Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Roman Empire

(I didn't realize this was actually a thing until someone made a comment on a facebook post about a book I'd read on the great fire of Rome during Nero's reign.)

How often do I think about the Roman Empire? I would have said very rarely, other than when I'm reading about it, which is also rarely, but when I got to thinking about it, I realized that wasn't remotely true.

I wouldn't say I spend much time thinking about the Roman Empire - its intricacies, the day to day, the individuals, the intrigue. But I must confess I do spend a fair bit of time thinking about the remains of the Roman Empire. I took photos of loads of it, so photos adorn my walls, my screens, my thoughts. 

The details of that time are historically interesting, but all in all, it was a pretty gruesome time. I might even argue that we'd be better off without it having happened, like many empires. I'm sure people would argue that there would be no progress had there not been a Roman Empire, or any empire, but is empire really necessary for progress? Even the progress we have now that is a result of modern borders, is it essential? I suppose it is if we want to keep poor CEOs fed and happy. But for the rest of us, do we need this constant and dramatic rush for the next big thing? Of course not. Do we need better wifi, more youtube videos, more influencers, faster cars, wider roads, bigger trucks, more precision weapons, more dumb weapons, more war, a wider wage gap, more drugs? No, of course not. Progress, however you define it, is inevitable, but does it all have to happen today? Are we conflating progress with a better life? Is our life better because of Twitter, Facebook? Is it better because a car has programmable seating positions or digital gauges? Is it better because you can read my thoughts on a blog? Not likely. We certainly have a broader reach, but with each step outward, it's fair to ask how deeply we can continue to feel, or think, or understand. More friends does not mean better friends. Thoughts and prayers on twitter are no match for someone to talk with when things are really tough. Birthday wishes don't hold a candle to a homemade cake presented to you by someone who loves you. Deeply.

Rey, what about air conditioning? Well, what about a city full of trees instead of concrete?

What about life-saving drugs? Maybe if we weren't inhaling the off-gassing of the chemicals that are present in everything, or my body absorbing all the microplastics in our food and water, we wouldn't need so many drugs.

Well, I'm getting broadly off topic now. My point is, empire doesn't interest me as much as the remains of empire. Walking through ancient cities makes me think about the past and the people who lived it. The average person, not the emperors or CEOs. Likewise, visiting old churches doesn't have me thinking about the pope or the archbishop, or the priest who presided there. It doesn't have me thinking about the dogma; if anything, I'll be considering the impact the church had through its narrow mindedness, which likely stunted a lot of natural growth and progress for a few centuries. It has me thinking about the regular person who worshipped there, and more often, the artist whose works adorn the walls. It has me thinking about the community that built the church/synagogue/mosque and supported its upkeep for centuries. 

It feels like walking through the ruins and buildings of the past helps bring me closer to history and the people who lived it, as opposed to the empire or the greater forces that shaped those times.

Here's a collection of some of my favourite photographs of Roman history.

Ephesus, Turkey

Afamea/Apamea, Syria

Petra, Jordan

Rome, Italy

Toledo, Spain

Palmyra, Syria

Jerash, Jordan

Volubilis, Morocco