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by Cauf Skiviers, Cultural Inappropriation, ©2023

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David, 1784 (plus MAGA hat)

(Sep. 16, 2023) — The womanosphere was abuzz this week, asking social media “why do men think so much about the ‘Roman Empire’?” Intriguing as it is, the more pertinent question remains: why do men seldom discuss Rome with women?

Plainly, there’s a reason why men (especially in the US), are so taken with the ‘Roman Empire.’ They admire the legend of an empire founded and governed by farmer-warrior-philosophers, who ascended to the top of the world through a mix of intellectual rigour, military prowess, and masterful engineering. As well as a stroke of good luck now and then…

Thomas Jefferson was Cicero; George Washington was Sulla; Lincoln was Marcus Aurelius; Teddy Roosevelt was Scipio Africanus; and John Adams, Cato the Elder. Considering the unmatched pantheon of leadership, the parallels drawn between Rome and the USA are just too good to ignore, as ill-suited as they are. For better or worse, the world views the USA as the New Rome.

Yet, beyond the overlap between American and Roman virtues, parallels between their vices are becoming disconcertingly clear. Especially so when a senile Claudius sleepwalks in the White House, while a cabal of Neros is running the show from behind the curtains, literally setting the land on fire, as they sharpen their daggers to go after the former Caesar with the might of the State.

The looming threat of destruction, by means of debt, debauchery, and barbaric invasions, feels even more tangible than the destruction by fire, looting and persecution that beleaguered both empires in their prime. Even the growing division between the coastal elites and the flyover states, imperfectly mimic the East-West divide of the Roman Empire, under the false notion that history repeats itself.

Strength and Honour

Reasons to think about Rome are plenty, however most of them are mired in contradiction or confusion.

Rome, in its broadest definition, existed for 2,500 years — from the Roman Kingdom, to the Roman Republic, and the Roman Empire. Then the Western and Byzantine Empires and, finally, the Holy Roman Empire. One can even argue it exists to this day, in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. So, even saying that men think about the ‘Roman Empire’ can mean a great many of things.

The aesthetic appeal of Rome, aptly captured in films like Gladiator (although historically flimsy), showcased an unapologetically masculine society, summarised in the (made up) mantra of “strength and honour.” Yet, it’s not just about aesthetics. The Vikings, for example, are remembered by their aesthetics and little more, outside neopagan circles. Empires like Persia, Egypt, and the Mongols have a lesser grasp on Western imagination, either due to the lack of a historiography or too much of a cultural distance. The British Empire, on the other hand, had their resounding defeats too meticulously recorded to inspire much allure.

And Rome is just about its heroes (or anti-heroes) as its villains, from Attila to Hannibal, from Nero to Caligula; they had magnificent counterparties to the heroics of Julius Caesar or Charlemagne, to Belisarius and the legendary Greek fire — later referenced in Game of Thrones.

Even my 6-year-old’s favourite bedtime story is about Julius Caesar building the twin walls at Alesia, then marching into Rome, and later chasing Pompey all the way to Egypt…

So, Why Don’t We Discuss It More?

We should get the word out to women that another world is possible (caveating that there are plenty of women just as keen on Rome and what it represents).

Rome was not just cosmopolitan; it aspired to be eternal by upholding universal principles in the face of emerging problems. While Rome recognised the benefits of community and charity, it never compromised the rule of law or meritocracy: you reap what you sow, but you also give back.

They demonstrated that the politics of the sword and the battlefield can be replaced by the politics of the pen and diplomacy, without making our leaders soft and spineless.

That it took a great deal of sacrifice, effort and accomplishment to carve one’s name into history, not just being the first LGBT nominee at a Nickelodeon Awards.

So, my theory is that men today aren’t just thinking about the Roman Empire’s rise or fall. They are thinking on how to bring back such glory, how to reverse the prevailing cultural decline. After all, it has been done before: Augustus reinvented Rome into the New Troy, inspired by Aeneas rising from defeat, carrying both his father (past) and his son (future) from the ashes of his house. And Constantine, who reimagined Rome as the heir to Jerusalem, materialising the dreams of his mother.

Read the rest here.

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