Al Fadl Ibn Al Rabi (الفضل بن الربيع), who lived from around A.D. 757 to 823, was a powerful minister of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. He served the caliphs Harun Al Rashid and Al Amin, the sixth Abbasid ruler. It was during his tenure in office that the caliphate descended into civil war.Continue reading
Upon his accession to the throne of Augustus in A.D. 364, the emperor Valentinian gave a short address to his troops. The speech is related in Ammianus Marcellinus’s history (XXVI.1). The historian tells us that Valentinian appeared on an open expanse of ground and mounted a platform that had been arranged for this purpose; he was also wearing an imperial robe and a coronet. The speech itself was short and to the point.
Some are tempted to confuse the symbols of power with the reality of power. They are not the same thing. Power is the one thing that cannot be faked. For a time, perhaps, the bluffer can maintain an illusion of authority; he can go through his empty pantomime, imagining he is fooling everyone; but sooner or later, the truth will shine through. And then he will discover that the only one who has been deceived is himself. Symbolism, bombast, and slight-of-hand are no substitutes for the real thing. Some anecdotes from the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, so often mentioned in these pages, help us to reinforce this point.
When we are dealing with an opponent of substantial power, we should try to cut him off from his source of strength. If he can be made incapable of drawing on his strengths, he will be weakened; and so weakened, isolated; and if isolated, destroyed. Everything has a source of strength, whether we are talking about a person, an animal, a machine, a group, a nation. So the first step will be to identify this power source.
There are times in a leader’s experience when it will be prudent to watch and await developments. Sometimes more is to be gained by figuratively taking off one’s pack, sitting down on the side of the road, and monitoring the flow of events, than by leaping into the fray. On the other hand, there are also just as many–if not more–times when decisive and speedy action is necessary to deal with a nascent problem. Knowing when to wait and when to act is one of those key questions that we all have to confront sooner or later. It is ultimately a tactical decision for which no firm rules can be laid out: every situation must be evaluated on its own merits.
Julian (A.D. 331-363) was one of the most fascinating emperors of the later Roman empire. While a full description of him and his reign is beyond our scope here, a few words may be said. He spent a great deal of time and energy trying to revive paganism, only to see his hopes dashed on the rocks of reality. He was an ascetic personality, subsisting on little food and many books; and it is said that he preferred the salons of the philosophers to the intrigues of the palace.