Returning to Rome


I had a memorable semester at the American University of Rome in Fall of 1996. Watching the procession of Pope John Paul II panders me to publish this essay on the meaning of the canon law and its long history.

An argument in deductive logic has an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Given that some quantified proposition is true or false, by drawing conclusions from this proposition, through deductive logic, we decide how to assign truth-values as we arrive at our conclusion. In other words, the argument is intended to offer conclusive evidence for arriving at the conclusion.

The modern Western legal system is embedded in a historical context. It would not be the same system without this context. The system of Roman law represents the introduction of this analogy. The new Western legal system is the result of centuries of change that have occurred since the end of the Roman Empire and the period in antiquity. In describing the logic of Western law, we would not have sufficient evidence to prove its validity without reference to the legal history on which it is built. This is true in much the same way that we would not have a properly structured argument without sufficient premises to prove the conclusion.

The historical experience of the Western world shaped the legal system into its current form. Since the Ancient Roman period, the law has been consciously transmitted by Western societies. Its present form is derived from history, not merely theory.

We consciously transmit “tradition” from one generation to the next. The most conspicuous example is the foundation myth of Rome as told by the young writer from Padua, Titus Livius, in his epic history of Palatine Hill. The legend introduces Romulus and Remus, the grandsons of the king of Alba Lunga in the Alban Hill. Livius describes the use of this myth in its historical context. The legends of the early history of Rome indicate the kinds of people and behaviors that Romans found them admirable. Goethe said, “If the Roman people were great enough to invent these legends we must be great enough to believe them.”

Each legend incorporates a metaphoric allegory, as these legends are invented from earlier ones, adding to an evolving moral tradition. Such metamorphoses have continued to also change certain traditions as they are built upon the humanistic fictions, such as the Greek story and the Latin story of the Rome's foundation. The Greek compound talked about the aftermath of the Trajan War, the Aeneas and Antenor, who left Troy and found new cities in Italy. These cities were then ruled by kings. The Italic or Roman compound talks about the Romans and Vestal Virgin, the Palatine Hill, and a man whose name is Latin, Romulus, the founder of Rome.

In the 4th Century A.D., a Christian nation is built adding a religious admixture to the traditional conflict between the position of the Roman senate and the emperor. The restoration of temples and construction of new Basilicas constituted grand reforms. The location of these public buildings, which were later consecrated, delivered messages of massive transformations that induced immediate deliberation and captivated the mind of the later generations.

The art, literature and regimes, ruling in the period of ideology transmitted power. This painstaking description of authors, works of artists and enterprises began its legacy in the town of Augustus. Augustus challenged Etruscans as the epos of Iliad renders the deed of heroes. The tradition of Romans' predecessors, the Greeks, also enriched future civilization.

The Platonists who pursued the prolegomena of “dialogue,” animated ideas in individuals in search of wisdom. The dialogue or practiced dialectic, influences historic events. Humans, from the beginning of their socialization, became curious about bodies, senses, passions, and thoughts. This idle curiosity evolved from basic instincts. Then, an incorrigible urge forced them to reflect upon their own existence.

The Greeks' exaltation of humanity through the laws of nature led people to trace the power of intelligence. This created gradual and diverse modes of socialization – in which one span of time transpired the next legacy, building upon the experience of its predecessor. It is important to grasp the wealth of wisdom handed down to us, to which we serve as conduits for subsequent generations.

The Romans' propensity for citizenship led to the invention of laws by which the people were allowed to conquer the power of individuality. This framework for circumscribing individuality later was matured through its trials and errors. What is the Roman identity? It is the power, the religion, the citizenship, the architecture, the organizational skill, the legal system, the grand legion at peace time, and the Latin language.

In the 5th century, the origin of citizenship – civis romanus, and assembly of comitia was established. In 494 B.C. the discontent of the Plebeians culminated in revolt against Patrician rule of magistrates and Senate. Many of the Senate's laws were harsh. Some codifications, for instance, read that “Any person who destroys by burning any building or heap of corn deposited beside a house shall be bound, scorned and put to death by burning at the stake…if any person has sung or composed against another a song which is slanderous or insulting he shall be clubbed to death…” Today, in the 20th Century, the practice of these harsh punishments remains alive and well in the most theocratic Muslim societies.

Civis Romanus was referred to a free born, male, and adult. The phrase “papolus Romanus” and “Senatus Populusque Romanus S.P.Q.R.,” (the Senate and People of Rome) is the building block of Romanization and citizenship. Civis Romanus meant that you have not lived anywhere else as a citizen, but in Rome. Civis Romanus in the republican age, by the 4th Century B.C. encompassed of two large classes: patricians (bishops) and plebeians (commoners).

The patricians claimed that they were the descendants of original inhabitants of Rome. Plebeians claimed that they came to Rome after the city was found. They were both considered as first and second class citizens – both had a right to vote – but the assembly and comitia was only held by the patricians.

The right to vote and to be elected for official positions gave rise to inter into a new mechanism of power. During 91- 89 B.C., social war challenged reform between Rome and its allies. The allies were called “socii.” The sociis occupied most of the Italian territories. They were the native cultures that submitted to the Romans and were granted the status of ally. These allies, with their taxes and land power, also contributed to the conquest of the eastern Mediterranean. In exchange they obtained Roman citizenship.

In the Classical period, the precedent legal system invited a large influx of immigrants from the periphery of the Roman Empire to Rome, resulting in new laws. The main characteristic of the Classic Roman law was the formation of two legal systems: Jus Gentium (law for non-Roman citizens) and Jus Civile (law for Roman citizens). This dual framework is the ancestor of modern international law.

Eighty Nine B.C. is notable for Roman military victories and the political successes of allies who received Roman citizenship. The date became important to those who lived south of PO River in Italy. The local aristocracy was given a chance to enter the world politics. The senate, the consul of the aristocracy, became enriched with Italians. Virgil and Maecenas are of Etruscans' origin, contributing to the growing importance of Romans living outside of the city of Rome. After this date, Roman citizenship was given to an individual, community or entire region. Romanization and acculturation took place and Roman culture was diffused as people spoke Latin – now an official language — in Gaul, Spain and Switzerland, etc.

In 212 A.D., the emperor Caracalla delivered an edict stating that Roman citizenship was to be given to all the free born, male adult inhabitants of the Roman Empire. The Trojan and Hadrian, who came from Spain, were the first two non Italian emperors.

The superiority of the law implied that political power comes from the law and is exercised through the legal system. Romans realized that equality is defined in relation to the law since this principle makes individuals “equal” in terms of formal legal equality. The Romans were fascinated by the realm of worldly action, that of laws and government. Their temples and official buildings were available to the public, and their class system based upon wealth. This is today also of great importance to the new capitalist societies of the West. Rome today is mostly recognized through its history and hysterology, which represents profiles of historical figures, heroes, and reliefs in the arches.

The Western legal system of the 20th Century that is driven from the Roman law was divided into three periods: the Ancient, the Classical, and the Post-Classical. This legal system predominates in continental Europe and other Western societies such as the United States. The dialectical transformations revealed to “men” the inhumane habits when they realized they must outlaw the slavery of the ancient world and grant women full rights of citizenship.

As we currently view the world, we continue to consider contemporary events which can affect our lives. We are permeated by grandiose knowledge of origins, roots and routes. Through us it is filtered into guidelines for the future. The past reveals to us what future predicaments may arise.

Fatima Farideh Nejat holds a Bachelors degree in Interdisciplinary Studies of Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology and Women's Studies; and a Masters of Arts degree in International Training and Education from the American University in Washington, DC. She served in diplomatic corps of Iran working at the Iranian Embassy in Washington, DC, from 1970-80. She is currently Assistant Professor at the Department of the Army, Defense language Institute in Monterey, California.

Work consulted
— Berman, Harold. Law and Revolution. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1993.
— Hibbert, Christopher. Rome, the Biography of a City: 3,000 Years of Her History. From the Etruscan Kings to Mussolini. Penguin Books. London, England. 1991.
— Krautheimer, Richard. Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. Princeton University Press. New Jersey. 1980.

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