Are We Rome?

“The proverb “All roads lead to Rome” derives from medieval Latin. It was first recorded in writing in 1175 by Alain de Lille, a French theologian and poet, whose Liber Parabolarum renders it as ‘mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam’ (a thousand roads lead men forever to Rome). The first documented English use of the proverb occurs more than two hundred years later, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Astrolabe of 1391, where it appears as ‘right as diverse pathes leden diverse folk the righte way to Rome.'” University of Notre-Dame

Milliarium Aureum in Foro Romano (Photo by JW Bailly/CC BY 4.0)

The proverb was meant literally in the medieval era, as the network of roads laid out by Romans all started from the Milliarium Aureum in the Foro Romano. Samuel Ball described it as “a column covered with gilt bronze, erected by Augustus in 20 B.C….It was regarded as the point of convergence of all the great roads running out of the city, and on it were engraved the names of the principal cities of the empire and their distances from Rome.”

The contemporary meaning of this proverb is symbolic, reflecting the influence of Ancient Rome on architecture, government, law, engineering, language, sports, and religion in the contemporary world.

It 2010, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. organized an exhibition entitled “Ancient Rome & America.”

“For generations, the story of ancient Rome’s rise and fall has fueled hopes for national greatness and fears for the fate of America’s republic. Are we Rome? Will America’s rise to world leadership last for a thousand years? Or will our nation come to ruin, like the great Empire of ancient Rome? These questions have haunted Americans since the founding of the new nation in 1776, and they are still with us today.” National Constitution Center

The language of Ancient Rome was Latin. As the Roman Empire grew to dominate all of the Mediterranean, Latin expanded as well. As the Roman Empire collapsed variations on Latin developed into five new “Romance” languages: French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. English developed from a Germanic language that then received an influx of Latin through the Roman Conquest of Britannia in 43 CE and later Latin/French through the Norman Conquest in 1066. Some estimates are that 60% of English words are of Latin origin, especially in the realms of Law, Science, and Technology.

External Link: List of Latin words with English derivatives on Wikipedia

Although competitive sports have existed in some form in cultures throughout the world, contemporary sports are have deep connections to Roman sports. Mass spectator sports in oval stadiums, characterized by members of the lower classes brutalizing one another has precedent in Ancient Rome.

“American football has many similarities with gladiator games, says Garrett Fagan, associate professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State. Most obviously, both involve spectacular, violent displays before a massive, cheering audience. Fans choose sides and strongly identify with their team—just as Roman citizens cheered their favorite gladiators in combat. Do these superficial similarities suggest a deeper connection?” Jesse Hicks, Penn State News, 2009.

John William Bailly 26 January 2023

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