One Ring to Destroy the Roman Republic?
Three Rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the land of Mordor where shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where Shadows lie.
Ross Mackenzie, in his column about J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings (December 17, 2003), says “Tolkien was well aware of ring-quest tales” and he “read Pliny, who wrote of the blood feud over a ring between Drusus and Caepio that led to the Social Wars, which ended in the Roman republic's collapse” . One ring to destroy the Roman Republic?
Pliny writes, “inter Caepionem quoque et Drusum ex anulo in auctione venali inimicitiae coepere, unde origo socialis belli et exitia rerum” —“Also, it was from a ring put up for sale by auction that the hostility between Caepio and Drusus began, which were the origin of the Social War and the cause of the destruction”. Was it the hostility between Caepio and Drusus the origins of the Social War? No wonder a modern historian says “antiquity was prone to see only the ambition and the agency of individuals” . That aside, what was destroyed? The Republic? Lasto al lalaith nîn!
To explain the fall of the Roman Republic, historians invoke a variety of converging forces or movements, political, social and economic . Different occasions have been proposed as the ultimate origin of the collapse; different events have been accorded special significance in the build up to civil war ; different individuals have been blamed.
Polybius says Gaius Flaminius' agrarian reforms in Picenum in 232 BCE was the first step in the demoralisation of the Roman people , Florus thinks it is excessive prosperity and lust for personal power which destroyed the state , Velleius Paterculus thinks virtue was abandoned for that of corruption , Sallust sees an underlying conflict between the nobility and the plebs where everyone sought to draw or snatch everything to himself tearing the Republic into bits  and Appian thinks it was the resort to violence which marked and perhaps caused the demise of the Republic . Inadequate administration of the empire, militarism resulting from the prolongation of military commands and multiracism  have also been used to explain the fall of the Roman Republic . Somehow, a ring does not quite fit in, even if all it did was set into motion certain events. That is, unless it is the symbolism of Tolkien’s One Ring—the universal themes of lust for power, gold, desire and domination, “to the ruin of all” . After all, people like the Gracchi brothers, Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Cicero and Augustus, who have been blamed for destroying the Republic, were also deemed power-hungry.
Tacitus would have agreed with the ending of the Lord of the Rings: the return of the king . But which king? Sauron, “the Dark Lord on his dark throne” , or Aragorn, the healing King Elessar? You decide.