Rome Has Spoken: On Social And Economic Matters

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Childbirth was as deadly to women as battle was to men. Likewise overlooked are the young Roman girls, who were not uncommonly married by the age of 13 or 14, and sometimes even earlier, into what we would have little hesitation in calling child abuse.

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The ancient critic who quoted this answer thought that it was a brilliantly witty way of deflecting criticism, and held it up for admiration. We are likely to put it somewhere on the spectrum between uncomfortably coarse and painfully bleak — one powerful marker of the distance between the Roman world and our own. There is no simple Roman model to follow, or reject. If only things were that easy. Ancient Rome still matters for very different reasons — mainly because Roman debates have given us a template and a language that continue to define the way we understand our own world and think about ourselves, from high theory to low comedy, while prompting laughter, awe, horror and admiration in more or less equal measure.

Of course, western culture is not the heir of the classical past alone, nor would anyone wish it to be. There are, happily, many different influences woven into our cultural fabric: Judaism, Christianity and Islam only three of the most obvious. But since the Renaissance at least, many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, beauty, and even humour, have been formed, and tested, in dialogue with the Romans and their writing. We see it too in the political geography of modern Europe.

The main reason that London is the capital of the United Kingdom, so inconveniently located in many respects, is that the Romans made it the capital of their province Britannia — a dangerous place lying, as they saw it, beyond the great ocean that encircled the civilised world. Britain is in many ways a Roman creation.

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But even more importantly, we have inherited from Rome many of the fundamental principles and symbols with which we define and debate politics and political action. And in the medium term it did more to bring about one-man rule in Rome than to eradicate it as the assassins had hoped.

Almost every assassination in western politics has been seen against the background of the Ides of March. While he held the chief office of the Roman state, the consulship, in 63BCE, Cicero uncovered what he claimed and probably believed to be a terrorist plot to overthrow the government and to eliminate several of its senior politicians, himself included.

The mastermind was supposedly a bankrupt aristocrat by the name of Catiline, who had turned to revolution when he had failed to reach power by legitimate means. Cicero had been tipped off by his undercover agents, intelligence reports and intercept evidence, and so — displaying a breastplate under his toga more or less the equivalent of turning up at the House of Commons with a bulletproof vest and pistol — he denounced Catiline who quickly fled, and he rounded up the other conspirators. These he executed without trial, in the interests of homeland security. The speeches still have their foothold in the modern western school curriculum, albeit a considerably more tenuous one.

But we also know that there was another side to the debate. Cicero did not escape scot-free. He was shortly sent into exile, his house in Rome was demolished, and a shrine to the goddess Liberty was pointedly constructed on its site. The exile was unpleasant for Cicero, and copies of his unattractively self-pitying letters, sent back to his family and friends, still survive. Roman men did not often have the stiff upper lips of popular imagination, and Cicero wallowed in his tears.

Over the centuries Cicero and Catiline have hovered in the background of these and other political debates, and have sometimes provided an explicit template for them. Writing a play on the subject in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot , Ben Jonson turned Catiline into a sadistic anti-hero though his Cicero was an almost equally unattractive droning bore , while from the other side of the political spectrum Henrik Ibsen , in the fallout of the European revolutions of the s, imagined a highly principled Catiline pitted against the corruption of the world in which he lived.

No more needed to be said. What is important here is the debate, not the resolution. Ancient Rome is not a simple lesson for us, nor is it a civilisation that we should gratefully admire. There is much in the classical world — both Roman and Greek — to engage our interest and demand our attention. But admiration is a different thing. But admiration apart, Roman debates are embedded in our own, and they are embedded in those of our predecessors who have in turn bequeathed their own problems, solutions and interpretations to us.

I am not only referring to debates on Catiline and civil liberties, but also to the lurid, largely fictional, anecdotes of Roman emperors that have framed our own views of political corruption and excess where does autocratic excess end and a reign of terror begin? Our own world would be immeasurably the poorer, and immeasurably less comprehensible to us, if we did not continue to interact with the Roman past.


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Download this file. Friday, July 6, Ancient Rome had a large influence on the modern world. Though it has been thousands of years since the Roman Empire flourished, we can still see evidence of it in our art, architecture , technology , literature , language, and law. From bridges and stadiums to books and the words we hear every day, the ancient Romans have left their mark on our world. Ancient Romans have had a tremendous impact on art and architecture.

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We can find traces of Roman influence in forms and structures throughout the development of Western culture. Although the Romans were heavily influenced by ancient Greece, they were able to make improvements to certain borrowed Greek designs and inventions. For example, they continued the use of columns, but the form became more decorative and less structural in Roman buildings.

Ancient Romans created curved roofs and large-scale arches, which were able to support more weight than the post-and-beam construction the Greeks used. These arches served as the foundation for the massive bridges and aqueducts the Romans created. The game-loving ancients also built large amphitheaters, including the Colosseum.


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  4. The sports stadiums we see today, with their oval shapes and tiered seating, derive from the basic idea the Romans developed. The arches of the Colosseum are made out of cement, a remarkably strong building material made of volcanic ash and rock. Modern scientists believe that the use of this ash is the reason that structures like the Colosseum still stand today.

    Roman underwater structures proved to be even sturdier. Seawater reacting with the volcanic ash created crystals that filled in the cracks in the concrete. To make a concrete this durable, modern builders must reinforce it with steel. So today, scientists study Roman concrete, hoping to match the success of the ancient master builders.

    Sculptural art of the period has proven to be fairly durable, too. Romans made their statues out of marble, fashioning monuments to great human achievements and achievers rather than to gods and goddesses, the focus of many Greek sculptures. You can still see thousands of Roman artifacts today in museums all over the world.

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    Ancient Romans pioneered advances in many areas of science and technology, establishing tools and methods that have ultimately shaped the way the world does certain things. The Romans were extremely adept engineers. They understood the laws of physics well enough to develop aqueducts and better ways to aid water flow. They harnessed water as energy for powering mines and mills. They also built an expansive road network stretching over , kilometers 74, miles , a great achievement at that time.

    Weak on substance, strong on authoritative tone, the ethos of the document seems to be the old one of "Roma Locuta est; causa finita est" - Rome has spoken, the matter is closed. The document's introduction argues that while homosexuality is "a troubling moral and social phenomenon, even in those countries where it does not present significant legal issues" in less diplomatic language, those countries where individual gays are persecuted and hounded, sometimes to their deaths , even greater concern is caused in those countries which do seek to grant civil and human rights to gay citizens.

    The equanimity with which the denial of basic fundamental rights to gay people is contemplated is chilling. And the final sentence makes it clear the message is directed not just at the Roman Catholic constituents of the Vatican but "to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society", moving the document out of a pastoral and theological context and clearly into a legal and political one.

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    Section One, "The Nature of Marriage and its Inalienable Characteristics", opens with the smug and bullying statement that the church's position on sexuality merely "reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason". This is akin to saying that something is "obvious" and therefore requires no argumentation. It is no encouragement to honest dialogue for one party at the outset to state: "We are right and always were and always will be.

    The only way forward for us is for you to abandon your reasoned position and submit to our greater authority and wisdom. Yet our knowledge of human sexuality has advanced to the point where the simplistic black-and-white views of Cardinal Ratzinger require to be supported by empirical evidence if they are to be accepted. And there is something surreal about a document from persons who have taken solemn vows never to engage in sexual activity on the nature of that experience in a language that, to anyone who has engaged in sex, owes little to their lived experience.

    I doubt if too many people on a Saturday night imagine what they are doing is "mutually perfecting each other, in order to co-operate with God in the appropriation and upbringing of new human lives". If this is indeed, as paragraph three states, "the voice of nature", its accents are unlikely to be listened to by the general populace. Moreover, insistence in the same paragraph on the old message "Be fruitful and multiply" has surely been more than adequately acted upon already by those in heterosexual unions. The population of the planet has more than doubled since I did my Leaving in A frightening thought when one considers the once-fertile but now exhausted land of countries like China and India.

    It is difficult to accept the statement "In the Creator's plan fruitfulness belongs to the very nature of marriage". Surely the fact that most gay people do not create the enormous families with which the Vatican appears particularly comfortable means they are doing the planet a favour, rather than being unholy and "against the natural moral law" because they "close the sexual act to the gift of life".

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    The second main section, "Positions on the Problem of Homosexual Unions", is short, but here the manipulation of language is manifest. Avoidance of discrimination against gay people is described as "a pretext" and therefore not legitimate. Thus the undermining of the self-esteem of a substantial section of the community and the denial of any right to civil recognition are simply once more given as facts and not something to be argued.

    The third section is a mixture of assertion and invective. Yet its first sub-section does not appear to employ reason at all, merely making assertions along the lines of the following: "Laws in favour of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal guarantees analogous to those guaranteed to marriage, to unions between persons of the same sex". This is simply the old medieval circular argument. A matter is contrary to right reason because I say it is contrary to right reason.

    There can be no challenge to my authority. Similarly, giving legal recognition to what is admitted as a "de-facto reality" it is said "would result in changes to the entire organisation of society contrary to the common good". No proof is offered and, in fact, all the sociological evidence points to the contrary. However, at least the implied acceptance that the church is refusing to face "de-facto reality" is refreshing.

    The paragraph concludes baldly that legal recognition of homosexual unions would "cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage".