Caput Mundi: A city between domination and integration
“What a city is for its own limits and territory, today Rome is for the inhabited Earth, as though it had proclaimed the common homeland of the whole world.” —from Eulogy of Rome by the Greek orator Aelius Aristides
Take a moment to imagine what it must have been like to live in a context in which one city dominated the world, as Aristides says, “under the rule of a single man . . . and everyone united as if in a common forum, with each man receiving that which suits him.” The sheer scope of such an existence is mind-boggling. Nothing comes close to it in modern-day terms. The Roman Empire stands alone in its depth and breadth.
And so begins “Caput Mundi: a city between domination and integration,” exhibition at Rome’s Colosseum. Caput Mundi elucidates the balancing act that the Empire faced by both conquering and eventually integrating those it came to dominate. A precarious endeavor where the aggressive actions of the Empire perhaps produced civilization’s first and quintessential “melting pot.” The Roman Empire mixed and matched various peoples (Latins, Samnites, Etruscans, Ligurians, Greeks) while also offering up a unique Roman culture, one that the Romans viewed as both encompassing, yet superior, to all others.
The exhibition boasts an impressive and carefully chosen selection of works from various museums both in Italy and abroad. The artifacts on display, like the bronze sentatoconsultum on the Bacchanalia, (an inscription of a law passed by the Roman senate that outlawed the Bacchanalia), serve to highlight the stark contrasts among opposing influences during the time of the Roman Empire: the intensity of its wars and conquests, the difficulties inherent in its diversity and wide-ranging geographic/cultural scope, and the complexity of its political and social make-up.
Though my academic background may not be strictly classics, I appreciated this exhibit for how it plainly revealed, both in words and artifacts, the complexities inherent both in governing and managing day-to-day affairs in such a unique political and social environment. As I read through the historical descriptions and admired the works of art dating back thousands of years, I continually found myself making ties and connections with modern-day Rome.
So much of ancient Rome continues on in today’s chaotic city. The tenacious, aggressive personality is equally complemented by the creative and light-hearted spirit of the Romans and their approach to daily life in Rome. The arrogance and superiority shown by a culture with such history – clearly revealed in this exhibition- were felt even at the time it was being made. While Rome continues to embrace people from all parts of the globe, it is still facing the internal conflict of acceptance versus dominance.
Caput Mundi runs through March 10, 2013- perfect timing.
~Shelley Ruelle, is AIRC Director of Programming. When we want to know what’s going on in Rome, we ask her. shelley.ruelle[at]romanculture.org
Photo above by Shelley Ruelle: Maximinus Thrax, the “Thracian” AD 235-238, 27th emperor of the Roman Empire and the first to have never actually set foot in Rome