Revolts and Revolutions #
Revolts against opression have been a regular occurrence since time immemorial. “When any group feels they’re disenfranchised or have lost something they really wanted, they tend to rebel. If we recognize the grievances that cause the revolution, maybe we can find the solutions.” Ruddy Roye, supported by Eyebeam’s Center for the Future of Journalism.
“In revolutions everything is forgotten … The side once changed, gratitude, friendship, parentage, every tie vanishes, and all sought for is self-interest.” — Napoleon, 1816
“The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst,” David Hume.
Slave revolts throughout history are reactions against the incapable. They recur to seek liberty.
What the slave morality defines as good, the master morality will define as evil – ex: Marxism has been demonised. Equality has been discredited. People can be persuaded to act against their own interests. Nietzsche
Greek Helots #
The helots were a subjugated population that constituted a majority of the population of Laconia and Messenia – the territories ruled by Sparta. Most worked in agriculture. The number of helots in relation to Spartan citizens varied throughout the history of the Spartan state; according to Herodotus, there were seven helots for each of the 5000 Spartan soldiers at the time of the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Thus the need to keep the helot population in check and prevent rebellion was one of the main concerns of the Spartans. Helots were ritually mistreated and humiliated. Every autumn the Spartan polis declared war on the helots, allowing them to be killed and abused by members of the Crypteia without fear of religious repercussion. Uprisings and attempts to improve the lot of the helots did occur, such as the Conspiracy of Cinadon.
The number of Spartans was very small in comparison to that of the helots. In a celebrated passage, Thucydides stresses that:
“most Spartan institutions have always been designed with a view to security against the Helots”.
Aristotle compares them to “an enemy constantly sitting in wait of the disaster of the Spartans”. Consequently, fear seems to be an important factor governing relations between Spartans and Helots. According to tradition, the Spartiates always carried their spears, undid the straps of their bucklers only when at home lest the Helots seize them, and locked themselves in their homes. They also took active measures, subjecting them to what Theopompus describes as “an altogether cruel and bitter condition”.
According to Myron of Priene, an anti-Spartan historian of the middle 3rd century BC:
They assign to the Helots every shameful task leading to disgrace. For they ordained that each one of them must wear a dogskin cap and wrap himself in skins and receive a stipulated number of beatings every year regardless of any wrongdoing, so that they would never forget they were slaves. Moreover, if any exceeded the vigour proper to a slave’s condition, they made death the penalty; and they allotted a punishment to those controlling them if they failed.
The first helot attempt at revolt which is historically reported is that provoked by general Pausanias in the 5th century BC. Thucydides reports:
Besides, they were informed that he was even intriguing with the helots; and such indeed was the fact, for he promised them freedom and citizenship if they would join him in insurrection, and would help him to carry out his plans to the end.
According to Thucydides, the helots and perioeci of Thouria and Aithaia took advantage of the earthquake to revolt and establish a position on Mt. Ithome. He adds that most of the rebels were of Messenian ancestry—confirming the appeal of Ithome as a historical place of Messenian resistance.
There is evidence that Athens encourages and rewarded Helots with outpost cities, Helots who rebelled against Sparta.
Roman Republic #
494 BC First secessio plebis: the plebs abandoned Rome for the nearby Monte Sacro.
471 BC The Plebeian Council was reorganized by tribes.
459 BC Under popular pressure, the Senate increased the tribunes of the plebs from two to ten.
449 BC Resolutions of the Plebeian Council were given the full force of law subject to Senate veto.
449 BC Specially-elected ten man commissions, issued the last of the Twelve Tables, the fundamental laws of the Republic.
447 BC The Tribal Assembly was established, and granted the right to elect quaestors.
445 BC Lex Canuleia: Marriage between patricians and plebeians was legalized.
443 BC The offices of the Tribuni militum consulari potestate were established. A collegium of three patrician or plebeian tribunes, one each from specific Roman tribes (the Titienses, the Ramnenses, and the Luceres), would hold the power of the consuls from year to year, subject to the Senate.
The first major slave revolt was Spartacus in 73 BCE. At his high point he commanded 40,000 troops, fellow slaves and disaffected workers, controlling most of southern Italy. He won many battles against poorly organised Roman battalions, but was finally crushed by the might of an army led by Crassus in the spring of 71 BCE. He was killed in battle and his body never identified.
Peasant’s Revolts #
The French have always been revolting. Peasant’s Revolts have been a regular occurrence since time immemorial. Here are some salient ones:
Jacquerie revolts – France 14th Century #
Peasant revolting against poor living conditions occurred frequently throughout the Middle ages. The French were generally at the van guard. In 1358, the peasants killed a knight, put him on a spit, and roasted him with his wife and children looking on. After ten or twelve of them raped the lady, they wished to force feed them the roasted flesh of their father and husband and made them then die by a miserable death.
“There was little organisation, however, and the revolts were soon brought to an end when the leader, Guillaume Cale (? - 1358), was captured and decapitated.
“In spite of the failure and loss of life in the Jacquerie revolts, similar expressions of public disgust occurred in other places. Rebellious peasants rose up in the cities of Béziers, Rouen and Montpellier and, between 1381 and 1384, the group known as the Tuchins, armed gangs of peasants and craftsmen, revolted against tax levies and the presence of mercenaries who robbed and killed at will without any interference from those in charge. In Florence, workers seized the government of the city; in Flanders there were uprisings; Catalonia experienced a revolt against the nobility; and in England, in 1381, Wat Tyler (1341-81) famously led a march by discontented peasants on London which ended in his death and the deaths of his associates. A Short History of Europe: From Charlemagne to the Treaty of Lisbon Gordon Kerr, Publisher: Oldcastle Books
British revolts #
England experienced a number of insurrections throughout its history - Wat Tyler’s revolt, 1380, Peterloo - 1819, The Opium Wars, 1840 - 60, Boxer Rebellion; the Chinese see as part of 100 years of humiliation, India, Amritsar, Punjab, Louis Riel in Canada, Ned Kelly, Australia, The Boer War….. None of these can be considered proud times for the British Empire clinging tenaciously to the conviction that:
“whoever rules the waves, can waive the rules.”
Wat Tyler #
Some 35 years after the Black Death had swept through Europe decimating over one third of the population, there was a shortage of people left to work the land. Recognising the power of ‘supply and demand’, the remaining peasants began to re-evaluate their worth and subsequently demanded higher wages and better working conditions.
In 1381, Wat Tyler (1341-81) led a march by discontented peasants on London which ended in his death and the deaths of his associates.
The French Revolutions #
Perhaps the most Western democracy owes much to the ideas of the Englishman, John Locke, who formulated the basic ideas of modern democracy almost entirely in humanistic terms. Humans established political society to protect all citizens equally. He influenced proclamations such as the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Bill of Rights in 1791, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789.
These texts articulate that humans elect an assembly of men to represent them and its laws are the will of the people. God exists, but government makes and enforces laws entirely for the public good without interest in religion. The insightful minds of the 17th and 18th centuries articulated principles that help hold a political community or nation together. Public officials from head of state to minor clerks undertook to uphold the political community’s basic principles and the will of its people as expressed in law. These texts contain magnificent words written to describe what it means to be human.
Of the three catch phrases, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, how many are actually still practised?
One hundred years later, the Belle Epoch demonstrated that like Talleyrand’s aphorism of the Bourbons, the aristocrats “have forgotten nothing, and have learned nothing.”
The historian G.M. Trevelyan said that the democratic revolutions of 1848, all of which were quickly crushed, represented “a turning point at which modern history failed to turn.” The widespread nature of the revolts did usher in the era of “isms”, which further fractured societies.