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History 422—Ancient Rome

You have all heard the phrase “All roads lead to Rome.”  While this is obviously not true in the physical sense, it is (for the most part) true for historians.

All roads lead to Rome no matter what period of history one studies.

1.    For the ancient historian, Rome is the culmination of all earlier developments.  In my Civ. I classes, I talk again and again about “the greatest empire the world had yet seen.”  Sargon of Akkad establishes “the greatest empire the world had yet seen,”  Hammurabi establishes “the greatest empire the world had yet seen,” the Persians establish “the greatest empire the world had yet seen,” and then “Alexander establishes, “the greatest empire the world had yet seen.”  Rome is the last and greatest of these great ancient empires, and it included much of the best that earlier empires had developed.

2.    For the medieval historian, all roads lead to Rome.  Bill Bowsky, the medievalist I worked with at Davis, spent the first couple weeks of his medieval survey on Roman history: with good reason.  The three great powers of the early medieval world were all direct heirs of Rome (Islam, Byzantium, Western Europe).  Note Note Charlemagne’s empire and the Holy Roman Empire.  And then there’s another great heir of Rome: the papacy.  Note Hobbes’ line that the papacy was “none other than the ghost of the Roman empire sitting crowned on the throne thereof.”

3.    For the modern historian, too, the road eventually leads back to Rome.  Modern history begins with the Renaissance, the rebirth.  But the rebirth of what?  Note that figures like Machiavelli, etc. are going back to Roman examples.

All roads lead to Rome no matter what area of history one studies.

1.    Political historians again and again turn to Rome for ideas and inspiration. Look at the great political thinkers through the modern period (Machiavelli, Rousseau, Voltaire, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Blanchard, Schaff…) all turn constantly to Rome.  Machiavelli gave us discourses on Livy. Hamilton and Madison sign their work “Publius.”  Echo after echo of Rome.

2.    In cultural history too, all roads lead to Rome.  Renaissance art was inspired by Roman art, as was Baroque art and (obviously)
David's Oath of the Horatii Neoclassical art.  David (Oath of Horatii) Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)—countless others: all inspired by Roman themes.

All roads lead to Rome (or at least most roads) as we study the history of many, many regions.

1.    France, Spain, Italy (Romance languages, Republic, consuls, Fascism!)
2.    Britain (Roman Britain, imperial dreams)
3.    Germany (HRE 960-1800!)
4.    Russia (Tsars, Moscow the third Rome)
5.    Rumania (!)
6.    Latin (!) America
7.    US history!!! (cf. Publius)

But most important of all, all roads lead to Rome when one wants to understand the dreams and the ideas of Western civilization.  Rome and Roman ideas dominated the west until very, very recently.  Until the late 19th century, study of the Greek and Latin classics was at the heart of education everywhere in the West.  Until the unfortunate triumph of Dewey and so-called progressive education 50 years ago, every educated person knew Roman history and literature thoroughly.  One started one’s education in “grammar” school: not English grammar—Latin grammar!!!

So what I am going to give you in this course is what used to be a grammar school education!!!!  

So why did interest in Rome fade?  It shouldn’t have.  A subject that dominated education and inspired so many great thinkers had to be a fascinating subject—and note that, here at NSU, the great thinkers still want to study Rome—and with good reason.

Perhaps the most important reason for us to study Roman history is that the history of Rome is very much like our own history.  Like the U.S., Rome started as a relatively insignificant power, and grew rapidly into a mighty empire.  Again like the U.S., Rome started as one of the most moral, most idealistic societies of the face of the earth.  Also like the United States, Rome became a vast melting pot, combining elements from a great variety of cultures.  Both in political and social terms, the developments and problems in ancient Rome parallel developments and problems in the U.S—in a sometimes uncanny way.  

Note what Livy has to say (read in class).  Figuring out what went right and what went wrong in Roman history, then, is sometimes vitally important for the light it sheds on our own situation—“The best medicine for sick minds.”  

Think the U.S needs a miracle cure?  Well part of that cure is right here in this class.