Friday, September 28, 2007

"Romerica" or America, the Reincarnation of Rome

The period of Roman expansion began in the 3rd century BCE—but the height of their magnificent imperialism was cresting immediately proceeding and occurring during the life of history’s most famous carpenter, Jesus Christ. One cannot possibly begin to understand Jesus and His message without first familiarizing themselves with the religious/historical/political culture into which he was born.

As I was getting to know this setting via L. Michael White’s From Jesus to Christianity, I felt a strange connection with this ancient force. After contemplation, I realized I knew the Roman Empire in reincarnated form…America. I was excited. Keep in mind, I am no historian. So seeing this correlation was exciting to me. But alas, the bubble burst in conversation with a friend. As I shared my “findings,” my friend pointed out that a book had already been written on the subject—the book (unread by this blogger) will be the first book tackled by the up-and-coming Ivan’s Book club (see previous post).

A few initial observations:
The Romans insisted upon occupation of the “world.” The Greek term for the Roman Empire was oikoumene—lit. world. The US has more embassies than any other nation. Our present is felt nearly everywhere under the auspice of “keeping the peace,” rather than, “imperialism.”
The Romans allowed and encouraged syncretism of seemingly contradictory cultures (art, language, religion). Had the term “melting pot” existed at the dawn of the first millennia, the Romans would have cherished and employed as national policy.
Nothing solidified the correlation more than Roman foreign policy; at least the public portrayal thereof. What follows is an example of one of many inscriptions prominent throughout the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus. These inscriptions were found on statues of the great leader. Consider them, “political ad campaigns,” or “the Emperor’s address to the nation,” in ancient form:

On land and sea I undertook wars, both civil and foreign,
throughout the whole world, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sued for pardon. Foreign nations what could safely be pardoned I preferred to save rather than destroy.

When I returned from Spain and Gaul, in the consulship
of Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius, after successful operations in those provinces, the senate voted in honor of my return the consecration of an altar to Pax Augustus in the
Campus Martius, and on this altar if ordered the magistrates and priests and Vestal Virgins to make annual sacrifice.
[The temple of] Janus Quirinus (gate keeper of “times’, so to speak) which our ancestors ordered to be closed whenever there was peace, secured by victory, throughout the whole imperium of
the Roman people on land and sea, and which, before my birth is recorded to have been closed but twice since
the very foundation of the city, the senate ordered closed three times while I was princeps.
I extended the boundaries of all the provinces that were
bordered by races not yet subject to our imperium. The
provinces of the Gauls, Spain, and Germany I reduced to a state of peace
.
The Alps I brought to state of peace without waging unjust
war on any tribe.
When I had extinguished the flames of civil
war
, after receiving by universal consent the absolute control
of public affairs
, I transformed the republic from my own control the
will of the senate and Roman people
. For this service I was given decree of the senate title Augustus, and the doorposts
of my house were covered with laurels by public act, and a civic crown was fixed above my door, and a
golden shield was placed in the curia Julia, the inscription on which
testified that the senate and roman people gave me this
recognition in honor of my valor, my clemency, my justice, and my
piety.
(White, 43-44)

Wow. Read this. Reread this. Preemptive strikes to secure world peace and democracy? Stepping in to settle foreign civil wars? Extending boundaries unselfishly (enculturation of foreign races for their own good—for peace?

Sounds a lot like America, post industrial revolution! What a heritage...But Rome fell.

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