The Power and Curse of Information, Empire and Espionage (blog post #2)


Dark night. He is quietly making his way through the house. “One, two, three… seven guards in the chambers of the senator.” He knows that his mission is coming to an end. All he needs to do is to get out of here and give the gathered information to the boss. Seven months as an undercover agent… he will finally complete his mission. Suddenly, he hears a quiet movement in the back. Rapidly turning around, he pulls his knife out, and then… all he sees is darkness.

One of the most compelling factors of the rise of Roman Empire was its military superiority. Partly, the success of Roman army can be contributed to the outstanding discipline and excellent tactics, but the true strength behind it was information. Romans knew how essential the specific information is to every combat, and how lethal it could be if the information was false; therefore, they relied heavily upon gathering important information and spreading of false information to their enemies, in short – espionage. One great example can be taken from early Roman Republic during Etruscan Wars, when consul Q. Fabius Maximus sent his brother disguised as an Etruscan peasant across the border to reach an alliance with another tribe, which ultimately led to victory in the war.

Rome went on to conquer Italian Peninsula using advanced scouting and spying, which enabled them to win over and over. The fact is their failures only occurred when they didn’t have necessary information, or the enemy had superior intelligence. Take a look at Second Punic War. Hannibal, Carthaginian general, was able to bring chaos and fear into Rome. His ability to forge documents, steal important information, send secret messages, and advanced tactics allowed him to be undefeated in Italy for over a decade. The most successful battle he fought, was the Battle of Cannae, where he annihilated Roman legion that was twice the size of his army. Only by counterattacking in the North Africa, where Carthage was located, general Scipio was able to win the war. His victory can be largely attributed to successful espionage missions.

The Roman military success and the ultimate fall of the empire can be equally attributed to the power and curse of information. One of the reasons why Rome had so much trouble with German tribes was because the lack of information about their enemy when they were invading Germany. However, the real curse of Roman espionage was not the lack of knowledge about its enemy, but conflict within the Rome itself. Frumentarii, an ancestor of FBI, KGB, and MI6, were secret agents that would spy on army, aristocrats, and local population. One example of their missions was persecution of Christians. The net of espionage created by them eventually led to greater internal conflicts, which resulted in demise of the Roman Empire.

But enough about dark tales of spying and betrayal, lets focus on today and the importance of information. I mean, it is redundant to say that information led to technological climb, which led to billions of innovations, resulting in more jobs, and so on and so forth. Instead, I’d like to relate to the integration of a person, in which the information is the first step. The formation of the character starts from an early age, in which the crucial factor is what information we receive from the world around us. That means the smell of our favorite food, the touch of our mother’s hands when we are little, the first word we say, the picture of our family on our wall, all of that starts the integration of our person. As we continue to live everyday, we learn more and more about the world around us. Some information is lost, some gets imprinted; our memories reflect the person that we are. However, memories of the same events from different people are never exactly the same, no matter how close these people might be. There are always details that vary according to each individual, because everyone has an unique perspective. Which leads us to the next step of integration: interpretation.


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