Among the amusing videos offered by Tik-Tok is one that is definitely out of character: the Roman Empire. What’s it doing in this lighthearted crowd? Puzzled women are asking men how often they think about the long-gone empire because apparently they do. The answers are startling – maybe once a month, said some. Once a week, replied others, .and more than a few admitted they thought about it every day. That’s a lot of Rome.
They didn’t explain their reasons, but we can surmise. Rome stood for strength, cohesion and a near unbeatable army. Today in the U.S. that’s lacking. Since the turn of the century, we have engaged in a number of wars without winning any of them. Rome sets a better example. Let’s think about it.
More American macho, scoff women who note their gender had a much subordinate role in the vaunted empire. But there were significant exceptions, especially in times of crisis. Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian, was infuriated at being sent into exile for an indiscrete love affair. In retaliation she sent a message offering herself to Attila, indomitable leader of the invading Huns. With the promise of a top-level bride to be, he demanded half the empire and almost got it until he was defeated in the famous battle of Chalons
Still, empire was mainly a man’s business, and manliness was expected and prized. A Roman was tested by adversity which was never lacking in an empire under continual threat by outside forces accurately described as barbarians. Character and courage were the traits needed to make their mark and promote the interests of Rome. When these lapsed in later years, the empire was destined to fall, according to many historians. Herein lie character lessons for an inquiring man today.
Yet there was more. The great 18th century British historian Edward Gibbon wrote in the opening pages of his multi-volume “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “If a man were called to fix the period of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian (AD 96) to the accession of Commodus (AD 180). The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect.”
The Romans fought hard to gain their empire and governed well to maintain it. Harsh when necessary to keep control, they left localities alone to govern themselves with their own values and gods. It was an instruction in self-government that assured an era of peace that the region had not known before or has known since.
This was exemplified by Julius Caesar who in his famed memoirs showed that aside from personal glory, he fought not to destroy neighboring Gaul but to bring it into the Roman Empire. No visionary or ideologue while a great general, he respected and didn’t hate the enemy he fought and was always negotiating while fighting. Come let’s all be Romans together, he said, and Gaul agreed.
This empire had a long run as empires go but eventually succumbed to barbarian pressures with emperors and armies that could no longer cope. But if we’re going to think about Rome, why not think big? What if it had managed to stave off the invaders and continued to exist through subsequent centuries? There would be no dark ages since arts and letters continued to flourish under Roman rule. No need for a Renaissance to revive them. Brilliant, creative European nations would develop under a watchful Rome able to prevent them from trying to destroy one another, culminating in two apocalyptic world wars whose savagery would have appalled even the barbarians who sacked Rome, while admiring it. Rome is gone, but understandably and thankfully, not its memory. See Tik-Tok