“What have the Romans ever done for us?” is the question in “The Life of Brian” that concerns a revolutionary cell in Judea that is planning an uprising against the imperialist Romans. After a short discussion, the revolutionaries came up with a few things. “All right, but aside from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water systems, and public health, what did the Romans ever do for us?”

In fact, the answer to this question would fill volumes. In fact, in many respects, Western Europe in particular only emerged from the shadow of the Roman Empire with industrialization. Until 1800, with almost every modern achievement, one could dryly state that the Romans had done it better.

Rome’s influence in the military is obvious. The structure of the army into independently operating legions can be found in the modern military with its divisions – right down to the head strength of the units. What we perceive as beautiful in architecture is based on the Romans’ teachings of proportion. And what is our network of railway lines and motorways but a new version of the Roman road network? In the magazine “BBC World History” historians also provide further answers to the above question, which are not always obvious at first glance and reveal a deeper understanding of Roman life.

Our food and drink, for example. The Romans were obsessed with food. The upper class pursued refined pleasures, but on the other hand the Romans were already creating a global trade in staple foods in gigantic quantities. There was no other way to feed the big cities. In addition, Roman society was based on the ownership of land and slaves and the production of food was also a means of earning money for the upper class. Spain, southern France and North Africa were transformed into gigantic production facilities designed to distribute products throughout the empire. The Romans spread the production methods of grain, wine and oil throughout Europe, creating similar tastes. When it came to food, the Romans were very experimental, bringing new plants from the most remote areas and growing them throughout the empire. Great generals like Lucullus are known today primarily for their plunder of plants. To the north and to the Germanic provinces, the Romans not only brought wine cultivation, but also around 50 crops – which we still enjoy today.

Peace sweetens reign. When you think about the spread of the empire, the Roman legions always come to mind. But that’s just one point. In reality, the Romans ruled through “soft power.” The emperor’s rule, for example, which Augustus imposed as a kind of state religion, was sweetened by the promise of peace. A global peace – the Pax Romana. Our view of Rome’s great wars distorts the proportions. There have been these wars with enormous victims and devastation.

But the Romans ended the eternal state of war between the individual tribes. These permanent mini-wars do not find their way into history, but they exacted a much higher toll in blood. At the same time, subjection promised prosperity through trade. In addition, the Romans were able to convince the local elites that the Roman model of life was exemplary for them too. And they also wanted to live in a heated house with luxury items like the Romans. The same methods were used to hold the British colonial empire together and it is not for nothing that the rule of the USA is also called “Pax America”.

Our ideas about living comfort are still shaped today by the standards of the Roman upper class. And only today are we reaching the old level. Until around 1900, running water was by no means a given. Central heating or even a heated floor, as well as a private bathroom with warm water, only slowly became standard in the post-war period. Many everyday kitchen utensils such as sieves, bowls and so on have hardly changed since then. Chairs, tables, the sitting position on the toilet – all of this goes back to the Roman way of living.

One of the empire’s most formative legacies is Christianity. Surprising, since Hollywood tends to spread an image in which degenerate Caesars persecuted the upright early Christians. But that changed with Constantine the Great. Christianity was not only recognized, it became the state religion. The persecuted became persecutors who bloodily cleaned up the colorful tapestry of ancient religious beliefs.

One can argue whether and to what extent Christianity was responsible for the soon-to-follow downfall of the Western Roman Empire. Christianity always survived the collapse of the empire and preserved the idea of ​​the state religion, including the persecution of those who thought differently, until the time of the First World War. It is not for nothing that the center of the Catholic world is still Rome.

Our sense of flat humor also has Roman origins. Philosophers and political thinkers from antiquity are quoted, but at least as influential is the crude humor of Plautus and the subtler powers of observation of Terence.

This becomes clear in characters like “Biggus Dickus” in Brian’s life. Today, this standard Roman character lives on in high school comedies as a cock-controlled jock. But the Romans’ nicknames and obscene graffiti are also immortal. In humor and comedy, the Romans found a balance for their idea of ​​a controlled and disciplined life. Nothing and no one was safe from their jokes. An apt nickname could haunt the most successful politician throughout his life.

We know Julius Caesar. This is the guy who conquered Gaul – because he desperately needed money. Started a civil war – because otherwise he would have ended up in court. And then there was the matter of Cleopatra. Another achievement of the great Julius that continues to shape our cultural life today is less well known.

Gaius Julius Caesar invented the book, or more precisely the notebook. In his time, people wrote on scrolls; clay tablets were already out of fashion. So did the prolific writer Caesar. But since he was always in the field with his troops, the awkwardness of the long rollers bothered him. They were about six to eight meters long, so it wasn’t easy to find the right place. And like the pragmatic Roman he was, he knew how to help himself. He had his scrolls cut into pieces and bound together again in the form of a booklet. Two wooden boards served as the cover. This is how the “Codex”, the book, came into the world.

Quelle: BBC World History Magazine

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