Like in the classic 'Rome sweet Rome' scenario, a MEU is magically transported to Rome, with the following differences: They arrive at the time of the insane emperor Caligula, they are from the first second aware of the situation, and they know that they are in a parallel universe, so they don't have to worry about causality loops, (Whatever they do, they can not erase themselves by the removed consequences changing the modern world.) and they happen to have a man who speaks Latin properly and is highly educated in ancient history.

Caligula is not too clever, but is violent and holds himself a god, and he attacks the Marines with all he has. (Praetorian Guard and Urban cohorts) In the resulting battle the Roman forces are destroyed, the Emperor, many of his retinue and the Praefectus Praetorio is taken captive. The next day the Marines attack Rome, meet no resistance, and seize the Palatine Hill and the Capitol, and capture many senators and the Praefectus Urbi, and the members of the Julius-Claudius dynasty, including Claudius himself.

However, the the CO of the Marines knows that they can not control the whole Empire, nor stand against it indefinitely due to the lack of supplies and manpower. Becoming a bit dreamy from his power (and knowing it is parallel universe) he decides to transform the Empire as much a possible by his resources, according to his ideals. The Marines want to: (not in this importance or time ordering)

1) Promote human rights, including the abolition of slavery

2) Institute some kind of democratic government, building on roman republican tradition, but making it better than the original republic that had collapsed just some decades ago.

3) Give the provinces equal rights with Italy

4) Minimize own and roman causalities

5) Prevent the empire from falling apart, collapsing or sinking into civil war.

6) Prevent persecution of Christians

7) Provide some form of retirement for the Marines after years long labor in the Transformation.

How is this to be achieved?


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    $\begingroup$ Are you aware that human right at the time of Caligula were such science fiction as mineral right in today world? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Dec 10 '17 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ You are asking us to write a story for you. How is this about worldbuilding? $\endgroup$ – sphennings Dec 10 '17 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ "Human rights" = of which kind? American? Russian? French? "Abolition of slavery" = the mother of all economic crashes. "Give the provinces equal rights with Italy": provinces, including Italy, were purely administrative divisions, had no rights. "Prevent persecution of Christians" = no-operation. "Democratic government" = arguably, Rome was a republic at that point; a Roman emperor of the 1st century did not have much more power than an American president (some powers were different); and the various city-almost-states which made up the empire were much more autonomous than American states. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 10 '17 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch I am aware. But our dreamy marines want to change this. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Dec 10 '17 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Surely, I was inexact about the 'rights of provinces'.I simply meant that they would like if all subjects of the empire would eventually reach the legal standing of Cives Romani (granted to all Itally south of Po in 89 BC), and be able to take part in the governance of the 'New Republic' $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Dec 10 '17 at 21:15

First of all, I must say that I would really like to read this book, or to watch this movie; the rest of the answer should not be taken as a rejection of the idea, but rather as highlighting difficult aspects which would need to be addressed (or waived away, fiction being fiction).

If I interpret the American military terminology correctly, a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is sort-of like a regiment or reinforced battalion -- some 2000 men commanded by a colonel, possibly with some artillery and aviation elements. In the first century Rome had about a million inhabitants. So two thousand Americans who speak no Latin (thus, barbarians by definition) occupy two small hills in a city of a million people, the capital of a vast empire with many tens of millions of inhabitants; is this not a great position to be in?

The first thing to understand about first century Roman empire is that it was still pretty much decentralized, and still officially a republic. For example, the marines in the question forgot to capture the consuls, who were still elected annually and were still the notional top magistrates of the notional republic. The consuls, together with senators which were not captured, would organize a fierce resistance; a million enraged Romans would most certainly pose a significant problem to the puny MEU: Intifada comes to mind.

The second thing to understand is that slavery in the classical world was a normal social position, with real prospects of advancement (at least for the urban slaves), very different from the chattel slavery the Americans practiced until about 150 years ago. (It was one of the ways towards acquiring Roman citizenship; a slave son of a slave and grandson of a slave was a very rare sight.) The Romans had no hesitation to arm their slaves, and this was an accepted course of action when confronted with unfavourable military conditions.

The way Romans thought, once captured, the senators and magistrates lost all power; if and when they were liberated they would be restored to their social standing, but as long as they were slaves in barbaricum they were as good as dead. And the idea of capturing "the members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty" is really funny, because the Julio-Claudian dynasty is something historians invented after the fall of said dynasty: while the Julio-Claudians were in power the so-called dynasty was a tangled nest of families with complicated relations between them. Consider the birth names of the Julio-Claudian emperors: C. Octavius (aka Octavian Augustus), Ti. Claudius Nero (aka Tiberius), C. Claudius Drusus (aka Caligula), Ti. Claudius Drusus (aka Claudius, uncle of Caligula), L. Domitius Ahenobarbus (aka Nero): some dynasty.

In the first century Rome had no shortage of illustrious families and men with high social status and military command experience; somebody will soon take command of the resistance. I see no way for the small number of marines to prevail in a prolonged conflict; but, let's assume that the Senate enters negotiations and Colonel John Smith of the U.S. Marine Corps presents his program of reforms, and forget that "non est consuetudinem populi Romani accipere ab hoste armato condicionem" -- it is not in the custom of the Roman people to accept conditions from an armed enemy.

  • Promote human rights, including the abolition of slavery.

    What human rights, specifically? The American kind (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)? The French kind (liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression)? The Russian kind (all men have the right to obey Mr. Putin)?

    And the senators will take great pains to explain to Col. Smith that abolition of slavery would induce the most severe crash mankind has ever seen. First of all, slaves were very expensive; the Roman treasury had nowhere near enough money to buy out the slaves. Second, slaves were an absolutely essential component of the society: a mass manumission would have a massive deleterious effect on the economy. Third, in the first century the empire was pretty much decentralized: Rome had no right to interfere with the local laws of Athens and Jerusalem and Antiochia and Alexandria and so on; any attempt to do so would result in the empire exploding in a swarm of independent small states, all at war with Rome. Remember that the Social War had ended just a little more than a century earlier.

  • Institute some kind of democratic government, building on roman republican tradition, but making it better than the original republic that had collapsed just some decades ago.

    Rome was never a democracy. First Col. Smith would need to explain why a democracy is good (hint: nobody in Rome believed it was a good thing, "democracy" was something the shifty Greeks of Athens had); then he would need to explain how the old laws of Rome were not good (hint: everybody in Rome thought that they were best in class) and third, Col. Smith would need to find a way to square the circle and somehow remain in power (he, a barbarian) while bestowing a democratic constitution.

  • Give the provinces equal rights with Italy.

    This is easy. Provinces were purely administrative divisions, they had no rights as such; so you can say that they already had equal rights with Italy: specifically, none at all.

    Cities had rights. And there was a complex system of rights. Basically, you had "Roman-ish" cities (which could have, in increasing order of autonomy, Italic rights, or Latin rights, or Roman rights) and "allied-ish" cities (such as Athens or Alexandria) which used their own laws and obeyed Rome only in matters of war and external affairs.

    (Note: a city having "jus Italicum", Italic rights, does not imply it was in Italy -- actually by the first century all cities in Italy had at least "jus Latinum"; similarily, a city with "jus Latinum", Latin rights, was not necessarily in Latium or in Italy.)

  • Minimize own and Roman causalities.

    The first part is easy -- there are only 2000 marines after all, so casualties are necessarily limited to this number. The second part is more difficult -- the Romans were obstinated people, and they did not accept defeat easily, as Hannibal the Carthaginese and Vercingetorix the Gaul found out to their dismay.

  • Prevent the empire from falling apart, collapsing or sinking into civil war.

    Good luck with that. The cowards in Rome caved in and accepted to be ruled by a barbarian: each and every province and legion would automatically reject the rule of Rome, and there is nothing Col. Smith and his 2000 barbarians can do about it.

  • Prevent persecution of Christians.

    This is again easy. Christian were not persecuted in the time of the first Julio-Claudian emperors, so there is nothing to be done here. In fact, Christians were never persecuted throughout the empire; in some places and at some times there were brief local persecutions, but by and large the Roman society was very tolerant of religious sects. Hint: those persecuted Christians successfully replaced the state religion with their own.

  • $\begingroup$ Some of your critique is clever and well-founded, but: In some cases you get stuck by the wording, and refuse to understand what I am tying to say: Julio-Claudian dynasty, although never existed as such, is convenient way of saying 'Living relatives of Augustus, Tiberius, Germanicus and Caligula, who might seem a suitable emperor.' Or 'rights of provinces' simply means 'rights of people in the empire', including those not living in privileged cities, but in small villages. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Dec 11 '17 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ You also seem to assume, that just because they are trying to force modern ideas on the ancient people, they are dead stupid in all other matters: Who said, that when I wrote 'capture many senators' they did not at least try to get the consuls? Who said they would state their terms and wait until all Rome attacks them? If they find their position indefensible, they might retreat to Castrum Praetorium or Ostia. And what is they try to get rid of their 'barbarian enemy' status? They could try to make a deal with Claudius, release him and the surviving praetorians, who then ... $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Dec 11 '17 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ ..hires them as the successors of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numerus_Batavorum $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Dec 11 '17 at 7:33

Hearts and minds, starting in the occupied areas. Improve life, improve travel, respect as much as possible the values that matter to people, and let the word get out: things are better in the occupied areas. Let city leaders decide "we want in on that". Them converting themselves is the only way it works.


The man who speaks Latin will be in very high demand. A number of native Romans will need to be taught English and a number of marines will need to be taught Latin to ease the communication problems.

There will need to be an interim Government leader and the workings of Rome must be allowed to continue in the short term to prevent chaos.

The leaders of the marines then need to get a lot of the most influential Roman leaders and senators on board by describing what they want to do, showing them some high tech equipment and what can be achieved and also threatening that unless they agree that they will destroy Rome. Basically making them an offer that they cannot refuse.

It will then be a matter of slowly making changes which will take decades. The marines will also have to take onboard a lot of what the senior Romans believe is possible to avaoid disaster.


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