To the naked eye or mind, Rome’s birth and rise are assumed to be associated solely with the legends behind its creation. To correlate in the most basic of ways between myth and actuality, between two demi-god infants raised by a wolf-mother that results with Romulus’ journey to create Rome, is to diminish the understanding of Rome. To address and, more so, to understand the reality of Rome’s story is what makes the city most legendary. However, Rome was not only a city of legendary caliber still revered and studied in the 21st century but more significantly, Rome was and remains an unstoppable idea. The nature of that idea, and the components that aided in building what Rome was, is the reason why the ancient city had cemented itself as an immortal entity in time and as an immortal idea that has stood the test of time.
What contributed to the rise of Rome, ultimately, was the ethical aspect, the ideas behind the actions. Other than Rome being established next to the malaria-inducing Tiber, placing a polity next to a body of water that is pestilential in its defensive placement whilst inhabiting an agriculturally profitable environment, the overarching culture was not only complimentary to fruit-bearing habitat but essential to Rome’s success. The Romanitas, or Romanism, played an impeccable part as the idea defined both the identity of the Roman polity and the individual.
To understand this ethical aspect, the Romanism, one would have to reiterate its meaning through the concepts portrayed in the origins story of Rome; the story of Romulus and Remus in relation to Rome’s establishment. In the mythology of Rome’s history, Romulus and Remus were the sons of the god of war Mars and Rhea Silvia, daughter of King Numitor. The twins were raised by a wolf-mother and eventually, the infamous fratricide deemed Romulus to be the victor hence the naming of the city after him and not Remus. In reality, as one of the first Roman historians Titus Livius or Livy had explained, the more likely story is that Romulus and Remus were of regular folk birthed by a prostitute; as if the fratricide was regular to begin with. Livy continues to explain the foundational story with Romulus establishing a polity that is founded on the alliance of men based on the acceptance of all wanderers, all the forsaken in the geographic region. Romulus continued to pave the way for the Roman way of life not just by war or governance, but by the ideals that he exemplified and symbolized.
Rome was given birth to by Romulus yet it is the birth of Romulus’ Romanism that bore more substance. The idea of coming from humble beginnings to reigning supreme, from rags to riches if one will, is the overarching element that aided in Rome’s success and not another state. Romulus portrayed the idea that one has worth through conquest, not only in the traditional sense of ruling others but asserting one’s place in whatever one wishes as well; excelling at what one does to the point of living as an embodiment of that excellence. Even the Roman historian Livy, accounting for the city’s history in retrospect after the assassination of Julius Caesar and the Celtiberian sacking of Rome, portrays this characteristic idea of the fearless pursuit of life when he had stated: “There is always more spirit in attack than in defense.”.
This fearless pursuit of life developed in Rome’s infancy would consequentially become an essential building block to the backbone of Rome’s future identity in all matters. Albeit the attribute of fearless conquest and the need to prove one’s worth through actively pursuing achievements was at the forefront of Roman thought and identity, testing that mentality was inevitable. The future of Rome after its establishment, the future that would prove it successful, had to have possessed an array of adversities and complications. The happenings to follow in Rome’s journey would forge a stronger sense of Romanism by placing morality and ethics into the equation, by adding method to the madness.
Happenings like the rape of Lucretia by Sextus, which shocked Rome into an identity crisis, or the military vigilance of Tullus Hostilius, that sought to strengthen the Romans by eliminating Numa Pompilius’ legacy of peaceful complacency. Moments in Rome’s history where Romanism was reformed, reflected upon and reinvigorated with a solidifying code that would ensure its longevity and Rome’s longevity. (Book 1, Livy)
The cumulative mentality established in Rome continued to have the Romans strive for the best, always, whilst also not succumbing to their mighty hubris and being self-evaluative, always as well. The Romans knew that to strengthen oneself would require critical self-analysis to the point of recognizing weaknesses and fixing them. Be it abolishing the kingship after the rape of Lucretia or establishing a consul in reaction to the decemvirate’s corruption, the Romans tackled their own weaknesses by the power of their well-developed Romanism.
The all-encompassing principal of the Roman identity would pave the way, one believes, to persevere at all costs and through all hardships. The Romans with the aid of their moral system sought to perfect themselves by regulating their society through legislative, martial and economic manners. The evolution of Romanism engulfed with it the overall census of society to be ever seeking self-perfection by revisiting their ancestral past to learn from it and enhance themselves with its lessons. An example of such is in Livy’s Praefatio, Livy’s Preface to his historical collection of 144 books, where he hints at the ideas of Vetus and Vetustas. Vetus meaning the old and signifying the ancestry, whereas Vetustas meaning antiquity and signifying the teachings perceived by addressing the old. In simpler and modern terms, the Vetus would be the old wooden clock in a family’s household while the Vetustas would be the stories of the family’s origins held in the value of the clock. This complimentary system of understanding symbolizes the overall Roman approach to self-perfection, the fiery dance of their madness and methods that burnt their way to success rather than paving it. (Praefatio, Livy).
Another example would be the actions of Cicero during his reign, many years after the story of Romulus. Cicero reiterated to the senate in the Temple of Romulus and reminded his people of the original pillar to the monumental identity of the Roman, that like the original Romulus, Cicero ‘the Romulus of Arpinum’ will defeat Catiline by remaining true to his identity. Cicero, on that 8th day of November 63 B.C., reminded the senate of their identity as conquerors who are unanswerable to no one but themselves; in this passionate moment of having his statesmen relive and feel the glory of their identity’s origins, Cicero highlighted what it was to be truly Roman. (SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, Ch.2, Mary Beard.)
In the end, it is Rome’s foundational identity that created a successful state. The Romanitas in which the principle of ‘I must be the greatest or die trying’ is the first, second and third building block to Rome’s mind blowing underdog story. The idea was established by Romulus and those who helped him find Rome. An idea that led a low man birthed by a whore to establish arguably the most famous and most infamous city which became an even more legendary empire, and then to be deified after death. Romulus lived the Roman way, be it intentional or not, to have the future Romans live in a grander and well-evolved way of life. A lifestyle that gave birth not only to the city of Rome but to an immortal idea. The idea that you are only as worth as what or how much you conquer, as long as you conquer yourself doing it.