Vana Roma

Aeneas defeats Turnus

Aeneas defeats Turnus

I confess, this reads like the connecting link holding together the whole argument of this western civilization series, and it may in many ways seem completely obvious; nevertheless, it’s important to relate.

The Romans really are fascinating.  It’s easy to get lost, considering how much of our daily life is Roman: our beliefs in politics, our laws regarding property and inheritance, even some of our burial rights, the model of the standing army; I’ll be here all night if I try to list off all the ways.  It’s true that the Greeks may have invented Western Civilization, what was then what we would call “Hellenic Culture,” but in spite of the spread of many Greek colonies through much of the Mediterranean basin, it was really the Romans that, having adopted this culture and having modeled themselves after this culture, spread it wheresoever they feet or their rudders should take them, which was a fair bit further than the Greeks.

Doesn’t really seem funny though, does it?  Why should the Romans not make use of what they consider to be good ideas, ideas that would advance their cause and increase their standing among nations?  Have you ever read the Iliad?  Seems a strange interruption, but let me continue.  Have you ever read the Aeneid?  Maybe a long time ago back in high school or the vagaries of university?  Remember a figure named “Aeneas,” one of the Trojan survivors of the sack of Troy, who with a fleet of ships led the survivors across the Mediterranean, through many dangers, to conclude their journey upon the shores of Italy, where eventually would be founded the city of Rome by a pair of violent youths nursed by a she-wolf?  This triggering any memories?

I can’t say with virtually any certainty if the Romans had any genuine genetic relationship with denizens of Ilium, otherwise termed “Troy” or “Ilion,” but the Romans certainly thought they did, which is good enough in argument.  So you’ve gotta ask yourselves, particularly in the light of the loathing so many Roman authors expressed in their writing for the Greeks, why would the children of the survivors of a war that nearly wiped out their people have any reverence for these ancient enemies, the Greeks, whom are variously reviled within the pages of Virgil’s Aeneid, which was composed in the final century BCE as a sort of commission for the ascending Augustus Caesar?  Truth is, I can’t tell you with any certainty.  The Romans had lived virtually adjacent several Greek colonies in Italy for years.  They had long traded with them, and they adopted their written characters, and when Greece altogether fell under their sway, the Romans only continued to adopt Hellenic values, inasmuch as they sort of abhorred the Greeks for it.  I can only assume, in the way that the Romans were a profoundly utilitarian people that, as with the Spanish sword, they adopted the ideas of the Greeks because they were functional, because they worked, because their appeal was more than merely trendy.

Nike of Samothrace, Masterpiece of Hellenic Art

Nike of Samothrace, Masterpiece of Hellenic Art

Everywhere Roman culture went, Hellenic culture went with it, merely masquerading in a lorica segmentata and a funny hat.  It’s true that the Macedonians preceded them in the mercurial spread of Greek culture, but within the Diadochi East Hellenic culture largely confined to Macedonian strongholds, virtually unheard of or understood by the local populations.  But on the other hand, Greek became the de-facto lingua franca of the Eastern realm of the Roman Empire, and it was frequently written and spoken by its constituents throughout, taught during childhood to the Caesars and aristocrats and down to provide access to the wealth of knowledge that was considered only available in Greek. Translations were genuinely sparing and otherwise limited.

Caesar, dreaming of realizing the glory of a new Alexander in himself, wrote a book regarding his various campaigns that finally included the subjugation of Gaul alongside a fairly daring punitive campaign into Germania.  It’s called Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War), detailing how the network of Roman allegiances with various Gallic tribes increasingly demanded and was awarded Roman intervention, until virtually the whole of Gaul rose up in defiance when they’d realized the Romans had virtually pacified the region.  The Galls are painted in a somewhat negative light, being demonstrated as both disloyal and unreliable.  It was an impressive feat considering the relative insignificance of his army and the massive scope of the project, but most importantly, it served as a sort of revenge for the Gallic sack of Rome in 390 BC that would be prevented forevermore.  It’s a frankly interesting work, but beyond detailing interesting lessons derived from Xenophon and the complete unreliability of the Gauls, who would be in time be supplanted by the Germans, it doesn’t really detail the interaction of Western culture with barbarian, save to indicate that barbarians were unreliable even in their courage and miserably dangerous in their sedition.  Although, it’s also interesting to note the Gallic use of the Greek language in communications both civil and military, having no sufficiently convenient written language of their own.  It’s undoubted the Greek colony of Massilia in Gaul was in some way responsible for the spread of Greek language even so far into the country of barbarians.

Anyways, I’d like to conclude this little vignette before we become lost in historic minutiae fit only for heavily bearded nerds such as myself.

Western Civilization had not yet managed to become fully western.  It was a Greek invention.  It was a Roman adoption.  And though the Romans forcibly pushed their culture upon the conquered, we have no idea whether the adoption of Hellenic ideas was forcible or not.  But it’s telling that in the territories the Romans dominated, long after the Romans were a fever dream, those nascent states that developed in their passing required Roman approval to develop the sort of legitimacy necessary to form well-crystallized states whose borders would not radically change for a thousand years or more.

Vercengetorix surrenders to Caesar

Vercengetorix surrenders to Caesar

Rome did not invent western civilization, but she embodied it.  The European states that followed within and after the Dark Ages derived their legitimacy and increasingly form from their Roman forebear, who would become the model that would precipitate the modern age.  It’s an argument for a different time, but I do not believe there’s another civilization on Earth that could have managed the creation of the industrial age.  Even today, there’s many that still can’t.