It happened today - June 3, 2016

Nepotianus, usurper. (Wikipedia) Can I just dispatch one more Roman Emperor here? I know, I know. There are so many. Rome was around for a long time and suffered many instructive disasters including in its long decline. Hence Nepotianus.

Yup. Nepotianus. Not that he went in for long declines. More like whoosh crackle. A son of Constantine’s half-sister, he marched into Rome at the head of a group of gladiators and proclaimed himself Emperor on June 3 of 350 A.D. And lasted 28 days before Magnentius did him in.

Bad news for all concerned. Magnentius was himself a usurper, inside whose usurpation Nepotianus made his own singularly ill-judged bid for illegitimate power. And Magnentius’ claim to the throne was basically that he controlled the imperial guards.

Which worked, sort of. He ousted Constans, who had wrested the throne from his own brother Constantine II, and who was “slain shortly thereafter” according to Wikipedia and to no one’s surprise. But then Constantius II (stop already with the Constan- names) drove Magnentius from the throne and to suicide.

Yes, we’re knee-deep in blood here. Hamlet is tame by comparison. But that’s not the point. The point is that things had gotten so bad that a man could march in to Rome surrounded by gladiators and expect, even wrongly, to be accepted.

These are the sorts of warning signs that your political system is in deep trouble, not just because of those at the top, but because the expectations of the populace have become so low and debased.

We’re not looking at gladiators in our own day. But when you consider the current trappings of power, and the increasingly garish, shallow, self-satisfied presentation of aspirants for popular favour in politics, you see pretty quickly that we’re also not exactly at the level of Cato the Elder.

So let’s smarten up before we become a comically dismal byword for future ages.