A new twist to origin of Rome
By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Rome Day One, Andrea Carandini, Princeton University Press, Pp 172 (HB), $ 24.95
Rome was not built in a day, goes the saying. It emerged out of a series of developments before it attained the glory in the pre-Christian era. But much of that period is now a myth, with very little historic evidence. Andrea Carandini, a professor of archaeology in the University of Rome, through a series of conjectures and reconstructions has fabricated an account of the rising of the city and the kingdom in his book Rome Day One.
Using imagination and circumstantial evidence, Carandini has built the history of Rome, tracing it right back to the first day of its establishment. Says he, “Indeed, the founding of Rome is without question the beginning of an epoch, but one that followed other important beginnings, and thus we can say that the city does not arise out of nothing.” According to his theory, the time of founding of Rome can be safely placed between mid-eighth and mid-seventh centuries BC. The site of Rome had been occupied by humans from the second millennium BC, he adds. He believes that Rome’s rise has been mythologised to make its appearance a ‘miracle.’
The date April 21 is significant, according to Carandini, as it was on this day around 750 BC the initial ceremony for inaugurating cults, rituals and rites in public places was conducted. Taking these out of individual homes. The founding fathers of Rome were Remus and Romulus, of whom the latter became the first emperor by a ritual. The book describes in detail the ritual by which the king was chosen, by the flight of a bird.
The account of the Roman calendar is also interesting. It is believed that originally there were ten months. Carandini says the Roman calendar ended on December 23, beginning March 15. This is attributed to the gestation period of human pregnancy 274 days. “Between the end of the year on December 23 and beginning of the new year on March 15 fell a period characterized by barrenness. Indeed, before the start of the menstruation and in the days following childbirth, a woman is sterile.”
Carandini does make sweeping statement on the “Western syndrome” and the “Eastern syndrome” by which he claims that the former was a republic with people’s participation while the latter was intrinsically monarchical. Democracy is a gift of the West to the East he says. “Western democracies are certainly full of defects, but they have the advantage of being perfectible, and in many respects they have indeed perfected themselves. suspect anything better will emerge from the lands of the rising sun.” In yet another context, he says “In the twentieth century, democracies have been grafted onto a number of Asian societies, such as India and Japan, managing miraculously to take root; but these are exceptions, while the absence of a multilayered Western syndrome continues to favour despotism. Perhaps Eastern syndrome countries need to first find their own way to the Western syndrome before they can walk among the democracies.” How preposterous!
The book lays much emphasis on the pre-Christian identity. “Our pre-Christian identity thus concerns not only the ius of the Romans, as is generally believed, but also the broader political-constitutional-governmental model that I have defined as the “Western syndrome” Carandini says. The book quotes several literary source and archaeological evidences to buttress several points. There are rich diagrams and sketches to explain the theory. Carandini has tried to project Rome as not one of the ancient but the ancient civilisation. A claim that cannot stand scrutiny. Nevertheless, the book is interesting because it discusses a topic that is much eschewed by the modern historians as it treads on controversial religious aspects. First published in Italian the book has been translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli.
(Princeton University Press, 41, William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)