Ab Urbe Condita is really much more of an epic tale than a proper history book by modern standards, even though, as Deveraux notes, the later bits are probably more or less accurate in the big picture (e.g. the 2nd punic war).
Livius mostly wanted to create a sort of national romantic work with Ab Urbe Condita. He was a republican who wanted to look back to the glory days of the republic, even as Rome became an empire. With his stories, he wanted to create an ideal of Rome to set an example to other Romans. Livius preaches to Romans about Roman justice, cleverness, and honesty. Livius has his own agenda, he does not represent every Roman.
Luckily we have archaelogy and the historical method to help us. I feel like ancient history is trending (at least on the internet). There's hope for more TV shows with more diverse casting.
Great piece, wonderfully researched, I'm excited for the next article in the series.
> as well as some very salty Roman writing which I will not bowdlerize in the slightest a little later in the series
Heh, heh, heh. You're going to want to follow this one.
> How should Latin be pronounced? The debate has raged for more than a hundred years, but as the dust has settled two poles stand astride each other: the traditional Italian pronunciation, called Ecclesiastical, and the Restored Classical pronunciation. Is one more correct than the other? Is one more appropriate than the other in certain contexts?
Interesting to see how the classic one is actually even closer to Italian in some ways.
How else would I know which one is the true roman bread for true romans?
He recent 'reviewed' the Latin in Civ5 and Civ6, as well as the "Romans go home" scene of Life of Brian. He does other languages as well as science-y stuff as well.
Schola Latina (From Italy, content from lots of different Latin speakers)
Our college Latin teacher was trying to get us to translate Catallus more faithfully, especially after one student gave a particularly polite translation. It was a moment in my career as a student I'll never forget - not only using pretty graphic language in class, and having a professor respond "Right, good."
When communicating textually, I try my best to read my emails and other text messages to look for mistakes, ambiguities and other sources of confusion before pressing “Send”. It’s only on rare occasions that I’d bother correcting someone else’s mistakes or misconceptions and I’d be more inclined to do so if the misconception is popular and leaving it to stand would reinforce the spread of the misconception.
Indian gods and historical figures are usually depicted as fair, in their own, contemporary art.
That's because it's almost certainly true! it's why Indians speak Indo-European languages, and why the same Y-chromosome haplogroup (R1a) is common among (for example) Indian Brahmins and Norwegians.
> This theory is often connected with a view that fairer-skinned people represent "true" Indian culture
The Hindu religion in its most ancient form (see e.g. the Rig Veda) derives from the Proto-Indo-European religion, parts of which have been reconstructed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_mythology
(Obviously modern India culture comes from a lot of other sources too!)
> including the Aryans who are said to have invaded India.
You phrase it that was as if to imply that it didn't happen. But I think the evidence that it did: linguistic, genetic, archeological, is very strong.
Actual Indo-Europeanists today eschew the label "Aryan invasion theory" in favour of e.g. “Aryan migration theory”. While genetic evidence makes a (limited) case for presence of force and population movement in the spread of the Indo-European languages to India, the bulk of the spread was through language shift whereby the indigenous inhabitants gradually adopted Indo-European languages as higher prestige.
1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bactria%E2%80%93Margiana_Archa...
Edit: i think i misread your comment, so there is no arguing with you actually.
If anything Augustus looks to be modern eastern european (from its famous statue).
What's not correct about "white" when depicting roman aristocracy? From all the statues we have they were certainly neither asians nor black nor from india nor descendants of, say, the aztecs.
Here's a reconstruction using AI of 30 roman emperors and I'd say 27 of them look totally white.
Heck, they even made Augustus with blond hairs and blue eyes (I have no idea if that's correct: all I can say his is marble statues looks like the modern easter european type to me).
Now I can understand they didn't sound british when speaking, but I don't see why you write "white, british actors". If anything, and there's nothing racist in there, "black british actors" would have been weird no!?
Or maybe you meant to say most of the aristocracy probably had the "mediterranean" type? (which I don't think is true and which, anyway, is classified under "white" I think?)
EDIT: TIL: Augustus' biographer, Suetonius, wrote that Augustus indeed had golden hair and clear eyes. This comes at a surprise to me.
I happened to read a relevant passage on this a few weeks ago by Erik Jensen in his book Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World. In explaining how ethnicity worked in the ancient world, he gives the example of how the Greek historian Herodutus argued that the Colchians of the Black Sea were of the same "ethnicity" as Egyptians. Whether or not there was a connection is a different question, but how it was argued is more interesting, since it reveals the mentality of the time. He dismisses arguments made based on skin-tone as a red-herring since people can have all different appearances and be part of different cultures, but instead focuses on language and cultural customs (notably circumcision). If we believe his account, then if Colchians were to time-travel to modern times, most of them might be considered "Black", despite that most people living in that region today would be considered "White" -- but they were considered neither at the time, they were just "Colchians" that (according to Herodotus) had moved from Egypt
Historical material is particularly welcome here!
Edit: it looks like you've been using HN primarily for ideological battle. We ban accounts that do that, regardless of what they're battling for, because it destroys what this site exists for. Please see my explanation to another user in this thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27475945.
I'm not going to ban you, but if you keep doing this we're going to have to. If you wouldn't mind reviewing the guidelines and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful.
I'm from the South of France and now live in Portugal, it's not rare to find people who have a rather dark complexion despite being what I'd call "white", especially if they spend a lot of time outside. But maybe Americans would consider them "latinos"? Or is that more of a cultural adjective? I don't really know and I don't really care.
At any rate if we ignore these modern semantic arguments and return to the point of the article, I would agree with them that I highly doubt that the Roman senate looked that much like an offshoot of the British parliament: https://i0.wp.com/acoup.blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Sena...
It's clear that the Romans were an amalgamation of Indoeuropeans and Etruscans. Gauls, Celts, Goths, Greeks, Turks were all part of the Roman empire at some point.
Modern day Italians aren't one single ethnic group either. Italy is very diverse, and a unified Italy was one of the latest nation states to form on the continent.
There is also a bigger than thousand year gap in your connection of Romans to Italians. A weak argument on all counts.
It is worth emphasizing that "Indo-European" is a linguistic description, not a genetic one. The Indo-European languages spread through Europe, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent largely through the people already living there shifting from the language they had been speaking before to Indo-European, because Indo-European had higher social prestige. That Iranians today speak an Indo-European language does not mean that their ancestors all came down from the steppe.
(In the last decades, work on historical DNA has identified certain genes that do appear to testify to some Indo-European population movements, but the impact of this is less than one might think for a discussion like this one.)
Here's an interesting (USA) article that illustrates this issue: https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-census-middle-east-no...
Are people from Teheran, for example, "white, black, Asian, American Indian, or Native Hawaiian" (copy-pasted the choices from the article)? In my opinion, American obsession with race is silly.
I think you've hit upon something here with defining "white". If "white" is something that you can freely define to suit your purpose, then there's no point in having this discussion. If we define "white" to be something more specific, that would make it easier to pin down some facts.
The bigger point is simply that Rome was ethnically diverse. After all, it was a huge empire, how could it not be?
Yes, they were ethnically diverse. That does not mean that Roman senators were any other than a bunch of white male people, and that the majority of its citizens weren't what anyone from Europe today would consider "white" or "caucasian". Of course, lots of people with even totally dark skin lived in Rome and other regions, but not to the extent of "Roman senators have to be depicted as black".
But now that you mention it, Septimius Severus was a dark-skinned Roman imperator: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severan_Tondo
The whole point is that ancient peoples, and especially Romans, are not a homogeneous group of people. Whether they define themselves as white is not what you should be arguing about, because most definitions of "white people" includes a diverse set of ethnicities as well.
WRT the Lybian Roman emperor: no one claims that ALL Roman citizen were white, or Italic, or European. Any such large Empire was heterogenous. But it is safe to say that a typical Roman citizen, espicially a Senator, would have been white for any reasonable definition of "whiteness", especially in a TV series. There was one black US president (his mother was white and father black if I remember correctly), but a typical US president so far was white.
I don't have anything against hiring a bunch of Chinese or Zimbabwean actors to play Senators, but that would certainly look odd. In the same way as hiring a bunch of Ukrainians to play Zulu warriors would look odd.
You also seem to be really caught up on senators. If you read the entire article, you'll note very little attention was given to senators.
Even so, that is not what the original argument was. The argument was that Rome was not homogeneous. Even in a heterogeneous society, there will be trends towards looking one way or another. The problem is simply with depicting all of Rome as (essentially) British.
Nobody has mentioned China or Zimbabwe, so this last argument is a lazy straw man.
We're circling back to the definition of "white". How's that a bold statement? Today's Great Britain has very diverse population, too, including lots of people from Africa, and yet I wouldn't think that a statement that a typical Brit is white is controversial. Typical Brit is not black, although there are many black British people, of course. And even if we constrain discussion to the most narrow definition of "white" (say, 18th century Englishmen) let's not forget that English people are the result of centuries of mixing of Britons, Germans, Celts... So, white Britons are themselves of diverse ancestry, but all these diverse ancestral people are "white". Let me repeat that race is an artificial construct, but if I'm pressed to say if someone is "white" or "not quite white" I can only go by outside appearance. Someone in Europe can have some genes from one Zimbabwean ancestor, but if he "looks white" to me, I can only say he's "white".
> The problem is simply with depicting all of Rome as (essentially) British.
Yes. That is a TV series. The point of TV series (in my opinion) is not to be 100% accurate, it's to entertain and (somewhat) educate. And the people in TV series are not real ancient Romans, but current actors. The series is for British audience, so it's normal that it's filled with British actors. If the series was produced in Bulgaria, the senators would be played by Bulgarian actors. Both are not exactly of the same color spectrum as ancient Romans, but are close enough to pass as Romans to their viewers. If the series was produced in China, and Romans were played by Chinese actors, that would probably pass as normal to Chinese audience. Maybe Zimbabwean actors could pass as Romans, at least in sub-Saharan Africa; why not? I'm not sure why people insist so much that British actors are bad representation of Romans. They seem quite OK to me (I'm not British).
It means that the second image, showing Roman senators played by a few dozen white Italian extras, is a perfectly likely depiction, and the caption about how real Roman senators were much more swarthy ("like modern Italians", he claims) is nonsense.
(Of course, the HBO show was filmed in Italy, and almost all the extras and background characters were Italians.)
Even if I am wrong, he is wrong too.
The men of Britain are taller than the Celti, and not so yellow-haired, although their bodies are of looser build. The following is an indication of their size: I myself, in Rome, saw mere lads towering as much as half a foot above the tallest people in the city, although they were bandy-legged and presented no fair lines anywhere else in their figure. Their habits are in part like those of the Celti, but in part more simple and barbaric— so much so that, on account of their inexperience, some of them, although well supplied with milk, make no cheese; and they have no experience in gardening or other agricultural pursuits.
Also, if you have some sources for your claims, I would appreciate it if you at least mentioned them. At the moment you seem to be arguing from emotion.
What does "to be white" even mean, especially when applied to a culture in which the modern primarily-American understanding of the word was completely absent? To me it seems as pointless an argument as it would be for hypothetical time-travelling ancient Romans to argue whether 21st century Americans are Roman citizens or not.
It's in principle possible to have curious conversation about divisive topics , but it needs to be done in an entirely different way: respectfully and with a certain gentleness towards the people on the other side, even though you strongly disagree with them, and with the motive of actually receiving information rather than lashing out in the hope of smiting and vanquishing enemies.
Because flamewars destroy the intended purpose of this site, we ban accounts that do them, regardless of what they're flaming for or against. Normally I would ban a new account that was doing this (I'm a mod here), but because you've posted about other, more on-topic things, I thought you might appreciate an explanation of the intended use of HN instead. If you read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and some of the past moderation explanations I've linked to below, you'll be in a better position to make valuable contributions instead of damaging ones.
This is more of a historical curiosity than anything else, since the right to intermarriage across the Roman ordines was restored in 445 BCE (i.e. still quite early in the Republican period).
Edit: Come to think of it, also there were also a few Roman Emperors from North Africa!
You should know that you’re not making a very strong historical argument when part of your argument is “Ignore these primary sources.”
North Africa, like most of the Mediterranean, was white in Roman times. North Africa is only swarthy today in the aftermath of Arab conquest in the 7th and 8th centuries.