Author: Ben Bassett

Yes, the Romans Were Diverse—but Not in the Way We Understand It

“Neither sea nor intervening continent are bars to citizenship, nor are Asia and Europe divided in their treatment here. In your empire all paths are open to all.” – Aelius Aristides, ‘Roman Oration’. trans. Oliver. The above words, so apparently congenial to the ‘open border’ mentality of the modern Western mind, were in fact written in the third century AD by a Greek orator who was also a Roman citizen. In the speech from which this extract was taken, thought to have been given in Rome in AD 143 or 144 during the reign of emperor Antoninus Pius, the Greek Aristides illustrates a remarkably beneficent portrait of Roman power, the same power which had after all made his home the subject, ultimately, of a non-democratic Roman governor. The speech is a paradox to modern temperaments. Far from extolling the spread of an altruistic globalisation, Aristides extols the virtues, as he sees them, of a violent imperial power which had not only ingested his homeland but in doing so had implicitly repudiated traditional Greek notions of …