What is our vision of the historical Empire of Rome (formerly known as a republic)? So many expectations about it are molded by later cultural development (and biblical movies). Rome has been seen as an example for so many cultural developments after its fall, that legend overshadows every known fact.

One minor example is in mens clothing. In movies about romans they allways wear trousers. You know, those shorts. It was a garment worn traditionally by german and gallic tribesmen. It was called bracis, wich means rolled or folded. It seems to me obvious, that these were not trousers as we percieve them in modern terms, but a type of loincloth rolled around the waist and legs. That is why the gallic and germans wearing them allways wear “garters” around their anckless. To stop the cloth from unravelling itself from around the leg. These bracis were actually worn by the legionary of the Limes, the great northern frontier against germanic tribes.It is a bit colder north of the Alps and the soldiers on the great border had to be a lot in outdoors doing their guard duties. Also, as time went by, increasing number of them were germanic or gallic of origin. So, it was logical for them to wear those “pants” in conjunction to their tunic.  Alltough under other kind of circumstances it is rather rare that the soldiers of the conquering empire would adopt much of the cultural heritage of the subjucated people. It is the “native troops” that usually add these items to the military costume.

One could hardly imagine a british colonial officer wearing loincloth or turban in India, no matter how much more comfortable it would have been. Same applies to romans. Why would roman nobles, members of the equites, start wearing Gallic bracis any more than he would wear a horned helmet? Yet in modern movies all romans wear pants.

This small “fashion” point does not seem wery significant when you are watching a movie as an entertainment, but if we are not aware of these small detail cultural connontations, they affect our vision of history. They are not often intented by the artists making movies, writing novels or such, but they may exist there to create misunderstandings about history, help build walls around cultures and define both humanity and enemity. It is the wery same reason why we would not expect the british colonial officer wearin a loincloth, that we expect to see the roman centurion be wearing trousers of some sort. Trousers define “western” culture and civilization, because they were a fashion thing during the early stages of colonialization, and a symbol of moral and cultural superiority. Even though they had been just invented at the time. To accept roman male characters as our equals we western men expect them to be wearing pants.

It is hard not to admire the romans, who built their aqueducts, roads and sewage systems, when the world around them was not even nearly as advanced. They were admirably tolerant of other peoples religions exept for some doomsday cults (like early christianity) and human sacrifices. They created marvellous works of art, literature and architechture. They had a number of philosophical, social and political ideas that seem modern even today.  

Yet, they were human and the empire had many ugly sides to it. All their magnificent constructions were results of slave labour. The imperial economic system was built on slavery for centuries. Their religious liberty turned into bigotry and narrowmindedness, when the Roman empire embraced christianity as a sole religion. Their contribution to science and art was in a number of ways that of a preserver rather than a developer. They did transmit the great work of many greek philosphers and scientists. Like archimedes, whom a roman soldier killed.

Rome has been the example for so many empires. The roman republic was hardly wery democratic, as the represantatives were only of the richest families in the city. Though that is the case with democracy even today. The imperators or military leaders took over and thus the empire was born. In many ways the roman emperors followed the role of peoples tribunes as functioning against the greed of the richest men represented in the senate. It was a delicate balance, that was surmounted by many assasinations, murders and political executions.

Ancient Rome has been imitated by the late medieval and rennessaince lords, colonial empires, Napoleon Bonaparte and of course the Nazis. All of them used the imperial example as an excuse to justify their actions against other nations. Sometimes this example has also provided something good. Rennessaince brought roman admiration to bring forth new ideas, that were liberal in comparisson to the former “dark age” controlled by the church dogma. The colonial admiration of Roman empire, lead to the liberation of science and released “the age of reason”. Enlightenment philosphy was thus born.  The rebels who liberated the North-American colonies from British Empire, built their nation after the roman example.

 Napoleon tried to sieze sovereign power by imitating  a roman emperor in a situation where the concept of republic had born again from the admiration of roman culture. It is once again the nazis whose admiration of Roman empire brought nothing good along with it exept maybe some road repairs. Why were they incapable of creating anything good? Their vision of Roman empire was an antithesis to all the good roman empire had to offer. For example they reintroduced slavery.

The United States of America have come a long way from their days of liberation. The country has grown like Roman empire did, and the position of the president has turned from the peoples tribunes to emperors. The country has learned to use military power to conquer “barbarian” nations instead of just protecting its borders against them. It has given up its citizen militia and replaced it with the type of professional legions. The professional army have been increasingly replaced by an auxilia of mercenaries. Men with no consciense or patria. The religious minority has grown in political influence and intolerance of the many nations different cultures within the empire.

We have a lot to learn from the romans. Both in good and evil. Rome is an example in how desicions made now reflect for generations and even centuries to come.

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