How pre-Modern ideologies have coloured our perceptions on Roman History
written by Felix Paulinski
This study has presented me with a number of issues. First and foremost, though, one question remains to be asked: what exactly is the thread connecting these three authors? To this I would have to reply that the answer is deceptively simple: they are connected by the straightforward notion that all works of history have their roots in the present. This, I feel, has been made quite explicit. But in the process of pursuing this over-arching objective, my analysis has inevitably encountered many of its minor facets.
Using the past to rationalise the present, as we have seen in Chapter Two in the form of pan-Germanic nationalism and its affiliation with medieval Germany (cf pp 16), is something that frequently exists outside of Ancient Rome. One need only glimpse at the great multitudinous range of nineteenth-century historical writing surround the concept of revolution (cf pp. 17) to see that, providing at least a tenuous link is forged, all areas of history can used as a rostrum for the ‘here and now’. In this capacity, Rome falls into the rank and file of historiography. Ancient Rome is, however, something I feel to be far more ubiquitous a concept. As explored in the chapters on Gibbon and Haverfield, Rome was used a cultural compass for the educated. Through the classical education, law, politics and, to a lesser extent, religion, Rome was not just a reflexive medium for the now – it was the now.
In my scrutiny of the Decline and Fall and the Römische Geschichte, I have encountered many stylistic methods in which contemporary concerns have infiltrated them. With Gibbon, the significance of the American Revolution was stressed by means of emphasis: as we have seen, when Gibbon makes his transition from volume I to volumes II and III, his presence on the political scene led to him laying greater stress on the significance of civil turmoil. Mommsen, however, achieves this in his omission; in not having published his fourth volume of Roman history, Mommsen does not provide us with a history of Imperial Rome, and thus, the consequences of the principate’s despotism were not stressed. In doing this, Mommsen severs the link between his endorsement of Caesar – effected solely to highlight and applaud his destruction of, what Mommsen deemed, a defunct government – and the eventual repercussions of Caesarism.
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To some extent, Rome‘s special status’ has waned. As Catherine Edwards (1999, 18) has quite astutely observed, Auschwitz and Hiroshima, for which Rome cannot provide an analogy, has marred Rome’s modern significance. However, as I have outlined in Chapter Three, Rome exists as a paradigm for modern theorising. In doing this, I have highlighted that this study is by no means exempt from this.
Depending on one’s viewpoint, one may interpret this as an ‘insurance policy’, by which I have been enabled to scrutinise the works of Gibbon, Mommsen and Haverfield, secure in my position of self-awareness; or as a means through which I can stress that Rome is, and always will be, a storehouse of the here and now. I would like to think that I have achieved the latter.