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Week 9 Big Ten Power Poll - Thinking about the Roman Republic

In which BoilerUp89 mistakes legends for history

Festival of Antique Inheritance “Eagle On The Danube” Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images

Welcome to another week’s Power Poll and my annual attempt to contribute to this series.

This year, I’ve decided to compare your favorite program (and your 13 most hated programs) to Romans from the era of the Roman republic. This is because like most men I simply can’t stop thinking about the Romans. However, I’ve chosen to make my comparison to the republic era leaders instead of the emperors of the later era. Republics are better than monarchies.

My apologies that there is a notable absence of females - this is not an intentional slight on my part, but rather the nature of the Roman patriarchal society working against us. Clearly the Romans never realized that the patriarchy was not about horses.

While comments are highly encouraged, please refrain from political attacks against rival Roman factions. I know the Iowa fans among you are supporters of the populares and Northwestern fans are committed optimates, but we do not wish this site to descend into the backstabbing and all out civil wars that were common among the late Roman republic era. If that were to happen, we would risk the downfall of the republic and potentially turn this site into an Empire.

All historical inaccuracies are the fault of our tenured history professor, MNWildcat, for not correcting me. I apologize for nothing, especially not conflating history with legends.

1. Ohio State - Pompey Magnus

High: 1 Low: 2 First Place Votes: 8

Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus), Pompey the Great 106 BC - 48 BC, military and political leader of the late Roman Republic. established himself in the ranks of Roman nobility by successful leadership in several campaigns...
Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Pompey assigned himself the additional title of Magnus which is Latin for the great. A member of the First Triumvirate alongside Caesar and Crassus, Pompey rose to prominence while serving then dictator Sulla as a military commander during Sulla’s civil war. Pompey would go on to gain acclaim by helping to end the slave rebellion of Spartacus (most of that work was actually done by Crassus; Pompey merely massacred the final survivors of the rebellion and claimed all the credit), suppressing piracy throughout the Mediterranean, bringing the Third Mithridatic War to a successful end, and annexing Syria following the collapse of the Seleucid Empire.

Pompey’s military successes made him extremely wealthy and popular with the people of Rome. As a result, many senators feared that he may try to establish himself as dictator similar to Sulla a generation before. Pompey however did not follow in Sulla’s footsteps. While he did gain a reputation for greed, ruthlessness, and duplicity throughout his political career, his actions stayed within Roman customs and the laws of the republic.

When the senate aligned against Julius Caesar, Pompey stood with them and against his former partner. This helped set off a civil war between Roman forces under Caesar and Roman forces under Pompey. Pompey would end up losing the war and his life as a result, but that doesn’t change the fact that he accomplished much throughout his career and was the preeminent leader of Rome for a decade.

Ohio State has established their program as a powerful force to be reckoned with but their rivalry with Michigan threatens to destabilize the Big Ten. Although they may have lost a half step in recent years, they have a long list of impressive victories that outshines the rest of the Big Ten - even Michigan. Like Pompey Magnus, The Ohio State have added a boastful word to their name.

Once the most feared program of the rest of the conference, the Buckeyes have taken up the responsibility for defending the conference against Michigan’s attempts to rule without any regard for the rules and norms that define our collective unity. Will the Buckeyes be more successful than Pompey or will the final matchup against their rival prove the undoing of everything they have fought for and bring an end to their national title hopes?

2. Michigan - Julius Caesar

H: 1 L: 14 FPV: 5 Last Place Votes: 1

Caesar Crossing The Rubicon
Caesar crossing the Rubicon
Photo by The Print Collector via Getty Images

Julius Caesar was a Roman politician that played a critical role in the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. With Crassus and Pompey, Caesar formed the Frist Triumvirate - an informal political alliance between the trio in which they cooperated in the pursuit of their individual goals. Following a controversial consulship that saw Caesar push through laws that the three individuals desired, Julius Caesar was granted a proconsul office in Gaul which gave him immunity for his actions as consul and which he used to launch a war of conquest that greatly enriched him. It also had the benefit of making him a favorite of both the common citizens of Rome and the soldiers serving under him who profited through his military victories.

After a decade in Gaul, the Roman senate sought to force Caesar to return home. Caesar however did not want to give up power. He feared that he may be subject to prosecution (Roman political officeholders were immune from prosecution). A standoff ensued with both sides building up military forces within their current jurisdictions. When the senate issued an ultimatum, Caesar refused to succumb to their demands. He crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome with his legions kicking off a massive civil war between himself and the Roman senate that would last 5 years. The civil war resulted in the death of Pompey, a subdued senate, and a victorious Caesar being named dictator.

As Caesar appeared to be making moves to position himself as king and also began forcing everyone to try out his new salad dressing*, his enemies began to plot to end his life. On the Ides of March they enacted their plan, stabbing Caesar to death and ending his reign as dictator.

Alongside Ohio State and Penn State, Michigan has formed a trio atop the Big Ten conference. Their extreme wealth and lopsided victories have made them the popular choice among the people of Michigan but their actions in the sign stealing scandal have broken the traditions of the conference and earned them many enemies. Michigan looks headed straight towards a final decisive competition with their rival Ohio State. Should Michigan emerge from that game victorious and kill Ohio State’s CFP hopes, they will have to be wary of plotting by the rest of the conference to take them out.

*citation needed

3. Penn State - Sulla

H: 2 L: 3

Bust of the Roman dictator Sulla, 1st century.
Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

Sulla came from the generation before Caesar and Pompey. Many of his actions set the table and conditions for the generation after him to tear the Roman republic to shreds.

Sulla was a political leader for the optimates - a faction that sought to maintain senatorial supremacy against populist reforms advocated by their opponents (the populares). Put more plainly, Sulla was on the side of the wealthy patricians and disliked the plebs.

A gifted military general, Sulla won acclaim for his successes in numerous wars. Recognizing his ability, he was granted the command of a Roman army being sent to Asia when a new war broken out. As the army headed east, leaders among the populares grabbed control of the political strings in Rome and attempted to recall Sulla from command and replace him with their leader Marius. Sulla turned around and marched the legions under his command to Rome where he lay siege to the Eternal City in the first instance of a Roman army doing so. Sulla defeated Marius and his allies, exiled them, and then left for Asia with his army once again.

When Sulla returned to Italy two years later following another successful military campaign, he found that the populares had once again seized control of Rome. Sulla repeated his previous actions but took further steps to ensure that his opponents couldn’t turn the tables ever again. He again marched on Rome and with the army under his command crushed the populares and their allies. Sulla also revived the office of dictator - which had been out of use since the Second Punic War over a hundred years earlier. He used his new dictatorial powers to eliminate his opponents, restore the power of the senate, reduce the power of the plebs, and reform the Roman constitution as he saw fit. Through his actions, Sulla set the example for the next generation of leaders that they could seize power through military force.

Early in the season, Penn State looked like the favorite in the Big Ten. They helped establish the supremacy of the East division and crushed the hopes that the 11 plebs non-powers could compete. At the end of the day though, Penn State merely set the table for Ohio State and Michigan. Their games against the Buckeyes and Wolverines are overshadowed by the later season defining game between Ohio State and Michigan.

4. Wisconsin - Mark Antony

H: 4 L: 7

Collectible Gallaher cigarette card, Shots from Famous Films series, 1935
Antony and Cleopatra

Antony was a commander of cavalry under Julius Caesar during Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and during the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. He served as a loyal follower and second in command both in the lead up to and during the civil war. Following Caesar’s death, Antony would take over as one of the leaders of the Caesarian faction and stir the common people to riot against the conspirators. His actions placed Antony in a position of power and he become one of three men in the Second Triumvirate - a power sharing agreement between himself, Caesar’s adopted nephew Octavian, and Lepidus.

Although the Second Triumvirate would successfully defeat their enemies - the former enemies of Caesar - they soon fell to infighting amongst themselves for the control of the spoils of victory. Mark Antony took over the East, partnered with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, and abandoned Roman customs and practices in order to promote himself as a Greek ruler in the East. By turning his back on Rome, Antony opened himself up to propaganda attacks. When the rift between him and Octavian turned to open war, Antony had lost valuable supporters and as a result lost the war. With nowhere to escape to, Antony stabbed himself and died in the arms of Cleopatra. With his death, Octavian reigned supreme as the sole ruler of Rome and the republic was no more.

Wisconsin has abandoned their power run game for the Dairy Raid. In doing so, they have opened themselves up to defeat and weakened their position. Currently the Badgers hold the top position of the West teams in the Power Poll - a plurality of writers consider them to be the most likely candidate to be the last West team standing. If they do make it to Indy, the subsequent loss of the Badgers will leave the East division winner as the sole champion of the Big Ten and the Big Ten West division will be no more.

5. Rutgers - Gaius Marius

H: 4 L: 7

Gaius Marius sitting in exile among the ruins of Carthage’, c1912 (1912)
Marius in exile
Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images

The story of Marius must start with a legend from his youth. Young Marius came upon an eagle’s nest that had seven eggs. Since eagles typically have three eggs this was considered an omen for Marius’s future and he would later interpret it as a sign that he would serve seven consulships - a number never before reached by any one individual. Because of this omen, when Marius was in power he would make the eagle the symbol of Rome’s military. If you are wondering why America’s national symbol is the eagle, Marius is the reason why.

Marius went on to become a capable Roman general and statesman. He successfully led Roman armies during the Cimbric and Jugurthine wars. Marius has been credited with military reforms (known as the Marian reforms) which shifted the Roman military from a haphazard civilian levy to a professional force. From 107 to 100 BCE, he was elected consul six times including five years in a row and was a supporter of the populares - the faction supporting great political rights for the plebs.

After his sixth consulship, Marius fell out of political favor just one consulship short of his goal. He attempted to regain political control in 88 BCE when his allies tried to reassign leadership of an army headed to Asia from Sulla to Marius. Sulla however didn’t go along. When Sulla refused to relinquish his post and marched on Rome, he defeated Marius’s ragtag defenders forcing Marius into exile in Africa. Fortunately for Marius, he would get one final chance at political power. When Sulla again marched east to the Pontus the following year, Marius returned from exile. With the help of supporters, he entered Rome and they purged their opponents. In show elections for 86 BCE, Marius was elected to his seventh consulship. Before Sulla returned, Marius would die of natural causes, but he had achieved his goal of seven consulships.

Rutgers has achieved six wins and is headed towards a bowl game. They are in search for a seventh win for the first time in the history of Rutgers competing in a nine game Big Ten schedule. Will they resort to desperate measures to do so and be slapped down by Penn State? Or will they pull an upset when their superiors attention is elsewhere?

6. Minnesota - Tiberius Gracchus

H: 3 L: 9

Tuscany - Places To Visit Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Tiberius Gracchus was Roman politician in the 130s BCE. While serving as a tribune of the plebs, Tiberius brought a land reform bill to the assembly. Tiberius believed that rich families had been buying up public lands that Rome had gained control of throughout Italy and were pricing out poorer citizens. The land reform bill sought to redistribute land from the Roman state and wealthy landholders to poorer citizens. Tiberius enjoyed unprecedented levels of popularity among the plebeians for bringing the matter before the assembly, but the patricians had an opposing tribune in place to block Tiberius’s reforms.

Against compromising on this matter, Tiberius went to the unprecedented step of getting the opposing tribune deposed from office so that Tiberius could force through the land reform law. After passage of the bill in the assembly though, the senate did not allocate sufficient funds for the land commission set up by the agrarian law. Tensions rose. When news later arrived that the king of Pergamum had died and left his kingdom to Rome, Tiberius proposed that they use this bequest to fund the land commission. At the time Tiberius was also attempting to stand for a second consecutive term as tribune of the plebs which was against Roman constitutional customs.

A riot was started by Tiberius’s enemies, and the elder Gracchi brother was killed along with his supporters by the mob. His agrarian law lived on though and the land commission proceeded in completing the aims of Tiberius’s law over the next few years.

As one of the few West division programs to not represent the division in the Big Ten championship game, the Gophers are doing everything they can to bring down the likes of Iowa and redistribute the division championships among the poorer programs of the West. The unorthodox coaching style of PJ Fleck has raised eyebrows among the rest of the conference though and set many people against him. Gopher fans will hope that unlike Tiberius, their divisional hopes are not thrown into the Tiber River. At least their goalposts are safe from being carried to the river this year.

7. Iowa - Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus

H: 5 L: 9

Second Punic War.
Hannibal crossing the Alps
Photo by: PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus is one of the least famous names on this list, but he is the namesake for the Fabian strategy utilized by the Romans during the Second Punic War. The Second Punic War saw Hannibal enter into northern Italy by crossing the Alps. Once on the Italian side of the Alps, Hannibal massacred Roman armies at Trebia and Lake Trasimene. Many allied Italian cities flipped sides in the war following these devastating defeats.

Around this time, Fabius was appointed dictator by the Roman Senate to counter the war against the Carthaginians. He enacted a military strategy at the time that was unique in the ancient world. Fabius refused to fight Hannibal in a pitched battle, seeking instead to turn things into a war of attrition. When he gave up the dictatorship the following year, the Romans had been unimpressed by this ultra defensive strategy. They elected a consul who promptly raised a massive army to attack Hannibal. This army marched after Hannibal and were ambushed and slaughtered at Cannae. With this latest disaster, the Romans realized they could not possibly compete with the offensive attacks of Hannibal and adopted Fabius’s strategy.

Iowa has no interest in attacking their opponents. They will wear you down, grind opposing offenses into dust, and win the war of attrition. Like the Roman people during Fabius’s dictatorship and before Cannae, Hawkeye fans lack appreciation for the wisdom of this strategy. But if they follow it, they can win the Big Ten West. If they don’t, we will just have to wait for Hawkeyes to recognize the wisdom of Brian Ferentz and bring him back to lead them to victory in the future.

8. Nebraska - Gaius Gracchus

H: 4 L: 10

Gracchus walks with the retinue of Flaccus in a mass protest towards the Aventine
Gaius Gracchus
Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The younger brother of Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius became a tribune of the plebs a decade after the death of Tiberius. He embarked on an aggressive legislative program, proposing laws to establish Roman colonies outside Italy, continue land reform efforts started under his elder brother, reform the judicial system, and subsidize grain for the citizens of Rome. These populist proposals resulted in Gaius being reelected tribune for a second consecutive term - something that was completely against the traditions of the Roman republic at the time.

Gaius’s second tribunate saw his popularity falter and his proposals to secure Roman citizenship for the Latin populations of Italy failed. When he stood for a third consecutive tribunate, Gaius was defeated and in his absence his legislative program came under attack the following year. Violence would also begin to break out between Gaius’s supporters and those of his opponents in the senate. Eventually the senate began openly urging that year’s consul to attack Gaius and his supporters. In response, Gaius and his followers seized the temple of Diana on the Aventine to make their stand. The opposing mob ended up killing many of Gaius’s men and Gaius himself was forced to flee across the river. On the other side of the Tiber he committed suicide, and his body was thrown into the Tiber by slaves following his final orders.

Nebraska is one of three West division programs to not represent the division in Indianapolis. Like Minnesota, they are attempting to standup for the common plebs of the West and fight the entrenched powers of the division. While they are a popular choice now, by the end of the season, conventional wisdom tells us that Nebraska will fall short of their lofty goals as they try to become the first program to represent the West with a first year head coach.

9. Northwestern - Lucius Junius Brutus

H: 7 L: 11

Capitoline Brutus
Lucius Junius Brutus
Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Lucius Junius Brutus is the semi-legendary founder of the Roman Republic and traditionally considered to be one of the first consuls. He is supposedly responsible for the expulsion of his uncle Tarquinius, the last Roman king. Subsequent generations of Romans would view it as their duty to assassinate anyone attempting to establish themselves as a monarch. Lucius Junius Brutus’s descendants in particular would take this duty seriously.

Having rid themselves and the Big Ten of Pat Fitzgerald, 2023 Northwestern has been able to win a handful of games and has a decent shot of going bowling. While their accomplishments are nice, the story of what happened with 2023 Northwestern football will always start with their removal of the previous leader.

10. Maryland - Publius Claudius Pulcher

H: 5 L: 12

Golden spangled Hamburgh cock and hen Photo by: Florilegius/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Pulcher was a Roman politician elected consul in 249 BCE. He was given command of the Roman fleet during the First Punic War.

It was the practice of the Roman military at the time to look for omens prior to battle to see if the gods were with them and determine whether they should attack or wait for a more opportune time. The Roman navy did this by observing the actions of sacred chickens that were kept in cages until the time came to divine the likelihood of military success. When this time came, they would release the chickens and throw bread at them. If the chicken left its cage and ate, this was interpreted as favorable and the Romans would attack. If the chicken stayed in its cage or did not eat, this was seen as unfavorable and a reason to delay battle.

According to ancient sources, prior to the naval Battle of Drepana the sacred chickens refused to eat. Angered by these chickens, Pulcher seized them and threw them into the sea. As he did so he declared “Since they do not wish to eat, let them drink!” In the subsequent battle, the Romans were heavily defeated by the Carthaginians. Pulcher was recalled, narrowly escaped a death sentence, and was exiled.

Maryland has ignored the signs and continued playing football in October. Their subsequent defeats should not surprise us.

11. Illinois - Gaius Cassius Longinus

H: 10 L: 14 LPV: 1

The Murder Of Caesar
The assassination of Julius Caesar
Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images

The leading instigator of the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar, Cassius organized the conspiracy and was instrumental in carrying it out. He couldn’t have succeeded alone though and required the assistance of many collaborators. After Caesar was dead, Cassius found out the hard way that they should have put together a plan for what to do afterwards. He was forced to flee to the East and was defeated two years later by the combined forces of Mark Antony and Octavian. With his defeat the likelihood that the senate would ever again see power went out the window.

I have no doubt that Illinois reported the Michigan sign stealing phenomenon to the NCAA. While this may help bring down the Wolverines, it doesn’t help Illinois become victorious over the successors to Michigan at the top of the conference. The 2023 Illini have also found out that simply promoting their former secondary coach to defensive coordinator wasn’t a plan. Forced into the obscurity of the West division’s basement, the Illini will try to marshal their forces for one final last ditch attempt against the leaders of the division. Their likely failure will represent the loss of hope of Illinois ever making a Big Ten championship game.

12. Purdue - Cincinnatus

H: 10 L: 12

Cincinnatus receiving Roman Senate
Cincinnatus receiving Roman Senate
Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

Cincinnatus was a Roman patrician and military leader who had fallen into poverty due to the actions of his son. Despite his advanced age, he continued working his small farm until called upon to lead the defense of the Romans against an invasion following the defeat of that year’s consuls. Appointed dictator for a term of six months, Cincinnatus was found ploughing his farm by a group of Senators sent to inform him of the appointment. He assumed total control of Rome and went on to achieve a swift victory over the invading Aequi in 16 days. Cincinnatus then disbanded the army, relinquished his power, and returned to his farm.

Last year, Purdue was called upon to take up the mantle of the Big Ten West at the Big Ten championship game. Having carried out their duty, they’ve given up winning football games and returned to their basketball court to live out the rest of their days.

13. Indiana Hoosiers - Cato the Elder

H: 11 L: 14 LPV: 4

Marcus Porcius Cato
Carthago delenda est
Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Cato the elder was a Roman soldier, historian, and senator during the era of the Second and Third Punic Wars with Carthage. Cato had served as a soldier and military tribune during the Roman campaigns of the Second Punic War. He went on to ascend the cursus honorum culminating in him being named consul in 195 BCE.

Cato would write the first history of Italy in Latin, but this work has been lost to time as have most of his writings. In the senate, Cato was vehemently opposed to Hellenization of Roman culture as he thought the adoption of Greek culture would weaken the Roman way of life. He was a persistent critic of new ideas and his speeches were filled with warnings of the dangerous nature of Greek ideas. In his later years, Cato became a strident proponent of Rome initiating a third war with Carthage as the city-state has once again become an economic power in the western Mediterranean. He ended many of his speeches in the senate - even ones on completely unrelated topics - with the words “Carthago delenda est” or Carthage must be destroyed.

Indiana fans have reached a similar point in the commenting section of OTE. Most of their comments now end in the words “Fire Tom Allen.”

14. Michigan State - Marcus Licinius Crassus

H: 12 L: 14 LPV: 7

Ayuso Presents The Balance Of The Annual Campaign Of The Special Civil Protection Plan Against Forest Fires Photo By Isabel Infantes/Europa Press via Getty Images

Crassus was the richest man in Rome and the third member of the First Triumvirate alongside Caesar and Pompey. He had amassed an enormous fortune through real estate speculation during the civil war between Sulla and the followers of Marius. Crassus also founded the world’s first known fire department, but he used it to extort the owners of burning property into selling their buildings at steep discounts while the flames did their work. If the owners refused, Crassus’s men would just let the building burn to the ground.

Crassus rose to prominence during Spartacus’s slave rebellion and did much of the work in ending it, but he was eclipsed by Pompey when it came to getting credit. As a member of the First Triumvirate, he was granted the governorship of Syria where he sought to find his own military glory that could surpass the accomplishments of rivals Pompey and Caesar. Crassus marched an army into Parthia and crossed the Euphrates river. His army was guided by a duplicitous chieftain actually serving Parthia and were led into a desert far from any water source. There they were surrounded by the Parthians and decisively defeated by the Parthian horse archers. During the following peace negotiations with the Parthians, Crassus was killed. The story goes that in mockery of his greed, the Parthians poured molten gold into the mouth of Crassus.

Michigan State is the third member of the Big Ten East to have made a College Football Playoff. Unlike their counterparts in Michigan and Ohio State, the Spartans have lacked significant accomplishments on the field in recent years. Seeking to match those accomplishments, the wealthy Spartans athletic department - funded by real estate money just like Crassus - extended a head coach by giving him a $90 million contract. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they put their trust in the wrong man to guide them to victory and now find themselves surrounded by enemies taking potshots at them. Even worse, it appears that their athletic department is going to saddle the university with more problems by potentially hiring Urban Meyer. Talk about greed.

Not mentioned, but considered: Scipio Africanus, Cato the younger, Cicero, Brutus, Titus Pollo


How often do you think about the Roman Empire or Roman Empire-adjacent topics?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Daily, for I am a man.
    (66 votes)
  • 22%
    Weekly, because I am a man, but not an obsessive one.
    (61 votes)
  • 42%
    I have thought of the Roman Empire before, yes.
    (115 votes)
  • 10%
    Roman what now?
    (27 votes)
269 votes total Vote Now