WHY ROMANS? WHY SHOULD ANYONE CARE ABOUT PEOPLE THAT LIVED AND DIED TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO? NOTHING THEY DID HAS ANY IMPACT ON MY LIFE OR THAT OF ANYONE I KNOW.
Even if the Romans cannot directly teach us much, we can learn a lot from the way they interacted with each other and the universe in which they inserted themselves.
What makes the Roman civilization such an interesting Petri dish for the study of human nature – or, to be honest and accurate, our global civilization of the XXI century, - is that they are one of the few civilizations that is close to ours. That is, close enough without carrying the baggage of other more recent cultures and civilizations. Sometimes we are too close to be objective or comprehensive in our critics.
In one hand, Rome is millennia away from us. In the other, it was only with the advent of industrialization that many of the issues, challenges and ideas familiars to Romans were revisited.
Yet, all post-Industrial civilizations are still emerging from a transformative process. All are still feeling the aftershock from the First World War. And if you go further-back, the preceding century was a blueprint for the modern world, the setup for many of our current issues.
To many, a reminder of injustice they still suffer. To a baffling number, a golden age beyond criticism.
Only the most deluded would not criticize antiquity. In fact, it is more common the opposite: to consider that all those that came before us were ignorant, superstitious and incomparable to us.
We are as quick to forget that all we have today was built with the blood and sweet of hundred of generations, that we are in no way inherently superior to our ancestors as we are to forget that all wealth comes from someone hard work.
There are no significant biological differences between humans born during the historic era.
If we ambition to be more than those that came before us, we must contemplate our trajectory and decide how to become better people.
An honest evaluation of our societies is currently impossible. But the lessons we could learn from such analysis could serve us right now. Progress is not linear, and there are many traps. We can lose the liberties and rights we conquered.
We are fortunate to be able to examine a multi-ethnic, multicultural society. A civilization with two millennia of development, with one of the most detailed historiography of the pre-modern world. A civilization that at the same time it fought for the causes of liberty, social justice and security. A people that ailed at protecting the same goals it sought to achieve by giving in to Fear, Greed and Exploitation.
One with with a complex political world and a strong civic element, whose people always found a way to have their voices heard- against the will of oligarchs and tyrants.
A society worried about the balance of power between civil and military authorities, as well as how the two roles interacted. A society whose members worried about modern problems. That resisted attempts to divide them according to wealth, sexual and racial identity. Where the question of freedom of the individual and privacy against state security and the legitimacy of ignoring the constitution on pursuit of terrorists were constantly argued.
There are other civilizations as or more multi-cultural, multi-ethical or complex than Rome. But, between my cultural background and the rich detailed legacy of historians and artists, it was the obvious choice.
Rome is an idea, an unbroken link between the modern People and their scary and awesome past.
The concept of super-hero is one of the most marvelous fruits of modern pop culture. Their relationship with us and their mainstream popularity say, by itself, a lot.
Projecting our anxieties and identity on the forms of bigger-than-life figures, we turn the world into something simpler and more narrative, a simulation from which we take life lessons and improve our creativity, morals and empathy. I said before that we cannot really do a good analysis of our culture and society, but through our heroes, we do the best we can.
Our heroes are just likes us, but possessing a divine spark, something that transcends their creation. They become an ideal of what we can, want and try to be – as well as warnings about false paths and dooms.
How different is that from declaring Augustus the descendant of Venus or Hercules the son of Jupiter? The ancients had a more fluid idea of the state of mortal and god, something that we recycled: we all can be our idols, if we work enough.
Of course, there is a lot to say about capitalism and modern mythology; how messed it is that our shared mythology is copy-righted?
Right. Another thing I avoid by writing in Antiquity.
Playing around with what we perfect over the last decades about the modern mythology that are super-hero stories, something interesting may arise if we re-examine ancient heroes.
What is important is not forgetting t the reason why we still tell those stories: the ties between ourselves and others are what makes heroes.
Even for Antiquity, The Setting of Heroes of the Republic is Quite Odd. Why the interwar period of the Punic Wars?
The inter-war period following the First and before the Second is desolate territory,. It has enough sources to use as guidelines while still allowing a lot of creative freedom.
Part of this choice was one of the essential themes of this study: identity. The Peoples and the Senate, the city and its allies, they all suffered great transformations during this century. Before the confrontation with Carthage, Rome was only the strongest of those regional powers. Dragged to the limelight, the Senate and the Peoples had to accept that they are an emerging super power and learn to deal with the fact or risk destruction. Could they survive unchanged, preserving what civil and social progress they had conquered?
The transformations of Rome and the risks for its identity. How much can it change and continue to be loyal to itself?
This question puts a mirror against the faces of our heroes. They are people that must channel their divine spark while protecting their mortal identity. It is a parallelism too good to give up, made possible by setting it during this period.
With Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily falling under the Roman sphere of influence,the city was forced to invent new ways to rule and protect its peoples. The temptation of empire and exploitation hanged over them, but the course was yet not set.
The prolonged battles and repeated failures of the Punic War revealed the limits of an army composed of soldier-farmers, casting doubts about the current military and civil systems.
The Celtic invasion that interrupted the few peaceful years reminded Rome of how fragile its liberty and prosperity were. It enforcing them to take novel measures, to create a buffer between themselves and putative tyrants. Even the face of the City changed over the period. The population increased drastically, and cultural revolution brought art and innovation. Individual houses gave way to apartments, the famous baths became part of Roman routine.
Rome and Carthage are some of the few democratic governments left in the world during this period: the Hellenistic world was dominated by tyrants, China was unified under the rule of a single man and India is undergoing a silver age as the cultural and economic center of the world.
Rome and Carthage may be natural allies, but they are rivals that draw the best and worst from each other.
We all know the path that this road leads to. To exploitation, misery, greed and empire.
But the voyage? That will be something. Because the Heroes of the Republic will fight against every imposition and injustice. Even as tyrants encroach and capital rises.