Babylon Is Everywhere: The City as Man's Fate

By Wolf Schneider; Ingeborg Sammet et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
THE GLITTERING MISERY OF ROME

THE SHE-WOLF Rome devoured many sheep. Carthage, Corinth, Jericho, Jerusalem, Londinum ( London), Piraeus, Seleucia, Troy -- these were but a few of the cities that the Romans destroyed; a complete list would fill pages. Yet, they also rebuilt cities they had destroyed. All these, together with others that had been less harshly dealt with, formed the framework of an empire that was the biggest city-state in history -- an empire which, even with such giant cities as Alexandria and Antioch, was merely one big hinterland of the capital city, Rome.

The development of the small town Roma out of a village on the Palatine hill high above the Tiber River, and the expansion of this small town, within the span of only a few centuries, into the city of Rome that dominated the world, is one of the most amazing chapters in history. It is a chapter filled with fire and blood, plundering and annihilation, general massacres and self-destruction. The world in which Rome existed was spared nothing -- neither were the Romans themselves.

According to legend, a malevolent uncle abandoned the infant twins Romulus and Remus, descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, on the river Tiber. The stream carried them ashore, where a kindly she-wolf suckled them. A shepherd, finding them, took them to his home, where his wife reared them. On April 21, 753 B.C., the brothers, now grown up, undertook to found a city. Then Remus was slain by Romulus, as Abel was slain by Cain, the first city founder in the Bible. Here again, then, a city begins with a fratricide.

But why did Remus have to die? Because in a gesture of ridicule he jumped over the city wall which was as yet not very high. This was a crime committed against the concept of the city, and Romulus punished it with death. In our day a city would be condemned to death if it did not jump its walls. At that time, however, Romulus' action was considered laudable -- even more, it was taken as a matter of fact, and Romulus was honoured as a god.

Historians, however, trace the origin of Rome to a little village established on the Palatine hill in the central Italian area of Latium probably in the tenth century B.C. Some two hundred years later a settlement on the near-by Quirinal hill followed. In the sixth century

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