American President Barack Obama and Roman Emperor Septimius

Severus: The first Black U.S. president and the first Black Roman

emperor have a lot in common, as do the nations they lead and led.




'Obama Prototype': Rome's First Black Emperor, Septimius Severus (Corriere Della Sera, Italy)


"Since 1776, when America proclaimed its independence, it has been considered the 'Second Rome.' ... Since 2008, the year Obama was elected America's first Black president, the country has had yet another reason to identify itself with ancient Rome. The Roman Empire, the most multiracial and multicultural in history, also bore an Obama prototype: Septimius Severus, the first Black emperor."


By Ennio Caretto



Translated by Kate Townsend


October 22, 2012


Corriere Della Sera - Italy - Original Article (Italian)

The American Dream looking back 2,000 years: Two multiracial, multicultural dominions and the same demand for impunity around the world. 1776, when America proclaimed its independence, it has been considered the "Second Rome." In the year that the momentous work of the English historian Edward Gibbon was published, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, two of the founding fathers of today's sole superpower, Thomas Paine and William Drayton, began to imagine America as the new "caput mundi [world capitol]." In General George Washington, their first president and a reserved and well-educated man, the American elite saw a new Cincinnatus. The sculptor Horatio Greenough dedicated a marble statue to him [left] similar to that of the Roman emperors, wrapped in a toga, and the populace immediately titled it "George Jupiter." In all likelihood, the president was flattered: an enthusiast of Roman history, he loved the tragedy Cato (written by another Englishman Joseph Addison) so much that he had his troops recite it. 


Since 2008, the year Obama was elected America’s first Black president, the country has had yet another reason to identify itself with ancient Rome. The Roman Empire, the most multiracial and multicultural in history, also bore an Obama prototype: Septimius Severus, the first Black emperor. This Libyan general in the Roman legions, born in Leptis Magna in 146 A.D., was a protégé of Marcus Aurelius, and took power by force of arms in 193 A.D. He married a Syrian woman and inaugurated a new dynasty - the first of color in the Roman world. On gold coins that depict him with his wife and two children [right], his face, unlike theirs, is bronze.


Septimius Severus was not at all the democrat Obama is: he established a military dictatorship. But Caracalla, his firstborn successor, extended citizenship to all freemen [manumitted slaves] in the empire, which at the time encompassed a third of the known world.  


[Editor's Note: The comparison between President Barack Obama and Emperor Septemious Severus may be even more apt, as historians are split on whether Severus was really "Black", of mixed race, or one of the brown-skinned Semitic peoples of the region. As he was born in what is today North Africa - Libya to be exact - in all liklihood, he was almost certainly a man of color, but not necessarily "Black."]  

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It is likely that the glory of Ancient Rome will provide America with even more reasons to lay claim to its inheritance. But the differences between the two civilizations are considerable. The Roman Empire was the fruit of conquest, that is, the use of force, aka/"hard power"; whereas the American empire - although never defining itself as such - is the result of the global supremacy of American finance and technology, aka/"soft power." At its core, Roman society was always class driven, with a rigid division first between the senatorial and equestrian orders, and the plebeians, then between the "honestiores" [those who have acquired great honors] and the "humiliores" [humbler people]. But it was hardly ever racist, whereas America is just the opposite. The rulers of Rome spoke two languages, Latin and Greek - the lingua franca of the intelligentsia, but in America, it is the governed - the ethnic minorities - who speak two languages: their native tongue and English, which is the language of millions of immigrants. 


Nonetheless, the similarities between the two empires are more than just cliché. American culture is as dominant today as Roman culture was in its time 2,000 years ago. America is animated by a sense of "exceptionalism," or uniqueness, which was typical of Rome. The "American dream" of success reflects the "Roman dream." Often in America, "outsiders," i.e.: any child of the Third World, is considered an inferior being, just as in Ancient Rome, the barbarian was regarded as such. And around the world, American citizens demand the same impunity as the Roman civis []. When visiting Washington, we see the Roman fasces ornamenting the throne of the statue of Lincoln [left], and we realize that "Union Station" is a replica of the palatial baths of the Emperor Diocletian. And America tallies 16 cities named Rome. In Rome, Georgia, there is a statue of a Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus - a 1929 gift from Benito Mussolini.  


Historian Cullen Murphy, who was managing editor of the prestigious Atlantic Monthly for 20 years, is the author of Are We Rome?, one of the hundreds of books published in America over past two centuries on the similarities between the hard Roman Empire and the soft American one. The idea of the "crucible," Murphy explains, "is not a myth: America is a model for assimilating ethnic groups and foreign cultures, and it is the sometimes unwelcome harbinger of civilization, as was Rome. And like Rome, America is a model of economic growth." The idea that America is the sole superpower is no myth, either: "The Pax Americana is the modern face of the Pax Romana. It is logical, therefore, that the poor want to emigrate to America, and that young people want to be familiar with its culture" [all quotes translated].

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"In the beginning of the first millennium," the historian points out, "everyone wanted to see Rome, and today, everyone wants to see New York or Washington." In his book, published in 2007, Cullen Murphy asks if America is in the same situation as Rome was in the third century, on the eve of decline.


"Since the end of the Cold War," he asserts, "America doesn’t know what role to assume: an almost imperial role that may be incompatible with its democratic institutions; or a more modest role that could make it less relevant?"


America, he argues, is grappling with the same problems that Rome did: "The presumption of being the nation destined by God [or gods] for greatness. The excessive militarization. Corruption and the reckless privatization of public services. The refusal to protect the environment." But the historian does not subscribe to "declinism." In his view, unlike Rome, America cannot decline: "We have an extraordinary ability to reinvent ourselves and innovate. We need, however, greater engagement in civil society, and more respect for other nations."  



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[Posted by Worldmeets.US Oct. 22, 1:18am]



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