AN UNFAMILIAR NOTE stirred Rome late on the night of December 17, 546.
Not once during four centuries of republic, four more of empire, or even the last two centuries of barbarian invasions had Rome heard such a sad strain. Low and insistent like a river cutting soft banks, it was the sound of the city in flight.
Rome had been sacked twice before, by Gaiseric the Hun in 455, and by Alaric the Visigoth in 410, but these horrors paled by comparison. Rome was about to cease not just as a world power and a great metropolis, but as a political entity and place of human habitation.
For more than a year, the Gothic army of King Totila had strangled Rome by siege. When Pope Vigilius, who earlier fled to Syracuse, sent a flotilla of grain ships to feed the city, Totila's navy fell on them near the mouth of the Tiber and captured the lot. Totila personally interrogated a bishop who accompanied the convoy, and unsatisfied with the sincerity of his answers, had his hands cut off, that the prelate might better reflect on his sins when he prayed.
As the siege entered its second year, Roman resistance crumbled. Reduced to subsisting on nettles and rodents, the once proud descendants of the great Roman families attempted to bribe their way out of the city, preferring slim chances alone against the enemy to the certainty of starvation. Finally, on the night of December 17, four guards posted at the Asinarian Gate admitted the Gothic army while most of the city fled.
The man who conquered Rome that night was not yet forty years old. The nephew of the Gothic King Ildibad, he led his people by word and deed. Once in Sicily, when he knew he had to delay the Imperial forces so his own reinforcements had time to deploy, Totila rode alone into the no-man's-land between the two armies, for as Procopius noted, “he was not at all reluctant to make exhibition to the enemy of what kind of a man he was.
“[T]he armor in which he was clad was abundantly plated with gold and the ample adornments which hung from his cheek plates as well as his helmet and spear were not only purple, but in other respects befitting a king ... And he himself, sitting upon a very large horse, began to dance under arms skillfully between the two armies. And as he rode he hurled his javelin into the air and caught it again as it quivered above him, then passed it rapidly from hand to hand, shifting it with consummate skill...”
In early 547, Totila sent a missive to Byzantine Emperor Justinian I offering peace. It is clear his aim was to reestablish the constitutional system that had served his predecessor, Theodoric, so well. Imperial Roman authority would still be nominally supreme, but the Gothic king would be de facto ruler of Italy. Believing he spoke from a position of strength, Totila added a threat. If Justinian did not accept his offer, Totila promised to raze Rome.
The History of the Corporation
Astonisher.com is pleased to present The History of the Corporation, Volume One by Bruce Brown.
Here is the Table of Contents for excerpts from the entire book, which covers 1,000 years from the birth of the first modern corporation through the the First Dominion of the corporation.
About the Author: Bruce Brown is the author of eight books, including Mountain in the Clouds, an environmental classic, and The Windows 95 Bug Collection, which was put on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
He has done investigative reporting for the New York Times (the Karen Silkwood story), foreign correspondence for Atlantic Monthly (baseball in Cuba), and book reviews for the Washington Post Book World, as well as script-writing for PBS-TV (The Miracle Planet).
He is also a successful businessman and CEO, having created BugNet and built it into the world’s largest supplier of PC bug fixes before it was acquired by a Fortune 500 company at the height of the dot com boom.
In response, the emperor had a letter sent to Totila which somewhat stiffly suggested that Rome's destruction might not reflect well on the Gothic king, for “of all cities under the sun Rome is admitted universally to be the greatest and most important.” In the end, Totila contented himself with wrecking large sections of the wall around the city, and emptying it of all habitants before heading south, where he won quick victories in Luciano, Apulia and Calabria.
Totila was then the most powerful figure on the Italian historical stage, and perhaps the most adept as well. A “strong man” in the classic sense of the term, he had never suffered a serious defeat or encountered insurmountable opposition, and he bowed to no one, with one possible exception. That was St. Benedict of Nursia, whom he encountered between Rome and Naples during one of his southern campaigns.
Hearing that a holy prophet lived at the monastery of Monte Cassino, Totila sent word that he was coming to visit. Whereupon, the king dressed one of his guards, Riggo, in royal robes including the king's own shoes and sent him off with a retinue of three counts to meet the blessed one. “When Riggo in his gorgeous robes and splendid train entered the grounds of the monastery the man of God was seated at some distance,” wrote Pope Gregory the Great, “he saw Riggo approaching and waited until he was within hearing. Then he cried out: 'put off those robes, my son, put off those robes; they are none of thine.'“
The next day Totila went in person to the abbot of Monte Cassino, who met him in the garden. The king this time wearing his own clothes threw himself on the ground some distance from St. Benedict. The saint went to him and raised him up, saying, “Much evil dost thou do, and much wickedness hast thou done. Thou shalt enter Rome; thou shalt cross the sea. Nine years shalt thou reign; in the tenth thou shalt die.”
Pope Gregory, who was addicted to such affects, pictured the abbot of Monte Cassino as a thaumaturge, or miracle worker. His aim was clearly to exalt St. Benedict, but the tawdry miracles he attributed to Benedict have unfortunately obscured the abbot of Monte Cassino, and his accomplishment in the real world.
In truth, no colored lights or stage effects are required to demonstrate the importance of this sixth century monk. Totila had it right: here was a man worth bowing down to, for here was the founder the first modern corporation.
"The History of the Corporation, Volume One" © Copyright 2003 Bruce Brown
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