there were no ethnic romans -- 9/22/22

Today's encore selection -- from Rome by Robert Hughes. In the founding myth of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus established the city on the banks of the Tiber River in roughly 750 BCE and invited the outcasts of society to be its first citizens:

"[The site for Rome on the banks of the river Tiber, which was established in myth by Romulus and Remus, at first had] no inhabitants. Romulus supposedly solved this problem by creating an asylum or a place of refuge on what became the Capitol, and inviting in the trash of primitive Latium: runaway slaves, exiles, murderers, criminals of all sorts. Legend makes it out to have been (to employ a more recent simile) a kind of Dodge City.

Romulus marking the limits of Rome

"This can hardly be gospel-true, but it does contain a kernel of symbolic truth. Rome and its culture were not 'pure.' They were never produced by a single ethnically homogeneous people. Over the years and then the centuries, much of Rome's population came from outside Italy -- this even included some of the later emperors, such as Hadrian, who was Spanish, and writers like Columella, Seneca, and Martial, also Spanish-born. Celts, Arabs, Jews, and Greeks, among others, were included under the wide umbrella of Romanitas. This was the inevitable result of an imperial system that constantly expanded and frequently accepted the peoples of conquered countries as Roman citizens. Not until the end of the first century B.C.E., with the reign of Augustus, do we begin to see signs of a distinctively 'Roman' art, an identifiably 'Roman' cultural ideal.

"But how Roman is Roman? Is a statue dug up not far from the Capitol, carved by a Greek artist who was a prisoner-of-war in Rome, depicting Hercules in the style of Phidias and done for a wealthy Roman patron who thought Greek art the ultimate in chic, a 'Roman' sculpture? Or is it Greek art in exile? Or what? Mestizaje es grandeza, 'mixture is greatness,' is a Spanish saying, but it could well have been Roman. It was never possible for the Romans, who expanded to exercise their sway over all Italy, to pretend to the lunacies of racial purity that came to infect the way Germans thought about themselves."



Robert Hughes


Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History


Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.


Copyright 2011 Robert Hughes


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