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Thread: Ancient organized crime

  1. #1
    Member Member J.Alco's Avatar
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    Default Ancient organized crime

    I'm back! After a lengthy absence I am SO back! Merry christmas all!

    OK, now that's done, onto a historical question that's got my curiosity piqued.

    I recently re-watched the Rome series (which coincidentally is awesome and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested) and was struck by how they presented organized crime in ancient Rome as being (aside from the ranks, some organisational details, numbers and general brutality) virtually indistinguishable from the modern-day camorra.

    So my question is, was this a decision of the series creators to dramatize and make more accessible this part of the series, or was crime in large ancient cities, such as Rome or Carthage or Athens, actually that well organized?

    To me, personally, it makes sense that criminals, even 2000-plus years ago, would organize themselves into large, even somewhat complex gangs, though of course nowhere near the level you can expect nowadays. But, as everyone who has gone into EB knows well, what makes sense to you isn't necessarily what made sense then, seeing as we have the benefit of hindsight now, whereas before that benefit was non-existent.

    Anybody got any thoughts?
    Last edited by J.Alco; 12-24-2008 at 15:57.

  2. #2
    Member Member ironanvil1's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    The accuracy of exact details of the depiction in the series are hard to judge but I'd think the broad outline is reasonable.
    It would seem likely that in a city famed for the application of organisational skills someone would come up with the basic principles of organised crime.

    The series might have struck the nail on the head with ex-Legionaries taking up crime, a group of men used to casual violence, inured to discipline and aware of the benefits of organisation could very easily transfer their skills to "private enterprise" if they didn't fancy being farmers.

    In the struggles around the end of the Republic various factions used street gangs as "muscle", which implies a degree of organisation was in place to make them worthwhile as tools.
    The gap between crime and politics was pretty thin at times in Rome.

    While not the EB time-frame IIRC the chariot factions of Byzantine times seem to have been organised crime to a degree, though again the overlap of crime and politics is pretty big. The chariot teams of Rome could similarly have been the nucleus of crime gangs, you have races, you will get gambling.
    Last edited by ironanvil1; 12-22-2008 at 21:44.

  3. #3
    Member Member Asmodius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    As Iron mentioned organized crime and politics were hand in hand for much of late Republican Rome. Caudius was especially notorius for using these syndicates to pollute the collegia. (I can look this up in more depth asap...damn friends who borrow books n dont bring em back). Going to the senate could be very risky for some. Cicero began wearing a breastplate under his toga, and others would go nowhere without thier personal small army/guard force.

    however studies like the book/essays, Organized Crime in Antiquity, show thier was little organized crime in Athens and Rome beyond this except for periods of government formation/reformation. IMO this is more due to a lack of evidence to the contrary. Its not the kind of thing they would want to glorify/write down. As the book basically says organized crime breeds best where the rich/poor gap is largest (common sense of course)....sounds like Rome to me.

    Of course many of the island "kingdoms" were nothing but organized piracy groups. So in that aspect organized crime was prevalent. Rome's piracy wars were in effect a battle against organized crime.

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    Guest Dayve's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Well if you want to get right into it i mean... the entire structure of the Roman government was practically a criminal organization. Perhaps not always but absolutely around the time of Caesar the Roman government was in itself a very large criminal organization.

    You had the guys at the top, the senate, the soldiers doing their dirty work and intimidating (even killing) their political opponents and foreign opponents, and extorting unreasonable amounts of money from basically everybody in their empire upon threat of violence or worse.

    If you want to look at it that way then the Roman government, especially at the time of Caesar, WAS a criminal organization in its rawest and most literal sense.

    If you want to look for smaller groups within the city of Rome then yeah, it stands to reason and logic that of course there would be smaller groups of organized criminals, most of them probably funded by one politician or another so he could use them to intimidate and/or kill his opponents.

    You think men who have been in the army since they reached the age of adulthood and have known nothing but violence and death for decades and decades can just one day go home and plow a field or keep a shop? i very much doubt it.

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    Satalextos Basileus Seron Member satalexton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    VERY WELL SAID, them romaioi barbaroi!




    "ΜΗΔΕΝ ΕΩΡΑΚΕΝΑΙ ΦΟΒΕΡΩΤΕΡΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΙΝΟΤΕΡΟΝ ΦΑΛΑΓΓΟΣ ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΗΣ" -Lucius Aemilius Paullus

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    Legatvs Member SwissBarbar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayve View Post
    Well if you want to get right into it i mean... the entire structure of the Roman government was practically a criminal organization. Perhaps not always but absolutely around the time of Caesar the Roman government was in itself a very large criminal organization.

    You had the guys at the top, the senate, the soldiers doing their dirty work and intimidating (even killing) their political opponents and foreign opponents, and extorting unreasonable amounts of money from basically everybody in their empire upon threat of violence or worse.

    If you want to look at it that way then the Roman government, especially at the time of Caesar, WAS a criminal organization in its rawest and most literal sense.

    If you want to look for smaller groups within the city of Rome then yeah, it stands to reason and logic that of course there would be smaller groups of organized criminals, most of them probably funded by one politician or another so he could use them to intimidate and/or kill his opponents.

    You think men who have been in the army since they reached the age of adulthood and have known nothing but violence and death for decades and decades can just one day go home and plow a field or keep a shop? i very much doubt it.

    Which still is the case in Italy
    Last edited by SwissBarbar; 12-23-2008 at 12:20.
    Balloon-Count: x 15


    Many thanks to Hooahguy for this great sig.

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    Member Member Victor1234's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    First off, you have to remember HBO's Rome wasn't exactly the most historical out there...

    That aside though, from what I've been able to gather from reading the sources, there weren't formal long-term organizations, but ad-hoc gangs that seemed to have formed at random. Appian in his 'Civil Wars' work and Plutarch in his 'Lives' seem to the suggest that starting with the Gracchus brothers, political violence became commonplace in Rome. You guys should really read the works for yourself, since you can find them through the EB bibliography, but if I had to summarize, essentially it went from being an ad-hoc system where the populace would protect a man they liked from his enemies, to the big men keeping gangs of their soldiers/gladiators/slaves around to kill or intimidate their opponents. This system really took off with the Triumvirs Caesar/Crassus/Pompey though, who turned it into an art. Plutarch does a 'Lives' for each of these men, and Cato(being the primary vocal opponent of this system) as well, which you can read.

    You think men who have been in the army since they reached the age of adulthood and have known nothing but violence and death for decades and decades can just one day go home and plow a field or keep a shop? i very much doubt it.
    Sure, that's the way Roman colonization worked. Besides, in those times, "settling down" wasn't really as such. More like the equivalent of the American frontier. Sure, you're not in the army anymore, but you're still trying to make a home in an area where there are maybe hostile people living in your very town or maybe nearby. Then there's the risk of slave uprisings or maybe your General will send word one day that he wants you to fight for him again....Not a completely safe and peaceful existance at all.



  8. #8
    Guest Dayve's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Quote Originally Posted by Victor1234 View Post
    Then there's the risk of slave uprisings or maybe your General will send word one day that he wants you to fight for him again....Not a completely safe and peaceful existance at all.
    Exactly, so add that to the restlessness of marching and killing for 2 decades and then all of a sudden having nothing to do you get a man who probably feels lost and has no idea what to do with the rest of his life when the sword in his hand is suddenly replaced with a pencil and paper, or the ancient equivalent.

    I'd like to say that if it were me i'd be happy to still be alive and eager to settle down on a nice farm with a nice lady and a few slaves, but it's impossible to put yourself in the mindset of somebody from back then because they were completely different people with an alien way of thinking to us today.

    As for the person that said it's not much different in Italy today, that's so close to the truth that it's practically sleeping in the same bed with it. Sicily too. Another thing that has survived from the Romans to this day other than the propaganda is the whole family, honour, kill anybody that stands in your way type of thinking.

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    aka Artaserse (the Lone Borg) Member Obelics's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Quote Originally Posted by Dayve View Post
    As for the person that said it's not much different in Italy today, that's so close to the truth that it's practically sleeping in the same bed with it. Sicily too. Another thing that has survived from the Romans to this day other than the propaganda is the whole family, honour, kill anybody that stands in your way type of thinking.
    oh my... 2 or 3 persons here seems to be so much expert of italian things... mafia, spaghetti, pizza and madolin... and pulcinella... do you live in the kingdom of Narnia or in the town of Hairy Potter? you know, i usually when i wake up in the morning i take my mandolin in a hand and start singing, with the other hand i have a gun, and i start shoting everyone who stand in my way... i was forgetting, my mother is the holy virgin in person... and my grand father is Marlon Brando...

    i was forgetting... damned that roman propaganda it has ruined history forever... it seems in this forums it has become a sort of magic word to be accepted as a guy who knows his things... bah...

  10. #10
    Tuba Son Member Subotan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Hooray for stereotypes; I should know, considering I'm Irish, and therefore a drunkard, and I dress entirely in green.

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    Satalextos Basileus Seron Member satalexton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    don't forget the shamrocks xD (jkjk)




    "ΜΗΔΕΝ ΕΩΡΑΚΕΝΑΙ ΦΟΒΕΡΩΤΕΡΟΝ ΚΑΙ ΔΕΙΝΟΤΕΡΟΝ ΦΑΛΑΓΓΟΣ ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΙΚΗΣ" -Lucius Aemilius Paullus

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    Jesus Member lobf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Quote Originally Posted by Obelics View Post
    oh my... 2 or 3 persons here seems to be so much expert of italian things... mafia, spaghetti, pizza and madolin... and pulcinella... do you live in the kingdom of Narnia or in the town of Hairy Potter? you know, i usually when i wake up in the morning i take my mandolin in a hand and start singing, with the other hand i have a gun, and i start shoting everyone who stand in my way... i was forgetting, my mother is the holy virgin in person... and my grand father is Marlon Brando...

  13. #13
    Druhtênoz Theudónóm Aláizôm Member Jaertecken's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Crime syndicates would probably want to remain in the dark and not exposed to the government, and thus did not keep records for government officials to find...or for that matter archeologists.


    Även du skall skåda illavarslande järtecken..

  14. #14
    Tuba Son Member Subotan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    Quote Originally Posted by satalexton View Post
    don't forget the shamrocks xD (jkjk)
    Haha, none taken. I'm plastic Irish, in that I'm ethnically half Catholic Irish, half Protestant settler, but I consider myself ethnically Irish, but culturally British. To make matters more confusing, I'm also an atheist
    Actually, I'm wearing green right now.

  15. #15
    Jesus Member lobf's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ancient organized crime

    I don't doubt the existence of such organizations. It doesn't take a genius to realize that if he's strong enough he can take what he wants.

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