Romanitas is the culture of the Roman Empire. Cicero contributed much to the notion.
Meaning and history
Romanitas meant a great many things, but in short it meant what it was to be Roman (that is, Roman-ness). The Roman ideal was the citizen/soldier/farmer. The farmer was a hard working, frugal, practical man who worked the land with his own hands. The soldier was a courageous, strong man who obeyed orders and risked his own life in the name of Rome. Prior to the formation, under Marius, of the standing Roman Army, Rome had a militia-type defence-force which could be called up in time of war and then disbanded during peacetime. The ideal of the citizen/soldier/farmer was Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. According to Roman legend, Cincinnatus was tending his farm when a messenger arrived, telling him that Rome was under attack and that he had been elected dictator. He was at first reluctant to go, but the Senate pleaded with him. He defeated the enemy tribe within a matter of weeks and, despite there remaining most of his six-month term as dictator with absolute power, returned to his farm.
The attainment and possession of the virtue gravitas was highly valued by Romans of the early Republic and by Roman intellectuals. Indeed, gravitas was the single most clarifying characteristic of early republican Roman society:
“The Roman customs and principles regarding the acquisition of wealth are better than those of the Carthaginians. In the view of the latter nothing is disgraceful that makes for gain; with the former nothing is more disgraceful than to receive bribes and to make profit by improper means. For they regard wealth obtained from unlawful transactions to be as much a subject of reproach as a fair profit from reputable sources is of commendation. A proof of the fact is this: the Carthaginians obtain office by open bribery, but among the Romans the penalty is death.”³
The virtous character of the Romans, their honesty and trustworthiness, is shown in the way they handled their finances. Polybius remarks: “Greek statesmen, if entrusted with a single talent, though protected by ten checking-clerks, as many seals and twice as many witnesses, yet cannot be induced to keep faith; whereas among the Romans, in their magistracies and embassies, men have the handling of a great amount of money, and yet from pure respect for their oath keep their faith intact.”³
Their cultural characteristics led to their development of "self government" by adopting a classical republic and thus this class formed the backbone of the Roman Republic.
Because of the widespread influence of Roman classical literature, the idea of the citizen/soldier/farmer also took root in colonial and early America.
Occurrences of the word ‘romanitas’
- “In this spirit, at a critical moment in the fortunes of Western civilization, Vergil puts forward his interpretation of the history and destiny of the Eternal City, defining and fixing the secular meaning of Romanitas in close relationship to and yet with proud and confident independence of the ideals of Hellas.”¹
- “With the accession of Valentinian, Romanitas entered upon the penultimate stage of its existence as an organized system of life.”²
- Christianity and Classical Culture; A Study of Thought and Action From Augustus to Augustine, Charles Norris Cochrane, Oxford University Press, NY (1st pub. Clarendon Press, 1940) 1980. p.62
- Christianity and Classical Culture; A Study of Thought and Action From Augustus to Augustine, Charles Norris Cochrane, Oxford University Press, NY (1st pub. Clarendon Press, 1940) 1980. p.292
- The Portable Greek Historians: The Essence of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, edited by M. I. Finley, The Viking Press, NY, NY, l959. Bk VI, sec 56; p.499
The Roman Way, Edith Hamilton, W.W. Norton & Co., NY. 1st print 1932, Norton 1964,1993.
The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome and the American Enlightenment, Carl J. Richard, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-31425-5
- Chapter of The Founders and the Classics, Mixed Government and Classical Pastoralism, David H. Kelly, Professor Emeritus, Department of Classics and General Humanities, Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043.
Last updated: 09-02-2005 16:52:30