Rome, the Colosseum, Hadrian’s Wall, the Parthenon, the Pyramids. Those lucky enough to have seen all those things will still not have traveled the entire length and breadth of the Roman Empire.
The Romans conquered and held a vast amount of territory and built roads and structures that last even to this day. Latin is still heavily used in professions such as law and many of our modern phrases come from Latin ones. We even take wedding traditions from the Romans. Like modern brides, Roman brides wore a white dress (the tunica recta) and a ring on their left-hand finger. Rome collected and assimilated knowledge from many different civilizations and achieved higher technological advances than would be seen for centuries after.
As the saying goes, though, the winners write the history books. And along with Rome’s glorious conquests came an ugly underbelly of corruption, slavery, and horrific abuse of basic human rights. More patriarchal than the Celtic warriors Rome conquered in Germania, Gaul, and Britannia, Romans still gave women more rights than the Greeks. Roman women could move freely in society, but they didn’t have authority over their own children, let alone the power to make independent choices.
You know that classic American principle “all men are created equal” that even the most prejudiced among us give lip service too? If you said that in Ancient Rome, your listeners would have guffawed. Equal? No way. A slave’s soul was no more considered equal to an elite patrician’s than a barbarian’s soul was considered equal to a Roman soldier’s.
This is why I love reading historical fiction set in Ancient Rome. Because with a historical novel, a hero enters into that brutal world and rises above the customs of the day to make truly noble choices. It’s one thing to uphold the values of liberty and equality in 21st century America where not doing so will get you booed. It’s another thing for an elite patrician of Rome to have enough character to look upon a slave, a barbarian, or a woman with compassion.
Some fiction genres give us larger than life heroes and heroines who battle impossible odds to conquer evil. Historical fiction, on the other hand, gives us heroes and heroines brutally scarred by the ethics of their culture, yet attempting to rise above what their entire world is telling them is right to grasp for some higher good.
If you can’t tell, I write Roman novels as well as read them. My first Roman series is coming out in about a month here.
Complete the prompt below for an extra entry in our blogaversary drawing! Submit your completed writing prompt via Comments.
Tell me about a modern phrase or tradition we get from the Romans.