The Romans #
The Romans made significant contributions to our Western Civilisation. Rome is sometime called the Eternal city, because it is one of the longest established ruling centre of the world. Rome is known as the divine city due to the myth of Mars seducing a Vestal Virgin giving birth to Romulous and Remus who are abandoned and suckled by a wolf. Remus later is considered the founder of Sienna. They gave us the institutions of government – the senate, republicanism, the rule of law, Art and Architecture, a diverse multicultural and multi-state empires – virtues such as dignity, humanity, honesty. Their enduring legacy includes Latin, one of the contributors to the English language, the absolute primacy of law to maintain order and harmony. We are linked to them through a great chain of human experience.
They give us a continuity of cultural constants in the experiences of life. Their imperialism demonstrates our most enduring urges of dominance – power, greed ambition, desire and love. Yet its contributions to their subjected states were enormous and timeless. Remnants of Roman infrastructure endue in their roads, theatres, aqueducts and buildings in Spain, France, Britain Constantinople and in many other territories. While conquering Greece, they adopted and integrated many aspects of Greek culture including their Gods by simply giving them Roman names.
Half of Washington’s monumental architecture is inspired by Rome. The British Museum itself is Greek in style and Roman in scale.
Rome is affectionately called “The Eternal City”. Greece was decentralised, with over 90 independent competing city states. The loose Delian League was insufficient to providing a unified force.
The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogeneous – not homogeneous. Greece had a different approach. Virgil: “To impose the way of peace you must spare the conquered and subdue the proud.”
Even people at the periphery of the empire felt they were at the heart of the empire. Most young men from conquered territories were conscripted into the army to serve 25 years after which they became full Roman citizens with lifelong pensions. Spain took 200 years to subdue, but eventually produced Seneca, born in Cordoba, a Stoic writer and advisor to the Emperor Nero. It also produced two emperors, Trajan and Hadrian. Constantine was born in Serbia.
The Emperor Caracella in 212 made all free men citizens, simply so he could broaden the tax base. The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogeneous – not homogeneous. Greece had a different approach. In-breeding was always the privilege of royalty - and look what happened to them. Some of the most interesting people are miscegenous. Much of what we know of ancient civilisations is very recent. Most records were wantonly vandalised and destroyed by misguided religious vandals. Byzantine and the Moorish cultures managed to preserve and transmit some to future generations. More and more we rely on archaeological excavations for reliable artefacts to base our assumptions.
The Roman Empire lasted some 500+ years giving us some salutary lessons on enduring cohesion and good governance. It gave us the model of integrating diverse people through tolerance and co-opting talent from across the empire. While the Romans certainly attempted to crush their conquered subjects when they failed to submit to their authority, they also attempted to integrate and assimilate the “barbarians”.
Roman thinkers and historian’s wisdom still applies today. #
It was the Roman codger Juvenal who wrote of the people’s appetite for bread and circuses; we prefer the cheap nourishment of legal theatrics to real hard research for hard reliable evidence. “…
the arrogance of officialdom need to be tempered and controlled,….” - Cicero, 55 BC
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Translated, “who will guard the guards (themselves)?”
Tacitus: ”misdeeds, once exposed, have no refuge but in audacity”.
Lucius Cassius, regarded as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, “Cui bono”, ‘To whose benefit?'
The Emperor Claudius maintained the senate should “transfer to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found”.
The Roman Empire eventually became composed of an enormously diverse base of people from different racial and ethnic groups. They developed a system of naturalisation that allowed citizens to maintain dual allegiance to their original tribe or ancestral place – Spain or Britain. Edward Gibbon in 1776, claimed that high point of civilisation – when mankind was happiest and most prosperous was when the Roman Empire was at its peak. The Roman Empire succeeded because it was ethnically heterogenous – not homogeneous. Greece had a different approach.
(Excerpted from Luke Slattery and Rosemary Neill)