14 Nov
Today, I had another brilliant (rather in the manner of Lt George in Blackadder Goes Fourth) idea. So I thought I’d share it with you. Bear with me through the Classical (ie most of it) bits. It’s surely more entertaining than me complaining? Well, try it, anyway. See what you think.
I’ve been writing ‘case studies’ which are used as marketing material for our company and for the companies for whom we write them. In a couple of the more recent ones (ones which we are writing on behalf of another company – so requiring knowledge of even more different types of business) the point is that these companies have set up US bases in order to show a commitment to the marketplace they have already developed there through their UK headquarters.
Now, this isn’t perhaps a connection that everyone would make, but it reminds me quite a lot of the early Imperial Roman stance on Germany. Ok, so Augustus and his heirs weren’t building on business opportunities (although maybe the idea that war is a business wouldn’t be that weird to them..) but I quite liked the idea inherent in the comparison.
The Romans used to make military incursions, especially in Germany, to lay down a bit of Roman law and to remind the locals of the might of the Empire. From Augustus’ time, especially, this was also excellent propaganda material and a reason to have a few poems written about you. Before Augustus, things are a bit tricky – Archias wrote a poem in Greek celebrating the achievements of Lucullus but it’s awkward to praise Roman might when the state is not unified under one banner, let alone one leader, and Ennius’ era was a time of many significant military men. Possibly why Virgil’s epic was more of a ‘critical success’ than that written under the Republic by Ennius. Anyway (Enni-way?), off the Roman armies went, under the command of various members of the imperial family (Augustus’ sons-in-law Tiberius and Drusus were very active in Germany and Drusus died there – not before earning the honorary surname ‘Germanicus’ for his sons, one of whom became the Emperor Claudius). Now this was all well and good, because in the eyes of the Romans the Germans were a savage bunch and not to be trusted; they were a continual threat to the peace(ish) established by Julius Caesar in Gaul and could cause problems all around the alps and to the north, into areas on which Augustus was keen to make a mark.
But despite a few years of strong campaigning, the Roman armies didn’t really establish a presence in Germany at this time in the same way they would later do in, for example, Britain. Incursions were – well, incursions. Every critic from Suetonius and Tacitus to Syme to Levick has speculated or formed a different opinion as to why the Romans didn’t cross a certain point, and why they didn’t put down some roots once they’d arrived. And perhaps this is where the parallels with modern businesses start (although depending on the nature of the business, perhaps other similarities, like the dynastic and murderous ones, start a bit earlier…). Businesses like playing the field a bit in foreign countries; making inroads, setting up contacts, working out who are the trusted locals and who are the ones that are going to stab them in the back. They host visits from the locals with whom they are doing business, rather like Augustus keeping a few Gallic proteges lurking around Rome, learning Roman ways, like Italicus or Meherdates (see Tacitus, Annals 11-12 for more on them). Businesses make incursions and stop – not because they have reached borders, but because they have achieved the level of exposure they need. Drusus wasn’t told to stop at the Elbe because it was a natural boundary and therefore a sensible stopping place – he stopped there because, at that point, the Germans were sufficiently cowed. And that’s why in later years, the Elbe was crossed and far more apparently arbitrary ‘borders’ were created.
Of course, after a few Emperors, proper borders did start to come into being, but they weren’t so much borders as lines between more permanent positions. The first stone forts in Germany were built under Claudius, in a line which was eventually formalised by the Emperor Hadrian, that consummate surveyor of boundaries. Businesses, too, take a long time to put down roots, and they do so tentatively and only with considerable inside knowledge, if not the assistance of the locals themselves. Happily, at least in the West, these businesses are not engaged in actual warfare to establish their position, and there is rarely a slaughter of the sort that occurred late in Augustus’ rule in Germany, when three legions were massacred in the Teutoburg forests. But it is a battle, even though its mostly now fought by marketing teams and not men with gladii.
I do wish I had a gladius sometimes, though. The point is, really, that businesses are reclaiming the international ‘foreign policy’ of Augustus – get as many people to know about you as possible, earn sackloads of cash, and maybe some nice poetry into the bargain (well, maybe not the poetry). It’s not about conquest or borders or a nation-by-nation approach any more – every single consumer is a nation worth conquering, and that’s why there are no longer boundaries in global business strategy.
I’ve simplified quite heavily on both sides here but I really do think it’s interesting how things have come full circle. The Victorians never used to do this! Who’s the more classical nation *now*, eh?

Well done for making it to the end. I’ll try and write something a bit more user-friendly soon. Til then, byeee!


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