during the Homeric age "appear to have been well treated" (H Webster A history of the ancient world London 1955, p154). Kautsky likewise reckons that their lot was "not very bad" (K Kautsky Foundations of Christianity New York 1972, p51). Slaves worked alongside their masters and mistresses on the land or in the household. Agamemnon and Odysseus and other Homeric heroes ploughed the land and prepared their own meat. Their sons tended flocks of sheep. Their wives and daughters cooked, carried water and washed clothes. Production was for immediate consumption. Relations between people were essentially personal. Exploitation of slaves was therefore limited.
We can cite the affectionate relationship between Odysseus and the "divine swineherd" Eumaeus. The slave is firmly convinced that his master "loved" and "took thought for me beyond all others"; and if his master returned from the Trojan war he would immediately give him a handsome wife, a small farm and liberty (Homer The Odyssey Harmondsworth 1946, p225). Incidentally the slave claims to be a king's son and to have been stolen by Phoenician pirate-merchants as a child. Odysseus assures him that he did not come off too badly. He was sold to a kind master, who "had carefully seen to it that you had plenty to eat and drink" (ibid. p250).
During classic civilisation there was no personal relationship between a slave-owner and the average agricultural slave. Such slaves were far too numerous. Aristocrats acquired a haughty contempt for manual labour. They did not work alongside their slaves. Nor did the likes of these exhibit the slightest human feelings for them. Slaves were viewed instrumentally, as no more than an objective means to an end. Production on the latifunda and in the gold, silver, iron and sulphur mines took place not for immediate consumption (needs), but exchange. Slave-owners wanted hard cash.
The cycle of such commodity production begins with outlays of money in order to purchase slaves, their clothes, equipment and other auxiliary and raw materials, and ends with a sale and a money profit: i.e., M-C-M'. With money, the universal equivalent, the whole cornucopia of commodities was made available for the aristocratic slave-owner to squander on themselves and their countless hangers-on. Extravagant consumption grew in direct proportion to the degradation of the slave.
In agriculture (and mining) conditions were miserable. Labour was unremitting. Life expectancy pitifully short. The more labour that can be squeezed from the slave, the bigger the expected profit. That promised luxuries. Kautsky argues that, whereas in modern times the accumulation of capital for its own sake is the characteristic aim of the capitalist, the aristocratic Roman of the imperial period "is marked by his pursuit of enjoyment" (K Kautsky Foundations of Christianity New York 1972, p65). A factor, he suggests, relevant to the rise of Christianity.
But we must still concentrate on the essentials of the system. A primary feature of the slave mode of production was the phenomenon whereby a constant augmenting of wealth enabled the aristocracy to purchase more land and more slaves and thus become super-rich ... and super-powerful. With their accumulated funds the aristocracy could afford to greatly extend the scope of patronage and thus buy for themselves a mass base amongst the plebeians and freemen of Rome. Here gift-obligation formed the social axis and dynamic.
Supervising and maintaining control over slaves must have been an expensive overhead, necessitating as it did many guards and overseers (themselves often slaves). Slave labour hates with a passion both its miserable day-to-day circumstances and overall social position. Unlike a wageworker the slave can neither choose their employer nor strike in order to improve their conditions. Many stole away. However, life for a branded runaway must have been precarious. Capture was frequent and so too was torture and execution. That way terror was engendered in the mind of every slave and thereby served as an internal policeman. The only consideration that might spare the life of a slave was the cost of a new one.
Lewis Grassic Gibbon in his novel Spartacus brilliantly portrays the loathing and fear that existed between the main classes in Roman society. Slaves would exact the most terrible revenge on their tormentors once they got the chance. The Roman state in turn had no compunction about mass extermination (100,000 slaves are said to have been killed after the defeat of the Spartacus uprising of 73-71 BC).
However, slaves were "extraordinarily" cheap (GEM de Ste Croix The class struggle in the ancient Greek world London 1983, p227). One could purchase an average slave for not much more than half the annual earnings of an artisan. Appianus is quoted as saying that on one occasion slaves were being sold off for almost give-away prices, so abundant was the supply (K Kautsky Foundations of Christianity New York 1972, p54). In contrast slaves in the Old South of the USA were greatly more costly in comparative terms. Needless to say, cheap slaves were the result of constant war and constant expansion. When Julius Caesar conquered Gaul there was mass enslavement: as many as half a million men, women and children were sold off to the highest bidder.
4. Contradictions of the slave labour mode of production
Rome and its expansive empire are commonly thought of as stupendously rich. The caesars and the aristocratic elite undoubtedly lived in and surrounded themselves with absolute luxury. Banquet guests, so the story goes, were served with larks' tongues and for amusement given fat pearls to dissolve in vinegar. Despite such extravagant consumption, in terms of productivity the Roman empire was "underdeveloped" (P Garnsey, R Saller The Roman empire Berkeley 1987, p43). Wealth resulted not from intensive, but extensive agricultural exploitation. Aristocrats invested in neither technology nor industry.
Between 4th century BC Greece and 4th century AD Rome there is no significantly discernible technological progress. Minor innovations took place. Wheeled ploughs were improved in Gaul, the Greek-invented screw pumps were used for irrigation on some estates and novel plants and animals were introduced into Britannia. However, there is no equivalent of the European medieval industrial revolution: the harrow (1077), windmills (1180), horse collars (1180), compass (1195), water-powered saw (1240), stern-post rudder (1250), block printing (1289), calculation of latitude (1290), water-powered bellows (1323), wood lathe (1347), movable type (1445), etc (see J Gimpel The medieval machine London 1988, ppxiii-xviii). In antiquity we find an almost total reliance on human and animal muscle-power, not water or wind-power (sailing ships being a notable exception). So the slave mode of production is much less productive than 14th century Europe, let alone modernity and the permanent technological revolution.
True, the large-scale production of commodities did involve a degree of specialisation. For example, viniculture and olive oil. Nor should we forget the state's command system of edict-production-delivery, designed to meet the parasitic needs of the constitutionally privileged population of Rome and the huge Roman army. Certain farms were turned over to grain or cattle. This allowed for a division of labour and the more rational utilisation of resources. Irrigation and rotation systems were perfected and there existed a widespread literature on scientific farming - not least concerning maximising the exploitation of slave labour. By such means the productivity of the latifunda was lifted. But whether or not this was higher than that practised on peasant plots is highly questionable. There are, of course, no accurate or reliable contemporary statistics. Nevertheless the psychological factor needs to be taken into account and must surely have proved decisive.
Unfree labour, especially slave labour, employed in large numbers on large estates, is unmotivated, sullen and liable to hit back. It therefore has to be supervised, driven and guarded. Moreover it often seeks revenge on the means of production themselves. A slave would take much pleasure in maltreating valuable animals and tools. As a result only the hardiest of beasts were used for haulage power, alongside the crudest and heaviest of instruments. That attitude hardly describes the free peasants on their family concern. They willingly toil from dawn to dusk and with the utmost diligence and boundless energy in order to meet their own household needs. Hence, although a latifunda would be responsible for a greater mass of surplus product than a mosaic of peasant farms organised on exactly the same piece of land, the latter would support far more people in prosperity than the former.
As Rome subdued first Italy, then Macedonia, Asia Minor, the Carthaginian empire, Egypt, Gaul and with a final flourish the glittering Armenian, Assyrian and Mesopotamian east, slaves and booty flooded back - crucially into the hands of the aristocracy and the Roman state. Slave labour took general form. Not only artisans, domestic servants, cooks, policemen, teachers and musicians, but even philosophers lived as chattel slaves. Slaves - usually Greeks - were also incorporated into the imperial household by the emperor. In the imperial period therefore we find slaves and freed slaves constituting the state bureaucracy under the person of the emperor. They amassed huge fortunes and counted amongst the richest of the rich.
Of course this whole elaborate superstructure stood on the backs of agricultural slaves. The cheapness and ready supply of unfree labour on the one hand and the crippling burden of peasant-citizen debt on the other enabled the aristocracy to buy up numerous holdings and substitute slave labour for peasant labour. These conditions made the latifunda viable and promoted their affixiating spread across the face of the empire.
No doubt labour productivity tumbles; however, the mass of surplus product under the direct control of the aristocracy grows by leaps and bounds. Here we find the social impulse behind the tendency towards constant war in antiquity. To expand their surplus product landowners must increase both acreage and numbers of agricultural slaves. That microeconomic law found its macroeconomic expression on the grandest scale with the Roman world empire. Increasing the surplus product available to the aristocratic landowners relied on and proceeded in broad symmetry with military expansionism.
Sweeping military successes by Rome and its mastery of the Mediterranean rim resulted in a precipitative increase in the surplus available to the elite. An aristocratic general could therefore afford to be absent for lengthy periods of time. His overseers ensured the cycle of production continued as normal. Besides that, new victories brought new rewards in superabundance. It was a different story for peasant-citizen soldiers. Distant wars and extended conquests often meant complete ruination. Land remained unploughed. Crops went unweeded or unharvested. Short-term relief was sought in loans. The result, then, for the peasant of constant war was not enrichment, but chronic indebtedness.
On the one hand the land hunger of aristocrats and on the other an intolerable burden of debt saw free peasants systematically uprooted from the land and squeezed into the cities, in particular Rome. The worried attempts by the Gracchi (133-121), and from then onwards other would-be imperial reformers, to reverse that tendency by granting land to proletarians, army veterans, etc put off, or counteracted, social decay. But no more. At its zenith the population of the capital reached one million (an urban conurbation not surpassed till the rise of 15th century commercial London; Lewis Mumford calls Rome the first "megalopolis" - L Mumford The city in history Harmondsworth 1990, p239). Here the deracinated peasantry swelled the numbers of proletarians, and lumpenproletarians, that leached off the surplus generated by slave labour. Most - to whom as citizens the city of Rome was obligated - scratched out a living through innumerable, mainly non-productive, avenues - from begging and prostitution to street portering and the state dole.
Not surprisingly neither the proletariat nor the lumpenproletariat of antiquity possessed a vision of a higher, more productive, society. Cynicism was a characteristic lower class philosophical outlook - propagated in market squares by itinerant orators. Their radical religio-political programme was one of division of existing wealth. The proletariat had no wish to abolish slavery. Nor does history furnish examples of solidarity between the two classes. The ancient proletariat dreamt only of a life without labour, a communism secured at the expense of the rich.
Inevitably the proletariat finds itself out-competed and made redundant as slave labour comes to be ubiquitous. Opportunities to sell labour-power steadily evaporate. The proletariat sinks into insecurity and dependence ... and into the lumpenproletariat. The more this utterly degraded and demoralised stratum predominates in the population of Rome, the more prone was the capital to bribery by ambitious generals and senators. There were cash handouts, free food, huge banquets and numerous gladiatorial and other games for the public - by the 4th century 175 days of the year were given over to such gift-obligation events.
The lumpenproletariat "lived", mourns Kautsky, "by selling their political power to the highest bidder" (K Kautsky Foundations of Christianity New York 1972, p108). The citizens of Rome - numbering 200,000-300,000 - thus indirectly exploited through 'democracy' an empire consisting of some 55 or 60 million people. Julius Caesar in particular, because of his stunning military successes in, and plunder of, Gaul and Egypt, was able to offer substantial gifts to the citizen masses in Rome - who became obligated tools against his aristocratic rivals. Here we have the beginning of caesarist state autonomy and the close of the old Roman republic.
In fact the sheer geographical size of the empire drove it inexorably towards monocracy. The means of communication were too primitive to allow for a traditional oligarchy. As the caste of senatorial rulers fanned out to live in and exploit the far-flung provinces, the realities of actually running that world empire demanded decisive and immediate responses. The senate became progressively enfeebled. It survived the transfer to Constantinople and into the Byzantine period ... but only as a town council with pretensions.
Rome itself had never been a citizen-democracy on the pattern of Athens. The people did not directly staff the state. Plebeians had, however, won through protracted class struggle the right to elect aristocrats to state positions. Shades of Bush-Gore-Nader democracy in the USA. Votes came with an attached price tag. Every senatorial family purchased their particular swarm of hangers-on, dependants and loyal voting fodder. Corruption was reproduced on a higher level with the principate constitution (a republican-monarchical hybrid) till the breaking point is reached whereby the dominant emperor side of the state finds it necessary and possible to leave behind its specific historical origins and reconstitute itself on the social base of the state itself.
Long before that the growing autonomy of the state saw the elite praetorian guard usurp the senate's right to formally choose the emperor. They famously enthroned Claudius as a joke. In 193 the praetorians publicly auctioned the title of emperor to the highest bidder. The wealthy senator Didius Julianus bought the post for 6,250 drachmas to be given to each member of the guard. There was no general principle of heredity. Supposedly the best person was chosen by the senate or the army.
Between 235 and 305 there was a rash of solider emperors. Maximinus Thrace, Gordian III, Decius. Trebonius Gallus. Valerian, Gallienus, Claudius II, Aurelian, Probus, Carus, Diocletian. Most of them were proclaimed by their own provincial legions. Most were murdered.
These conditions of what Rostovtzeff calls "military anarchy" led him to believe that the common soldier had wrested control of the empire from the educated and wealthy classes. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Those who assumed the imperial purple were not rank and file soldiers, but power-hungry generals. What was happening was that state and society were becoming steadily divorced and opposed. And that paved the way for the despotism of Constantine and Christianity.
5. Limits of the constant war economy
5. Limits of the constant war economy
Before finally showing how Christianity emerged as the official religion, we must trace the main contradictions of the slave mode of production to the point where they resolve themselves into new, often transitional, forms. Two particular, interlinked contradictions follow from the replacement of free peasant labour by slaves. The first is military. The other is economic. Let us start our discussion with the military.
Roman military prowess had its source in well-drilled and well-motivated legions (armies) of citizens. Before the second Punic war (218-201) Roman armies were formed on the basis of a universal obligation on all suitable males to perform military service. Organisation within the legion reflected class distinctions and the mobilisation of the whole of society. Richer citizens served as cavalry and heavy infantry; poorer citizens as light infantry and skirmishers. This militia enabled Rome as a city-state to resist and then overpower culturally more advanced rivals within its near-abroad. E.g., the Latins and Etruscans, then the Greek and Carthaginian cities in southern Italy and Sicily.
With the decline of the free peasantry the individual calibre of recruits decreases markedly. Lumpenproletarians or proletarians who live by scrounging or light manual labour are not natural fighting material. When put to the test in forced marches, moving at speed in full armour and throwing the heavy pila, they proved to be inferior substitutes. Peasant-citizens were well fed, physically fit and habitually used to hard work and the extremes of heat and cold. Nor incidentally does the hedonistic pursuit of enjoyment amongst the rich breed toughness or encourage a contempt for death, as exhibited by Roman aristocratic heroes of yore.
Faced with the shrinkage of the class of peasant-citizens and the lure of idle luxury, the senate turned to mercenaries - the old class division of the army into four orders ended. The core of the army remained, to begin with, Roman, or at least Italian, albeit recruited from the sons of legionnaires and amongst the desperate poor. These soldiers had to be marshalled into an unthinking chess set: the tactical role of the general assumes cardinal importance. Unlike Alexander the Great, who preplanned his battles and fought alongside his men, Roman generals from Scipio on remained at the rear, from where they could direct their armies. Individually Roman soldiers were not up to much, but, trained to act and manoeuvred as pawns under the command of a single intelligence, they could collectively still perform awesome military feats.
Yet this socio-ethnic composition proved unsustainable. Rome progressively drafted in less civilised conquered peoples: Gauls, Illyrians, Thracians, Moors, Arabs and Dacians, and lastly and above all, semi-independent German settlers and Germans recruited from beyond the frontiers. Even during the late republic specifically Roman cavalry had disappeared and what little horse remained consisted of barbarian mercenaries or allied contingents. All such hired forces are notoriously conservative. They served to defend but not expand the empire. Constant expansionist war thereby inevitably turned into constant defensive war.
Once this shift occurred we can say that the Roman slave mode of production entered its decadent phase. All its essential forms undergo decay or decomposition and visibly change, or begin to change, into their opposites. In this sense, if no other, we locate the decline of Rome not in the retreat from Germania Magna (9 AD) or the failure to hold Mesopotamia against the Parthians, let alone the establishment of Visigoth, Vandal, Frankish and Burgundian kingdoms on the ruins of the western empire during the 5th century. Rather, at least for the sake of neatness, we locate decline with the assumption of power by Augustus and the inauguration of the principate; which we can date at 27 BC (the principate - from first amongst equals - was preceded by a whole series of devastating civil wars between various aristocratic generals and aristocratic cliques).
Paradoxically therefore decline in our account has already set in before the height of maximum territorial success. Nevertheless with the principate further additions to the empire are typically either fleeting, like Germania Magna, marginal, such as Britannia, or designed to strengthen defensive lines by securing natural barriers: e.g., the banks of the Danube.
As a result of constant expansionist war giving way to constant defensive war, the army's brass and iron armour and the traditional short sword was abandoned and in place of resolute close combat came moats and long limes (walls), frontier forts and archers and javelin throwers. The Roman empire thus came to resemble imperial China. However, barbarian war bands regularly penetrated the carapace. In response the Romans turned to a strategy of "defence in depth" (A Jones The art of war in the western world London 1988, pp96). The fortification of towns and farmhouses, a decentralised system of local militia, and crucially a highly centralised force of heavy cavalry. This rapid reaction force was first established by the emperor Gallienus (260-68) and served to chase down and trap raiders, most of whom were out for booty and wished to avoid engagement. Such highly trained, mobile forces became ever more important to successive emperors, as countless enemies pressed in from every side.
For the slave mode of production the ending of expansionist war poses another obvious problem. The cheap cost of slaves is conjoined to constant military aggression. Pax Romana closed off the abundant supply of war-captives. Slaves have to be bred within or purc