Talk of “the legacy of Rome” or “the heritage of Rome” used to make hearers think of admirable citizens, great works of literature, architecture, philosophy, and intercontinental peace secured by military victory. Historians today are increasingly critical of the ancient Romans as having been imperialists, slave owners, and oppressors of women. But if writing on Rome is a common way of expressing our judgments, could study of Rome also help improve the way we judge? Could it even help us understand better how to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our own modern principles? Here, at least, is a way to get started thinking about Ancient Rome, without racing too quickly either to adulation or to condemnation.
Here are the twins, Romulus and Remus, getting their mother’s milk from a she-wolf. Is this a way of suggesting something about the most important qualities of the founder of a powerful political order? (Photo Blake Buchannan.)
The Forum was the center of Rome during the Ancient Roman Republic, but emperors continued to build in it even after Caesar and Augustus overthrew the Republic. Here is an imperial temple for Faustina and Antoninus Pius, with a baroque church build inside it. (Photo Blake Buchannan.)
The citizens of the Roman Republic had sworn never to accept a king, so Augustus found it prudent to call himself the “first citizen” rather than “First Emperor.” Here on the “Altar of the Peace of Augustus,” he has himself, his family, and other important citizens represented more or less as equals, even though they were not. (My photo.)
Let’s call this “the Notched Colosseum.” It has the advantage of calling attention to how much of the Colosseum is missing–half of the largest and outermost wall, for starters. (Photo by Blake Buchannan.)
The Column of Trajan bears an ascending band of reliefs that “tell” the story of his conquest of the Dacians. It is not an entirely pretty story, and some of the well-carved reliefs show the violence of battle and the decapitation of the defeated. It thus makes for an excellent contrast with qualities promoted in the the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary at the Trajan Forum, to the left. A similar shift in values is indicated by the statue on top of the column, which is that of St. Peter, not a pagan warrior or leader. (Photo by Blake Buchannan.)
As indicated above, the Roman Empire divided between East and West, and various tribal peoples flooded especially into the West. What is not indicated is that by the fourth century, Rome was no longer an important capital, while Constantinople became the new capital and would endure as such for another thousand years. (Photo from wikipedia/commons/2/2d/Invasions_of_the_Roman_Empire_1.)