Whew! We made it! Rome! Pinnacle of the ancient world! Center of western civilization! Lots of exclamation points!!!
We arrived in Rome in the midst of Holy Week, just days before Easter, and the city was packed. The impact of the ancient world remains strong and alive in this city. It is not a dead culture that was buried and forgotten. Some part of it has continued to survive and thrive despite the millennia. As I reflect upon ancient Rome I am struck by what remains. Structurally speaking, there really aren’t that many intact buildings to gaze at. The ruins are quite amazing, but without the handy little “Before and After” books on sale at every site, it takes a lot of imagination to actually see what the city was like in its heyday. Egypt was all about the incredible preservation of its antiquity. The monuments and temples are amazing in comparison to anything else you’ll find in the ancient world. Greek structures, like Roman structures, suffered greatly over the years, but their art, sports, governments, pottery, dramas, philosophies, mythology/history survive due in large part to the fact that their language remains alive. Everything else was conquered and buried. But Rome is different. Millions of people travel from all over the world to celebrate holidays (like Easter) that began under its jurisdiction. Ancient Rome continues to make a mark upon the world today.
A quick word on Rome for the students back home: Rome was much more than the busy capital of Italy we see today. I’m not just talking about their domination of the ancient world of Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. The breadth of real estate they ruled made them an empire, but more importantly it was the lasting imprint of the culture they collected and spread throughout the ancient world that should be noted. Throughout this blog I have commented on the mark of Rome on ancient cultures. Romans conquered and made outposts in Egypt. They also took control of the Greek city-states and adapted much of Greek culture thereby spreading Hellenism. Perhaps the greatest contribution Rome has given the world was its ability to pull the most appealing features of the cultures it conquered and assimilate these into their own. Rome isn’t particularly noted for its creativity, but they admired and built upon the genius of others. If there was something they liked about a culture, the Romans adopted it, changed the names, made it bigger, more permanent, and affordable for the masses. On the whole they sound a lot like our own American culture. For those of us too deeply entrenched in our Americanism to make that connection, think of Rome as the Costco of the ancient world. With that in mind I look at ancient Rome for what it can tell me of my own culture today. It is a culture that speaks volumes to what can happen to successful powerhouses throughout history…uh-oh!