URBEM FECISTI - THE FOUNDING MYTH | Bed and Rome and Breakfast

sabato 11 febbraio 2017

URBEM FECISTI - THE FOUNDING MYTH



It was just few days ago that, sitting on the sofa and jumping from a TV channel to another, I saw two different movies with ancient Roman characters and set in Britain, King Arthur (2004) and The Eagle (2011). Both are a production from USA. 



It is also interesting to observe that the best historians that have written about the ancient Rome are British, or American, starting from Edward Gibbon, whose The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, curiously the same year of the USA Declaration of Independence. 

So my question was why British and Americans are so much interested in the history of ancient Rome? 

And my answer, my personal opinion, is that everything has to do with the concept of imperial power. Imperial power is something that goes beyond the political and military domination, is the cultural influence on the peoples that are part of the empire and not only on them. 


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If we look to all the empires that have come after the Roman empire, we see that those that have deeply marked the history, at least in Europe and the western world in general, are those that, in a way or another, have created a connection to the Roman Empire, somehow looking their legitimation into it, an empire that evryone legitimated, even those that, at its end, conquered it. I already wrote here something about the connection of the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire.
On the western side there has been the Holy Roman Empire, but about that we will talk another time.

However my personal opinion is that the people that have best learned the lesson are the British and, later, the Americans that have created empires (a soft empire in the case of the USA) with a strong cultural influence. That is, again in my opinion, thanks to the founding myth.
A myth is something betwwen reality and legend and therefore it cannot be demonstated to be true or false. A myth is therefore something that can be easily become the foundation of the identity of one or more people, depending how strong it is.
Myths are something belonging to the humans since very ancient times. Greek mithology, still well known also nowadays, was extremely developed. It was essentially a cultural mithology wothout any political intentions towards other peoples.
In the republican Rome the muth started to be used as a political justification. The foundation of Rome by Romulus and Remus, the seven kings, six of them wise and beloved by the people and the last one umpopular and eventually chased out pf the town, were the founding muth of a city that believed to have, and actually had, institutions that weree by far superior to the other cities.
But when Augustus founded the empire that was no more enough to keep together so many peoples.
Virgilius
It was at the time of Augustus that Virgilius composed the Aeneid, the poem that connects the origin or Rome with the Trojan fugitive Aeneas.
Beside being one the masterpieces of the literature of all times, Aeneid is a political masterpiece not only becasue it connects Rome with the Greek mythology but because it creates the character of the winning loser, the hero that has been defeated trying to defend his city but whose descendants are destined to found the city that will dominate the world. 
It is a myth, so it contains something true. Infact it is very probable that the Latins arrived to Italy from the Black Sea area more or less at the time of the war of Troy, a real war that Homer turned to myth in his poems, Iliad and Odyssey, So the Latins were coming from an area not far from Greece and Troy. It is not a case, therefore, that Latin and Greek language have several similarities in the grammar and syntax.
King Arthur is the founding myth of England and, by extension, of the United Kingdom and of the British Empire.
The birth year of modern England can be considered 1066 AD, the year of the battle of Hastings where Norman William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo saxons. At that point England became a mixture of Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman culture.
The Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, by the way probably the first best-seller, was perfect in creating a myth.
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary figure but likely based on real people that lived after the Roman Legions left Britain. One of them, it has been suggested, is Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Roman commander that remaind in Britain because he was married with a local lady that very likely guided the mixed Britannic-Roman army against the Saxons in the battle of Badon Hill.
Anyhow, no matter if legend, myth or history, the point is that King Arthur, at least as coming out from the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth is another winning loser that is bringing the values of honor, loyalty and chivalry. Those values have become hallmarks of the British people, at least as the majority of other peoples see them but somehow acquired by the Romans. The two movies I mentiond at the beginning are a clear example.
Pilgrim Fathers
When we finally come to the USA, the empire of today although of different type, we see that the founding myth is again based on winning losers. Those are the Pilgrim Fathers that are celebrated on the Thanksgiving Day. One hundred and two people, run away from Europe because they were persecuted especially for religious reasons and bringing with them an ideal of freedom and the hope of a new life, have the basis upon which the most powerful nation in the world was born.
On the other side, in my opinion and leaving apart any political and economic consideration, Soviet Union has failed because it did not follow the lesson of Rome, it did not create any founding myth that could keep tpgether everyone. Viceversa it was only based on a true historical fact, the October Revolution, and a political-economic theory, the marxism.
Rome is the Eternal City not because its empire did not have an end, but because the lessons it left are valid still now.

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