Empire: Day 1 in Rome

During our first day in Rome, we visited the following sites:

  • Lupa Capitolina: A bronze sculpture depicting the founding of Rome. A she-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders. We were already familiar with this sculpture, having seen a replica in Eden Park in Cincinnati, a sister city to Rome. In 1929 Mussolini, fancying himself as a new Caesar, sent it to the United States to promote his fascist regime. But it was good to see a replica in Rome itself.
  • Colosseum: Built by the Flavian emperors after the disastrous Emperor Nero, this spectacular structure hosted gladiator fights, executions of prisoners, and big game hunts. The emperor Titus inaugurated the Colosseum with 100 days of games, which took the life of more than 2,000 gladiators. It was a gift to the Roman people. Entry was free, and food was given gratis to the 50,000 Romans who attended each event. It is thought that many early Christians died in the arena.
  • Palatine Hill: The imperial palaces were built on this hill, one of the famous seven hills of Rome. A beautiful and quiet site now filled with beautiful gardens. This is where the emperors lived in luxury. In 2006, archaeologists announced the discovery of the Palatine House, believed to be the birthplace of Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus.
  • Forum: The center of everyday life in Rome, the Forum is where public debate, criminal trials, commerce, and processions took place.

In short, we discovered that Rome was unimaginably strong, wealthy, and depraved.

In his terrific book Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation, scholar Nelson Kraybill tells the story of Tiridates making the long trek in 66 CE from Armenia to Rome. It took nine months, and he came with an entourage of 3,000 Parthian horsemen. Wanting to make an alliance in an effort to be protected from Parthia (now Iran), he came to become a client state of Rome. Nero spent 300,000 sesterces out of an annual imperial budge of 800,000 to host Tiridates. Rome was decorated with torches and garlands. Thousands of spectators, dressed in white and carrying laurel branches, pressed into the forum before dawn.

As the sun rose, Nero, wearing purple, entered with the Senate and Praetorian Guard. He ascended a platform and sat on the throne. As Tiridates approached, he knelt before Nero and clasped his hands over his breast. The throngs thundered so loudly that Tiridates momentarily feared for his life. When they fell silent, Tiridates said, “Master I am the descendant of Arsaces, brother of the kings of Vologeses and Pacorus, and your slave. I have come to you, my god, worshiping you as I do [the sun god] Mithra. The destiny you spin for me shall be mine, for you are my Fortune and my Fate.”

Nero replied, “You have done well to come here in person, that meeting me face-to-face you might enjoy my grace. For what neither your father left you nor your brothers gave and preserved for you, this do I grant you. King of Armenia I now declare you, that both you and they may understand that I have power to take away kingdoms and to bestow them.”

With that, Nero invited Tiridates to the platform. The Armenian sat at Nero’s feet, and the emperor placed a diadem on his head.”

Nero was lord.


For much more, check out Nelson Kraybill’s Apocalypse and Allegiance and Mary Beard’s SPQR.


One Reply to “Empire: Day 1 in Rome”

  1. Thanks for the insightful glimpses. It’s also my understanding that the colosseum was built using primarily slave labor by Jews who were displaced after Rome sacked Jerusalem in AD 70.

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