Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Empire Strikes Back: Rome and us

Critic at large about new books on Rome. This season brings a number of new works on Roman history that focus not on the glories of Roman culture but on its notorious brutalities. What if the true meaning of Rome is not justice but injustice, not civilization but institutionalized barbarism? What if, when you look back, you find at the bottom of all its archeological strata not a forum or a palace but a corpse? In “Rome: Day One” (Princeton; $24.95), the Italian archeologist Andrea Carandini finds exactly that. Tradition assigns this to the year 753 B.C., when Romulus erected the first walls of the so-called Roma Quadrata, or “square Rome.” Carandini provocatively suggests that this might be more or less true. Romulus did not create Rome out of nothing, he grants, but it is possible that there was a single day, around the middle of the eighth century B.C., when sacred ceremonies were held to transform a collection of settlements into the city of Rome. And the culmination of these ceremonies, Carandini writes, was human sacrifice. How would it change our understanding of Rome and the Roman Empire if we could see the corpse—all the corpses—that provided its foundation?

Click here to read this article from the New Yorker Magazine