Some days in Rome and Italy
Why we should study Roman history?
What lessons for the Indian people?
There are lessons even now!
Roman history, the rise and evolution of the Roman Empire, some 2,000 years of continuous success story, so to say, is because of the Romans’ victory over their rival empire, Carthage in 264 B.C. The first and second Punic wars refer to this success. The second Punoic wars were fought in 2o2 B.C.
This victory gave the Romans enormous self-confidence in them.
That is why every building and every victory led the Romans to build so many buildings, each in itself, from Clossuem to Roman Forum and many such buildings, public baths all over the Roman world around much the ancient Roman empire geography such massive scale and enormous genius for Roman empire’s governance uniqueness.
The rise of the Republic in 509 B.C. onwards. The Senate and the courts of justice and many other modern time administration from courts of justice to treasury, prisons etc.
The Roman governance, more than their buildings amazes us.
A people must have such self-confidence, if they want to achieve anything in history.
Indians went through just an opposite course in their history! Let us not forget this truth!
This is the lesson from Roman Empire.
This is what I learnt from my visit to the Roman Forum and what I saw there.
Why Roman Empire is so unlike of others that came afterwards?
Indians have a special reason and an obligation to study Roman history.
Simply because, so far, as far as I know, that Indians are always caught up in a narrow world of self-absorption and self-salvation, so to say!
Our Indian history is a history of foreign invasion, foreign occupation and foreign domination and exploitation only.
From the 10th century onwards it was a series of foreign invaders coming here and destroying our symbols of independent existence, temples or forts and wealth and carrying out the destroyed wealth. Very much as the Romans were doing all the years of their rise and occupation of the Mediterranean world. The extent of the Roman empire, as we saw in the various maps displayed prominently on the ancient Roman Forum’s majestic walls, the walls even in their ruins astounds us, so big and so tall and so commanding our attention in their ruined majesty even today
The various periods of the Roman history and the various geographical periods depicting the empire extent, are so gripping and so unbelievable.
As the various current descriptions inform us, the empire at its peak comprised something like today’s 30-40 countries distributed around the Mediterranean Sea. From Spain to France and Britain to the whole of Europe till the borders of the Germanic lands(in those days the Germany lands were occupied by various tribes like Goths, Huns and Vandals-it was these tribes, then called by the Romans as “barbarians”(as the Greeks too called the non-Greeks at their time as barbarians, including their tormentors, the Persians, though Persia was also an ancient civilisation and an empire it was and it was the Persians who often came to occupy Greeks and eventually the very Greek countries were absorbed in the Roman empire!
The Roman Empire of course occupied fully the Italian peninsula (we travelled almost the whole of the southern Italy upto Naples, Naples was once an independent kingdom and also the historic city of Pompeii that had now been almost fully dug out and restored.
The islands of Sicily and Sardinia and Corsica were all once independent and they were once Greek islands till Italy, that is Rome occupied the whole of the Italian seas and the whole of Greek islands.
Of course, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, under Cleopatra, as every film buff knows, from the films of Cleopatra and Shakespeare’s plays on Julius Caesar and Mark Antony and other plays on the Roman history; you can imagine the heady height to which the Roman achievements went.
The Romans had one enemy kingdom.
That is the old Carthage, today’s Tunisia on the northern edge of the North Africa. Carthege was a great Phoenician empire.
Carthage was the single most reason why Romans developed so much haltered and they were very determined to defeat and almost destroy completely the Carthagian Empire. After defeating Carthage, I believe, acquired enormous self-confidence and they went about building their “basilicas” (a word you hear very often in Rome, a foundation for any building, religious, royal or other buildings, on which the actual buildings are raised)
Before we embarked on our Roman holiday we read whatever we had accumulated in our home library the books and heavy volumes. And Carthege made a deep impression on our mind.
Cato, the Roman senator, would always end his speech at the Senate telling: Carthege must be destroyed”. And Catherge had some outstanding military generals and strategists. Hannibal was the most famous Cathegian general and he invaded Italy many times and once he stayed back in Italy for some 14 years with so many elephants in his army and it was only after a long and bitter battle Hannibal was defeated, as we have already noted above.
And Carthege was totally annihilated and the earth, it is told, was ploughed out and salt was sprayed and the Roman Empire from then onwards took on an unprecedented heights of fame.
What struck us on our first visit to the Roman Forum, the ancient site of the Roman empire’s administrative hub, today it is just a site of ruined monuments, it is something like a hundred or two hundred feet in length and the one road that runs from east and west uptill the Capitoline hills, it is just a hillock and it doesn’t measure up more than, say 50-70 feet in height, the road inside the Roman forum is called via sacra, sacred road.
Walking through the small site and the via sacra uplifted me to a new height of consciousness. I forgot myself when it was all happening.
His full name is Caius Julius Caesar.
His story is so awe-inspiring. No man in history, perhaps with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, had had such an enormous impact on the course of world history. Some people are born and they change the course of world history. These two names are such great impact-makers. Caesar’s each and every act is historic events and the following generations to treat Caesar so.
The site where I spotted a name that completely left me doumb-founded.
It was the name of Caesar and it was in Latin and I found out it was the spot on which Caesar’s body that was brought from the nearby another spot where he was assassinated in 44 B.C. and cremated here in the spot where I was just standing and left me speechless!
It was Julius Caesar who conquered the vast extent of the lands that came to be identified as the heart of the Roman Empire. Gaul, today’s France, Britain, south of Scotland, the whole of it and also Spain and much of northern Italy. Of course, it was Caesar who occupied Egypt and almost the whole of the old Jewish settlement, Jerusalam, Syria and much of Damascus etc.
Before the birth of Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar laid the foundations of the Roman Empire.
It was Caesar’s nephew and successor, adopted heir, Octavian Caesar, later called Augustan Caesar who was ruling when Christ was born in Jerusalem! It was Octavian Augustus who initiated a long period of peace and political stability, his age is called the “golden age” of Octavian Augustus.
After 8 years of rule, in 27 BC Octavian Augustus assigned himself the title of Emperor. In 1`2 BC, he was honoured with the title of Pontifex Maximus (Highest Priest), later taken over by no less than the Popes themselves!
Augustus laid down the form of government, it was the age of kings first, then Republic and under Caesar it became the empire.
It was under Augustus, great Roman poet Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Livy were the leading literary exponents of the Augustan age. Augustus died in 14 A.D.
The Roman Forum has so many sites of great historic significance and we saw the three victory arches, arches built to commemorate the victories of the Roman generals and the army in their conquests.
The one arch that stands outside the Forum proper is the Constantine arch. That stands intact even after all these years, some 2,000 years! Just near the famous monument, the giant amphitheatre, Coliseum! There is much to write and say about this very monument. It simply defies our sense of reason and proportion.
How, the ancient Romans brought the giant granite stones and raised the height to so high a level?
Once we enter the Forum from the east, we first come across and encounter the arch, the Titus victory arch.
Emperor Titus who went to Jerusalem and destroyed the temple and also seized the wealth of Jerusalem and the arch depicts the victorious army, along with the slaves and also the captured Jewish prisoners who are seen carrying with their religious symbol of worshiping candlebra!
Once we go further down towards the last stretch, we see the last arch, this one is also intact and this arch is called that of Septimiu Severus!
Around this last stretch is the oldest prison, the treasury, the Senate building is also intact and also other courts of justice.
We should know that the Romans were the ones who gave the world the concept of law. Our laws are all called strictly as Roman Laws!
The concept of Republic, Senate, the other terms tribute, tribune and so many others, including, Roman calendar, Julian Calendar and also the alphabet, ours is Roman alphabet, right?
Of course, what astounds us is the fact that Roman history gave the world view, literally!
Even in Greek, why even before in the Egyptian times and other ancient civilizations, there were many civilizations and many different achievements, be it art or maths or architects or the discovery of farming, as in Mesopotamia and invention of wheels as in Mesopotamia and Assyrians and others who, including India, giving to the world new tools and new discoveries.
But it as in Rome and nowhere else, a world empire emerged and united the world for the first time, with roads and other modern-day communication tools.
The Roman roads were uniquely a Roman invention. We passed through the world’s first Roman highway, called Via Appiah! Such big granite stones were laid to enable the Roman army to march to long distances.
Romans were the first to build aqueducts, bring water to the city from long distances.
Ancient Rome, we are informed, had eleven aqueducts, brining water through channels up to a long distance 59 miles! And do you know or can you visualise that the aqueducts were built on raised levels on arches upto 100 feet high! Some o the aqueducts, you should also not be surprised, are in use still today!
And there are so many other wonders in Rome. Each and every ancient building in Rome, we saw were built to giant scale. Even in total ruins, some of the columns at the Roman Forum, the left out columns that are still standing in their majestic height are so tall that we have to stretch our heads looking in the sky to fully visualise their tallness! So tall and so commanding if not intimidating us, these columns.
There are still some columns that are telling their old glories of the temples that were built to celebrate and worship after so many gods, Saturn, There is one great monument that we saw on the last day of our stay in Rome. That is the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built in the year, in fact rebuilt by Hadrian emperor in 118 A.D.
This is a wonder of the world indeed. So intact, after all these years and also so awe-some dimensions!
Its massive columns would simply deter your common sense. They, the sixteen of the massive columns that form the portico of the Pantheon are monoliths that are they are single stone columns, they are 46 feet high, they were laboriously extracted from a quarry high up in the east desert of Egypt. Man handled down to the Nile river stream and brought hundreds of miles through the sea alter to the empire capital, Rome.
Just have a look at the world map, if you have and see the long distances these columns must have travelled. Egypt is at the one end of the Mediterranean Sea. From the eastern end of the sea the distance to Rome is all the way through sea journey only.
How this was managed?
How this was made possible?
If only you see the world map, see the historic map of the ancient Roman Empire, the Rome city location and visualise the immense, almost humanly impossible feat, you will realise and really appreciate the Roman Empire’s architectural heights. You have to admit, it was the Romans who gave us architecture on this vast scale. Of course, they built vast cities throughout the Roman world. In many of the old Roman colonies we can see these massive-scale architectural buildings, these amphitheatres, these public squares; the Roman baths are another great achievement.
The Roman citizens were a new class of citizens, invented by the Roman Empire.
It was the aspiration of everyone in the Roman times to acquire Roman citizenship!
It is like getting a US visa today!
The Roman administration is of course, the greatest contribution to Roman civilisation and great contribution to the world civilisation and global evolution as a civilised people, as we are all imagining!
We have to write separately and that too in great many details why Roman government, Roman army, Roman governance system laid the foundations of our modern day world.
First, their government emerged as one king-ruled entity. One the king’s rule ended came the Republic. There was a Senate and always the pro-consuls were nominated, often too. The threesome rule was called the first Triumvirate, second Triumvirate. First consisted of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus (71 B.C.). Second, Octavian, March Antony and Lepidus.
The second attempted to write a constitution. This paved the way for not one-man dictatorship. Some sort of consensus or rule by consultation.
Of course Roman army was very important state instrument. It was the army that conquered territories and brought stability.
Then came Julius Caesar who came from a noble family, the story is very interesting and it was he who gave some substance to the idea that rule by one man, dictatorship was good for the strength and growth of the empire.
But then his assassination in B.C 44 turned history’ course of events.
In fact, from Caesar we learn many things, for the first time in history, some lessons in history!
Once some system of governance by consensus, rule by pro-consuls comes along there comes the differences of opinion in the minds of the Senators, citizens. This topic needs a detailed write-up. From one man, one king to two pro consuls to triumvirate and then, through Senate and other processes, the Roman government by law evolved into a great achievement that today no nation, nay, the world can’t live except through an elaborate process of rule of law, due process of law, why even without a written Constitution, be it for a country or for the UN!
There were classes of citizens. At the top were the aristocrats, the patricians, then the ordinary people were called plebeians. There were also the slaves.
At the top there was the sanctity of the government. The Senators sued to wear togas, a sort of suit and pant of the British days in India!
It is also said that the upper class, the patricians maintained certain gravitas. The Roman Senator, the aristocrat used to maintain certain restraint, certain decorum and there was much civilised behavior in the Roman society.
Of course, with all the evolution of governance by consent and Senate and courts of justice etc. there was this much brutality.
The succession of the kings and rulers was often by brutal killings and assassinations!
This is the one blot for which I don’t find any explanation.
As for sanctity of ruling by Senate, there was this temple worship; there was a class of virgin vestas, from patrician class. We saw the Vestal virgins quarters, they are all in ruins of course, as other monuments, but still the class of virgin vestas intrigued me and we had to seek more information and explanation, how the sanctity of the temples and worship were all conducted.
Of course, in the beginning of the Roman rule, in Rome and elsewhere, there was this pagan religion only. Many gods and many worship practices.
It was in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine who was converted to Roman Catholicism started another big world religion and the story of the Roman Catholic Church has to be told separately.
In fact, there is so much to say about the course of the Roman history. That lasted some 1,500 years.
Also, in Italy there arose in the 14th and 15th centuries the Italian Renaissance. That also impacted the modern world. That is for another day!
Image Source : www.livescience.com