14 October 2012

LIFE: America, Caput Mundi

SARONNO, Italy –There is a new exhibit in Rome this month, Roma Caput Mundi – a City between Domination and Integration. This celebration of the power and the glory of the Roman Empire is being held at the Coliseum and runs from 10 October 2012 to 10 March 2013. It has generated interest in comparing the current situation in the United States with the situation the Roman Empire faced thousands of years ago.
 Mitra Tauroctono, the Deity was the Guarantor of the Bond between the King and his Companions (III AD)

I thought you might be interested in an article that was published this week in the Corriere della Sera, Italy’s equivalent of the New York Times. The article is entitled  'Septimius Severus, the "Obama Prototype." The American dream looks back two thousand years. Two multiracial and multicultural domains. The same request for global impunity.' It was written by author Ennio Caretto. The photos, except for the one of President Obama and Severus are from the Roma Caput Mundi Exhibition.

Milan, Italy - Since America first claimed independence in 1776, it has been considered the "Second Rome." In the year "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", was published, two of America’s founding fathers Thomas Paine and William Drayton, began to think of the USA as the new "caput mundi ". In the country’s first president, reserved and educated General George Washington,they saw another Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, supreme commander of the Roman army and statesman of the Roman Empire.
 Septimius Severus and Barack Obama
Since the election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, America has another reason to identify with ancient Rome. The Roman Empire, like America today, was multiracial and multicultural, and took Septimius Severus as the first black emperor of the Roman Empire.

Severus was a Libyan general in the Roman army. He was married to a Syrian woman and together they had two children. He was a protégé of Marcus Aurelius and during his reign, he inaugurated a new dynasty. But unlike Democratic Obama, Septimius Severus, he established a military dictatorship. But Caracalla, his firstborn and his successor, extended citizenship to all  freemen of the empire that included one third of the known world.
Commemorative Roman Coin Issued in 71 AD to Celebrate the Subjugation of Judea

However, the differences between the two civilizations are considerable. The Roman Empire was created through the use of ‘hard power,” military power, while America’s rise to power has been mostly through the global dominance of financial markets and technologies, “soft power”.  At home, Rome was always a class driven society, first with a rigid division between the senatorial and equestrian and plebeian, and then among the "honestiores 'and' humiliores." But it was hardly racist, while America is the exact opposite. The rulers of Rome spoke two languages, Latin and Greek, languages of the intelligentsia, but America speaks only English and none the languages of its millions of immigrants.

American culture is dominant today as it was two thousand years ago in Rome. America is animated by a sense of "exceptionalism" or uniqueness that was typical of Rome. The '"American dream," the American dream of success, reflects the "Roman dream." Often in America outsiders', the children of the third world are considered inferio, as in ancient Rome considered the barbarians inferior. And around the world, Americans ask the same impunity -civis Romano. If you visit Washington, you see the throne of the Roman statue of Lincoln, and  you realize that Washington’s "Union Station" is a copy of the monumental baths of Diocletian. America has 16 cities called Rome, and in Rome, Georgia there is a statue of the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus, which was a gift from Benito Mussolini in 1929.
 Roman Emperor Trajan
Cullen Murphy, an historian who for twenty years has directed the magazine Atlantic Monthly, is the author of "Are we Rome?". It is only one of the hundreds of books on the similarities between the Roman Empire and America published in the USA. That of the crucible, says Murphy, "is not a myth, America is a model of assimilation of ethnic groups and alien cultures and it is the bearer of civilization, albeit not always welcomed, just as Rome was. And like Rome, America is a model of economic growth." It is not a myth that the sole superpower, "The Pax Americana” is the contemporary face of the “pax romana.”

No wonder the poor want to immigrate to America. “In the beginning of the first millennium," says Mr. Murphy, "everyone wanted to see Rome and today everyone wants to see New York or Washington." In his book, released in 2007, Cullen Murphy was asked if America is not in the same situation as Rome in the third century, on the eve of decadence. "Since the end of the Cold War," he says, "America does not know what role to assume. An almost imperial role that may be incompatible with its democratic institutions or a smaller role that can make it less relevant?” America, he says, is grappling with the same problems the Romans had: "The presumption of being the nation destined by God for greatness.
 Detail from Trajan's Column
There is the same excessive militarization, corruption and reckless pursuit of the privatization of public services of the past, and refusal to protect the environment. " But Mr. Murphy does not believe that American power is declining. In his view, unlike Rome, America cannot decline: "We have the extraordinary ability to reinvent and innovate. We need, however, a greater engagement with civil society and more respect for other nations." 

We need Obama.

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