Prepare your anus, you’re about to get a red pill suppository.

Civis Romanus Sum: Vol. III + Germania

Civis Romanus Sum: Vol. III + Germania

Notions of borders and boundaries are some of our most urgent contemporary concerns. Roman borders were as much ideological as physical.[1] Natural impediments such as the Rhine and Danube Rivers served as clear border crossings, and, where absent, man–made structures such as Hadrian’s Wall were erected to stand in their place. In practice, however, even where these landmarks existed, distinctions along the frontier in particular often proved more nebulous. Hadrian’s Wall, for example, cut through the territory of an ethnically-similar people, rendering one “strange” and the other subjects of Rome. Such are the consequences of empire-building; the empire’s definition of “Roman–ness” was, by necessity, somewhat flexible, as expansion, settlement, and re–settlement were constantly changing the complexion of the Roman population away from its center, and nowhere was this more visible than on the outer edges of the empire. David J. Mattingly pulls the question of Roman-ness into suggestive focus:

What did it mean to be “Roman” in Britannia, Africa, and other provinces of the Roman world? At one level the question is a facile one, but it goes to the heart of current debates about the relative degrees of uniformity and diversity present in Roman society…The highest degree of social conformity occurred at the upper levels of society, especially among those involved in the governance of the empire. The Roman senate and equestrian orders eventually consisted of individuals from most regions of the empire, and these people shared in a metropolitan Roman culture. Yet they were always a small elite.[2]

The average Briton or African would have been able to feel the trappings of Roman assimilation in terms of public works, governmental structure, taxes, language, and the legal code, essentially the hallmarks of civilization, but one did not simply transcend identity in terms of class based on appearances, and this was even more true in terms of ethnicity and race. A plebeian would have felt an inherent sense of superiority over the slave class and, especially, the barbarian beyond (and eventually within) the empire’s borders, but by the same token, they would have been exposed to daily reminders of their own relative inferiority with respect to the legates, officials, and other members of the patrician class that formed the highest strata of Roman society. Race and ethnicity also often demarcated standing. Pertaining to what Mattingly felt was a paradox, one widespread response was what the modern Left might consider as reactive racism, or as Mattingly terms it, “protoracism”—an entrenchment of the superiority complex “that went deeper than merely being a deep antipathy or fear of foreigners.”[3] Mattingly goes further:

Roman writers classified humanity in ways that made a sharp divide between their own innate superiority and often drew on crude stereotypes of the inferiority of the other…In the Roman world, as in more recent colonial societies, protoracist views about the inferiority of “barbarian” peoples helped to justify war, subjugation, mass murder, enslavement, and exploitation…It can be suggested that [ethnic identities] were predominantly a feature of the phases of first contact and assimilation of population groups by expanding states. Native ethnic identities became much less in evidence once people had been incorporated into the Roman Empire. Was this perhaps because the long–term interest of the empire was stability, and the protoracist overtones of Rome’s ethnic categories were a strong disincentive for subject peoples to persist in strongly defining their own identity on ethnic lines? It was on the frontiers of the empire that ethnicity tended to endure longest as a meaningful marker of difference.[4]

What Mattingly identifies as ethnic disincentive is not only the most important aspect of assimilation, it is really the only one that truly matters, particularly as it pertains to cultural expression. This had a practical application from the Roman perspective in the regions that were farthest from central control. To return to the example of Hadrian’s Wall, the impact of this physical barrier is likely to have been felt more keenly on the Roman side than on the other side beyond their control. This impact is less to do with protection from marauding Picts, and more to do with the psychological aspect, the cordoning off of the other in the “wild” north. [5] 

The Roman elite constructed an ideology within which the patricians were considered as beyond the plebeians, a near-superhuman class.[6] They spoke a more formal version of “vulgar” Latin in the West (Greek was spoken in the East)—which became today’s Romance languages—and their customs were more ornate. Nevertheless, these dis-consolidating constructs were a product of the perceived necessity to create a strict demarcation separating the ruling class from the ruled, rather than a fundamental difference in characteristics between patricians and plebeians, to say nothing of the barbarians, who were often regarded as another species entirely. We might point to a subsequent example of racial demarcation in the American context. As Thomas Otten states:

Some writers explained this dualism by theorizing…[for example,] mulattoes were more aggressive than pure blacks because white blood provided enough ambition to overcome the usual black inertia. The by-then familiar image of the tragic mulatto provided another possibility: people of mixed blood are savages at heart, but white blood provides them with an awareness of their own degenerate impulses, making recognition of their mixed racial identity all the more painful. And while some saw a touch of white blood as improving base African stock, others thought even one drop of African blood enough to drag one back into savagery.[7]

Nicola Terrenato asserts that it is deeply misleading to retroactively assign modern attributes related to imperialism and other trappings of the nation-state to Rome—a valid concern.[8] The key point here is that virtually every subsequent empire in the West has attached itself to some extent, or mapped itself on to, the Roman timeline. For Manu Makkur, “Though over fifteen centuries have passed since the fall of Rome…people continue to associate imperialism with the Roman Empire.”[9] History engages with the notion of chronological time, with the appropriation of certain elements in the narrative of the expanding Roman Empire, not only by contemporary empires but empires throughout the intervening fifteen centuries. The United States, the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire (as the ultimate Eastern successor of Rome), Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia, among others, “have all actively drawn upon the ‘Roman image’ at different times,”[10] though this use of Rome as source material is not just limited to a search for kinship or defining characteristics.[11] The practice of colonialism and imperialism is based as much on action as dogma; dogma drives action and action reflexively amends dogma. Subsequent empires may seek out (or internalize) elements of Roman policy and structure, but just as often many of these elements may already be part of the empire’s practice. 

Central to the existence of the state is the individual’s identity as a member of that state. In antiquity, “Roman–ness,” and identification with this category, for Jonathan Conant, “could be used in a remarkably flexible manner to foster a sense of similarity (or difference) over time, space, ethnicity, and so forth.”[12] Once again, however, we should be wary of imposing modern ideas on antiquity, and as such, not get carried away by believing Rome was some kind of multi-cultural utopia with phalanxes of black legionnaires and such. There was a strong cultural core to the structure and execution of the Roman state from Britannia to Egypt, and though what it was to be Roman was, as I’ve shown, fairly flexible, particularly on the margins, there still remained a concrete essence to “Roman-ness.” Faced with the prospect of losing their largest grain–producing provinces to barbarian incursion, “Both the African elite and a succession of emperors struggled to ensure that Africa ‘stay Roman’ by actively seeking to ensure the region’s continued integration into the larger Mediterranean world.”[13] As the empire began to unravel in the fourth and fifth centuries, the attendant ideological flexibility began to loosen the characteristics of being Roman as case–dependent, but the enterprise ultimately unraveled. Rome as it was constructed eventually ceased to be. Continues Jonathan Conant, “The multiple definitions of Romanness this process produced could (and did) overlap and inform one another, but they were not always mutually reinforcing.”[14] 

The empire’s earlier proselytizing march of civilization would become known, in later centuries, as “Romanization.” For David J. Mattingly:

The early enthusiasm for the approach was in part at least conditioned by the involvement of European scholars at the time (late 19th and early 20th centuries) in their own world of colonization and empire. In the circumstances, objectivity was always going to be difficult to maintain and [there existed] a very close association between the scholarly view and the imperial.[15]

These scholastic investigations were not only tied to imperial practice, but could be used as a justification for said practice. Though Nicola Terrenato rightly cautions us to be wary of fitting modern templates on to ancient ones, for Terrenato, “The epoch–making significance of the Roman conquest and…its relevance as a model for modern events…remains unchanged,” and yet, paradoxically, “the centrality of Rome in Western culture is a passive one.”[16] As Westerners, this is our heritage, and it is vital we truly understand it in all of its complexity.The ideological significance of Rome, much like the very notion of identity in Roman society, has ultimately proven to be subject to seemingly endless revision, but I would actually dispute Terrenato’s claim that the centrality of Rome in Western culture is passive; I believe it is active, central, and foundational, along with its Grecian forebears, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the Age of Enlightenment, but its legacy of greatness and accomplishment is being consciously diminished if not erased by the Left, leaving behind only the ugliness of imperialism. 



No breath runs the breadth of this frontier

A Rome in its death throes,


For the legions, the open-lipped grave

I swallow the young, I know funerals



[1] Interestingly, most of the work on Rome’s ideological borders has been done in the archaeological field. Ex: https://www.dur.ac.uk/roman.centre/events/recentevents/.

[2] David J. Mattingly, Imperialism, Power, and Identity: Experiencing the Roman Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011), p. 204.

[3] Ibid, p. 212.

[4] Ibid, pp. 212-13.

[5] Roman accounts of the impact of Hadrian’s Wall are virtually non-existent, but the rapid deterioration of “Roman-ness” in Britain after the empire’s withdrawal from the region, as opposed to North Africa, lends credence to the theory that a functional, manned wall had as much to do with how Britons perceived themselves as any fundamental differences with the Picts. Archaeological evidence shows no differentiation in the pre-Roman earthen work structures on either side of the wall. Most likely, the Wall was an arbitrary means of border control, set up when the legions could no longer find military success. The Antonine Wall, further north, was abandoned after only twenty years.—From Nick Hodgson’s article in Current Archaeology (http://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/divide-and-conquer-hadrians-wall-and-the-native-population.htm).

[6] Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians (New York: Oxford UP, 2006).

[7] Thomas J. Otten, “Pauline Hopkins and the Hidden Self of Race” ELH, Vol. 59, No. 1 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Spring 1992), pp. 227-56, at p. 231.

[8] Nicola Terrenato, “The Deceptive Archetype: Roman Colonialism in Italy and Postcolonial Thought”, in H. Hurst, S. Owen, eds., Ancient Colonizations. Analogy, Similarity, and Difference (London: Duckworth, 2005).

[9] Manu Makkur, “The Torch Bearer and the Tutor: Prevalent attitudes towards the Roman Empire in Imperial Britain”, Stanford University Journal, Classics (Spring 2006) http://web.stanford.edu/group/journal/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Lakkur_Hum_2006.pdf.

[10] Ibid.

[11] A few of a litany of examples: the classical architecture of Washington, DC; tsar as a Russification of Caesar; Mussolini’s palace; the persistence of Latin (and Greek) in education, thus providing clear class-line delineations (for many years the British officer corps used Latinate lines of poetry as code); the centrality of the Papal States in coronation ceremonies, legitimizing a regent’s rule—the list is, to put it mildly, extensive.

[12] Jonathan Conant, Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012), pp. 2-3.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Mattingly, Imperialism, p. 205.

[16] Terrenato, “The Deceptive Archetype”, p. 62.

Cow Shit on the Grecian Urn

Cow Shit on the Grecian Urn

Civis Romanus Sum: Vol. II + A Further Consideration of the Barbarian

Civis Romanus Sum: Vol. II + A Further Consideration of the Barbarian