SPQR – Senatus PopulusQue Romanus (The Senate and the People of Rome)
E PLURIBUS UNUM (Out of many, one)
For the Romans it must have been natural to use Latin.
For the Americans, it seems like an effort to sound profound, that borders on the ludicrous. Besides, it sounds extremely phony, especially in today’s context. Maybe Trump refers to it when he looks for the cheeseburgers on his bedside table.
“Out of many cheeseburgers, only one left”
When it came into existence – circa 800BC – it was just a small town that was little more than a village (population 150), by the banks of a river that was little more than a stream one could easily wade across.
The village didn’t begin with any grand plans of being an empire that – in the course of a thousand years – would stretch through three continents and secure within its borders the lives of roughly 100 million free citizens and 30 million slaves.
And the stream never imagined that resourcefulness and engineering would divert nearby streams to join it’s flow, turning it into what is today the turbulent Tiber.
By the time it grew to it’s mightiest in 200AD, Rome would be constantly fighting wars of conquest and quelling rebellion in it’s distant outposts, expending in today’s dollars – trillions, in order to sustain it’s hegemony.
And all the while back home, tax collectors, judges, senators, policemen, firefighters, medicine men, carpenters, builders, farmers, accountants, poets and historians – they would be going about their orderly lives, free Roman citizens, blissfully comfortable in the thought that those wars could never touch them.
It wasn’t really a picture of harmony though, by today’s standards. Ancient Rome was in a state of ‘controlled barbarism’. Rich businessmen sponsored ‘Munera’, reality shows held live in vast amphitheaters where on weekends, citizens brought their wives (and some even their children) to watch hand-picked slaves slash, bludgeon and stomp each other to death.
A vastly different level of morality reigned in ancient Rome. Roman housewives had their Nubian slaves beaten to death for the slightest of infractions. If you didn’t like the looks of your new born female child, you considered it a curse that had to be exterminated. You smashed her head against the stable door and threw her into the rubbish heap.
If you were a plebeian (commoner) and to your great dismay your friendly neighborhood quaestor (Senator) took a fancy to your nubile teenage daughter, you had a choice between letting him take her away in exchange for a tip off ten talents and a job in his stables or you faced the prospect of hard labor in the arsenic-laced gold mines outside town – and your daughter got raped anyway.
And while the citizens within the walls of Rome lived their lives in that quasi-barbaric state of peace, it was quite another world outside, around the fringes of the Empire, a very violent environment of treacherous mini-empires and vassal states that were perpetually squabbling and then forming alliances with the intention of marching on Rome and burning it down to the ground.
Invasions and conquests in those days were quite ‘comprehensive’, designed to ensure that you wouldn’t get any more trouble from the other guy. You didn’t just put an arrow through him and loot his livestock. You wiped him off the face of the earth. You burned his cities and temples down. You raped his women and then killed them. You threw his children into large burning pits. You took the able-bodied as slaves and worked them to their deaths building your monuments and aqueducts. You reserved the worst treatment for the leaders of the conquered lands who refused to fall in line – you had hot molten lead poured down their throats while they were still alive.
Oh yeah, it was a brutal world. The bloodshed – if it were to happen today – would leave every man, woman and child in the conquered territories with Stage-5 PTSD, while turning most of them into paranoid schizophrenics. And in turn, those invading troops would be suicidal wrecks suffering from acute moral injury.
It speaks to the adaptability of the human mind that that didn’t happen. Rome still exists, at the heart of a mediocre, though moderately prosperous, Italy in the midst of a continent of stable, prosperous democracies, none of whom suffer from any consequences of two thousand year old invasions.
The analogies between ancient Rome and present day America are startling. Just for fun, let’s compare the two at the height of their hegemony – Rome in 200AD : An empire that stretched from The Azores in the west to the mouth of the Tigris in the east and Scotland in the north to Nubia(Sudan) in the south, with 20% of the world’s population as its subjects. And let’s compare that with America in the present day, virtually unchallenged……
The similarities between the two are striking. Rome started in the 9th Century BC as a lawless haven for the indigents and the unwanted from nearby Carthago, Neapolis and Syracusa. Likewise, America began with the puritans and exiles who came over because they were just as unwanted in Britain. Both empires started with the disenfranchised jetsam and flotsam.
Even the mysteries behind the rise of Rome and America mirror each other. How did a small village in central Italy manage to grow into a 4-million square mile empire, bigger in area than Europe? Likewise, how did a little village named Jamestown on the banks of the Powhatan, Virginia (which in fact marked the start of the British Empire) overtake Britain and ultimately grow into the world’s most powerful nation? Exactly what is it that set the two apart from the rest?
Will America too fade away like Rome and barely exist, a shadow of it’s former self, another mediocre developed nation, struggling to stay economically afloat?
Take it easy, in spite of my awesome intellect, I don’t have the answers to everything.
Romans and Americans have always had an overblown – almost cringe producing – sense of nationalism. Like the Americans today, Romans thought that the sun rose and set with them and that they had a God-given right to dominate and rule over the rest of the world. Philosopher-Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, once exhorted his citizens thus……,” When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive as a Roman – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love and to conquer, as a Roman.”
American Presidents tell their citizens things that are very similar in essense, though they attach a prayer to their rhetoric every time….. “God bless America and the American people,” they cry out at the drop of a hat, multiple times when they are delivering a speech. Isn’t God supposed to be all-pervasive, all-knowing, everywhere at the same time? Isn’t everybody on earth blessed? Why should God specifically stop to bless America and Americans?
I know of no other nation’s leaders who continuously and repeatedly, in public at home and even while they are visiting other countries, invoke God and entreat him to come forward and bless their country and people. It’s simple. Those leaders simply don’t think it is necessary to invoke Jesus or God whenever their eyelids bat.
Or is it because America’s God starts his daily blessings with the letter ‘Z’ and by the time he reaches ‘A’ (for America) it is time for some sex and he simply forgets to bless America afterwards? No worries there. When it comes to sex, even American Presidents are most understanding.
But that was Rome and this is America – two peas from the same pod.
(to be continued….)