“For our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust.”
~~Cassius Dio ~~
Cassius Dio was commentating on the passing of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD, when he was replaced on the throne of the Caesars by his waste of space son, Commodus.
It was the high water mark of Roman power never to be achieved again, and the beginning of the centuries long decline of the world`s first super power.
Rome has fascinated me since the time when as a small boy of eight my school teacher decided to teach us the histories of the four great civilisations that influenced the modern world, and one in particular which shaped western civilisation in it`s own image……..Rome.
She started with the Egypt of Pharaohs and pyramids, then the Land of the Two Rivers, Mesopotamia; the Greece of Alexander, the Gordian Knot and world conquest, and finally Rome. My interest in history by the time we came to the Eternal City was already well set, but the story of Horatius Cocles defending the bridge into Rome against an invading army ignited my eternal passion for all things Roman.
Since the time of the Caesars, Rome has been the benchmark against which all nations and their leaders in the western world measure themselves against, whether subliminally or knowingly. Virtually nothing in our world exists without a nod and a wink towards the city on the Tiber: time flows like the eternal river past and through Roman eyes as it washes, cleanses and re-invigorates the modern world.
We are all formed from a different mould that gently leads us in a multitude of directions, or simply towards one that congeals and hardens like concrete: the child is interested in all things at first, but somewhere along the line horizons narrow and vision is distorted and blunted. This is due to a great many things, including socio-economic, environment, and parental attitudes; I was lucky that my interests were nurtured by my mother, who took me on cultural expeditions to London on a regular basis to see the wonders the greatest city on earth has to offer.
I saw it all: every out of the way nook and cranny, as well as the great tourist attractions; even in the darkest depths of depression, my interests in what is around me has never slackened – thanks to my mother.
From the age of eight I knew the historical movers and shakers, and as I grew older, the people that made the achievements of these great, good and bad individuals possible – the ordinary people who worked their backsides off in all walks of life, and who were taxed out of their skins to fund vainglorious military campaigns and the construction of castles and palaces to house the wealthy and their pompous certainties of superiority.
Such things never change; vanity is a human trait that never dies, no matter the time and place. There are always those who are greedy for wealth, influence over others, and power. Mankind is an avaricious, aggressive and territorial animal; there is always an excuse to be found to acquire someone else`s property, whether by political manipulation, or military intervention.
The Roman legions were probably the most effective and efficient fighting machine in history – certainly the first professional army. Highly motivated and disciplined, it was like a massive threshing machine as it remorselessly walked forward with short swords stabbing through the gaps of it`s shield wall.
The opening battle scene from Gladiator was not entirely accurate, there was not a free-for-all as it`s formation broke up to engage the enemy. The only certainty was that there was only one certainty – order in it`s systematic butchery of what stood in front of it. Anything with a pulse would be killed.
That was the Roman way in life: political rivals treated each other as enemies to be eradicated by all means possible. It was an utterly ruthless philosophy of life, there could only be one winner, and the winner received everything while the losers lost reputations – and sometimes their lives. Caesar turned his legions on his political rivals because he knew they wanted him dead, so he used the only means of defence, and attack, at his disposal – the army that he had made sure had received their fair share of plundered booty from their foreign wars.
Of course, other empires were ruthless – and still are, but Rome is still with us, it was not not destroyed by those that came after, they admired and respected it`s glory and basked in the afterglow of empire.
It`s institutions and ideals were sustained and nurtured by the Gothic tribes that settled on former imperial lands. They were interested in a seat at the table, not destruction, and so a barbarized version of Roman civil authority continued.
When Sir Christopher Wren died in 1723, he was entombed within St Paul`s Cathedral under a plain black slab.
The words written there by his son could be used equally as a monument to the greatness of Rome……
“SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS , CIRCUMSPICE”
If You Seek A Monument, Look Around You.
Rome Is Everywhere.”