E pluribus unum

From Many [comes] One

I went to a lecture the other night at the university about “Cognition and Empire”. Basically it was about “when Romans took over how did they change the new place to make it part of the empire?”

It was one of those highly academic lectures where a guest professor from another university speaks to an audience of professors, retired professors, students, and a couple of people who simply have an interest in the topic. There were maybe 30 of us.

You can never be sure how accessible the speaker will be at these events, whether it will be a stroll through the topic or whether you will have to run to keep up. Tonight we had to run. Afterwards a graduate student I know said that she could barely understand it.

Sometimes I think it is more about showing how clever the speaker is than about making his ideas and subject matter interesting and comprehensible. He used very expensive words. But when it came to responding to a question afterwards, he used a couple of words that I thought were cheap – “silly” and “idiotic”. The poor student had been foolish enough to express an opinion and introduce a concept that the prof didn’t agree with. While I also didn’t think much of this concept (memory of the landscape), I did think that the speaker could have chosen more diplomatic words when dismissing it.

Luckily I did have an “aha” moment from the evening. It came during the question period afterward when a person who identified himself as a non academic was brave enough to ask a question trying make sense of the overarching theme. The prof made the point that the Roman Empire did something that no other empire, ancient or modern, ever did, and that was to give all the peoples of the empire citizenship. Well, all  if you don’t include women and slaves.

Anyway, I had known this already but hadn’t considered that Rome had been the only empire to have done it. It’s pretty impressive. I’ve always thought that the Romans had been fairly inclusive and I think that was one of the reasons their empire lasted so long. That, and providing a strong infrastructure and long periods of peace and stability throughout the empire. People like peace and prosperity. And also bread and circuses.