Monday, February 7, 2011

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena - Ancient Past vs. Present Investment Strategies?

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena is a dynamic and truly worthy prequel produced by Starz that chronicled the rise of an infamous Roman slave, Spartacus, who lead the worst slave rebellion Ancient Rome had ever seen. Though this article is somewhat of a departure from the usual financially-oriented subjects of this blog, I believe that readers of this article will find my conclusions useful and pointed nonetheless in the study of investment strategies.

To the eyes of the average American, the tale of the House of Batiatus is a fascinating, if shocking, glimpse into the life of Ancient Rome. In this series the protagonist is Quintillius Batiatus, a Lanista, or owner of a Gladiator Training School. Batiatus seeks to raise himself and his House to heights of glory never before achieved by his ancestors, or indeed by any Gladiator Trainer before him. We can't help but applaud and root for this underdog who rose from beneath his father's heavy heel and successfully defeated numerous powerful opponents in his attempt to achieve prominence far above his current station in Ancient Capua and the Roman World. We must understand, however, that his all or nothing strategy though compelling to risk-taking, egalitarian, and over-achieving Americans, is ultimately doomed to utter failure. In fact, I think our Roman friend's strategy is as instructive to us today as it would've been to the eyes of the Ancient Romans. It is a morality play that perhaps can teach us a lesson today that just might save our financial lives.

The Ancient Greco-Roman world would've enjoyed the Spartacus offerings by Starz every bit as much as we Americans and all Westerners have to date. We must not make the common mistake, though, made by some that assume the whole world thinks and views the world through the same prism as the West does. The current eternal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are instructive to any willing to pay attention that the worldview and goals of radical Islam share little in common with those of the more liberal and secular West. No, the Ancients would have viewed Quintillius as a fatally flawed character whose over-reaching hunger for advancement above his station deserving of nothing but ignominious death and ruin. Indeed, the Ancient Greco-Romans viewed love of tradition, caution, and humility as high virtues. They would've seen the eventual rebellion of the gladiators under Spartacus as a righteous penalty inflicted by the Gods upon a House and man who himself sinned through his intemperate craving to overturn the rightful order of the Universe. In the Ancient World the Gods reined at the pinnacle, the nobility/ruling class second, merchants, farmers, soldiers, and lanistas next, followed by free workers, and lastly, enslaved men. Batiatus, by seeking to raise himself into the heady heights of the republican ruling class in Rome was clearly guilty of seeking to overturn this divine order. His precipitous downfall would've been seen as a just punishment of the Gods for his sheer temerity and lack of respect for the laws that held chaos and ruin at bay.

In short, I imagine the ancient Romans would've counseled investors to similarly stay within bounds familiar to them, and not over-reach into unfamiliar areas with an all or nothing investment strategy. While such a moderate strategy may never enable one to become the next Bill Gates, it will insure the prudent investor also never finds themselves and their "House" lying in ruins about a torched and corpse-littered landscape.

The wise ancient Roman would most certainly have understood and approved of wealth measured in gold and silver, disdaining the paper (risky banking and investment stocks)!

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