The Roman Identity

The Roman Identity

The Roman people were a overly proud and
highly religious people, whose sense of identity as romans came primarily
from their accomplishments in war and their respect of their ancestors.

By examining Livy’s The Early History of Rome, we can identify these traits
through roman patterns of behavior and the foundation myths that their
nation is built upon.

The romans repeatedly display not only
an overdeveloped personal sense of pride, but an exceptional pride in their
nation - taking precedence over even family loyalty. The first example
of this Roman pride is seen in the very first foundation myth of Rome,
the tale of Romulus and Remus. The second of the two versions of
this story tells how after the auspices have indicated Romulus as the rightful
leader of this new nation, "Remus, by way of jeering at his brother, jumped
over the half-built walls of the new settlement, whereupon Romulus killed
him in a fit of rage, adding the threat, ‘So perish whoever else shall
overleap my battlements( P.40 Livy) .’" Not only do we see a foreshadowing
of Rome’s violent nature in this tale, but it seems to indicate a strong
belief in the superiority of this ( barely existant ) nation, one that
necessitates a national pride of greater magnitude than the even the strength
of the loyalty between brothers.

This kind of loyalty to country, as displayed
by the Rome’s founder, certainly sets a precendent for later roman citizens.

Not surprisingly then, we see this same kind of pride with similar consequences
later on following a battle between Rome and the Albans. The
victory had been decided, not by a full scale war, but by a contest between
three men from each country ( two sets of three brothers ). This
contest left Rome victorious and five people dead - only one roman brother
stood living. The victor returned to rome carrying the ‘triple spoils’
and,"slung across [ his ] shoulders was a cloak, and [ his sister ] recognized
it as the cloak she had made with her own hand for her lover. The
sight overcame her : she loosened her hair and, in a voice choked with
tears, called her dead lovers name. That his sister should dare to
grieve at the very moment of his own triumph and in the midst of national
rejoicing filled horatius with such uncontrollable rage that he drew his
sword and stabbed her to the heart( Livy 62)." Again we see the word"rage" used to describe this similarly extreme exhibition of extreme national

Back in the foundation myth of Romulus
and Remus, we see another aspect of Roman pride. There is some indication
that, In Livy’s time, there was some suspicion that Greek infulence in

Rome was detrimental to Roman society. Livy seems to emphasize the
absence of any kind of formal schooling ( which would have been greek )
in the adolescence of both Romulus and Remus ( P.38 Livy ) The idea that

Romulus in particular, was a self-made man, shows that Rome owes nothing
to previous and other nations like Greece and so the pride of such a great
nation is all theirs.

There is plenty of evidence that Rome
was always a highly religious nation. From even as early as the founding
of the nation we see their dependance on auguries of the gods to make important
decisions - namely the choice between Romulus and Remus as their leader.

" As the brothers were twins and all question of seniority was thereby
precluded, they determined to ask the tutelary gods of the countryside
to declare by augury which of them should govern the new town once it was
founded, and give his name to it ( p.40 Livy )."

More than any one other aspect of Roman
behavior, I feel that recognition and respect of the ways of their ancestors
as the ways of ‘True’ Romans was the most primary source from which Romans
defined there identity. This respect stemmed from oral tradition
and early historians works that have not survived to us, but which Livy
owes his knowledge. From the respect of great deeds that made their
cultural history so worth of pride, came their habits of dedicating particular
places and edifices in the name of honorable contemporaries and ancestors.

Take for instance the story of Caius Mucius Scaevola, a man who was willing
to risk anything to save rome from a Etruscan attack. It cost him
his hand, hence the name Scaevola- translating as the Left-Handed Man,
but his efforts brought peace to the struggle. Livy tells of
the recognition of this