Friday, April 13, 2012

A little Ancient History for you

We are reading Ancient History for school. The book we read seems to me to be written "in a nutshell" as it gets on with the story without too many explanations or details-- which is why it is great to have the Internet handy! We often go off on "rabbit trails" but that is the fun part of school at home, is it not? It takes the "dryness" out of history to take a little trail now and then!

Here is a recent subject which led us on some interesting trails: In Rome in the 300's BC there was an interesting character named Appius. At the time of history in which he lived, Rome had finally come to equality between the aristocracy and the plebeians in their political system-- the plebeians were "admitted practically to a full moiety of the high government offices."  (We looked up the term "moiety" here, It means 1. A half. 2. A part, portion, or share.)

But there was one class of people left out--those very bottom rung poor people who did not own property and therefore did not have a seat in the senate or a vote.  Sensing the discontent of this lower class, Appius, who was a "censor" at the time, took up their cause.
(A "censor", by the way, was an officer in Rome who was in charge of the census, some government finances, and also in charge of public morality-- from where we get the word "censorship.")

History is unsure whether Appius took up this cause with the motive of representing these poor people, or furthering his own career. He somehow managed to sign these lower people up as voters, and distributed them in different areas, which was enough to sway the votes of those areas in a certain direction. They were able to vote one of their people in for a life-long seat in the senate. Also Appius, who was serving an 18-month term in office (which was the legal length of time for that office) managed to stay in another 5 years. hmm.

Anyway, that extra illegal time in office enabled him to finish up his road system, which he called after himself-- the Appian Way (Via Appia).

Photo from:

The historian says that what was done by this man was "the inauguration of a real ochlocracy." This interesting turn of events led us to find out what the term "ochlocracy" meant. Basically it means mob rule, but Wikipedia had this interesting explanation:

Ochlocracy ("rule of the general populace") is democracy ("rule of the people") spoiled by demagoguery, "tyranny of the majority" and the rule of passion over reason, just like oligocracy ("rule of a few") is aristocracy ("rule of the best") spoiled by corruption. Ochlocracy is synonymous in meaning and usage to the modern, informal term "Mobocracy," which emerged from a much more recent colloquial etymology.

Everyone got that?

Appius was apparently not very fond of the letter Z and did not want it in the Latin alphabet. I am not sure if it was because of him or not, but it did not enter into the alphabet until the AD's.
This interesting site also clued us in to why our G and C look kind of alike, and how the Y and Z came to be included as the last letters of the alphabet. Nothing like a little ancient grammar to round off the history lesson!
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