Rome

The story of Rome is a mighty chronicle of such deep importance towards
an understanding of the growth of Europe, that a feeling almost of
helplessness assails me as I essay to set down in this limited space an
account of the city’s ancient grandeur and of its monuments. It is with
a sense of awe that one enters Rome. The scene gives birth to so much
reflection, the pulse quickens, the imagination is stirred by the annals
of Pompey and Cæsar, and the mighty names that resound in the history of
the wonderful capital; while the ruins of the days of power and pomp are
as solemn tokens of the fate of all great civilisations.

The surroundings of Rome, the vast silent Campagna, that rolling tract
of wild country, may be likened to an upland district of Wales. Here are
scattered relics of the resplendent days, in a desert where the sirocco
breathes hotly; where flocks of sheep and goats wander, and foxes prowl
close to the ancient gates. Eastward stand the great natural ramparts of
purple mountains, whence the Tiber rolls swiftly, and washing Rome,
winds on through lonely valleys.

Dim are the early records of the city. Myth and legend long passed as
history in the chronicles of the founding of Rome. We learn now from the
etymologists and modern historians that the name of Rome was not derived
from Roma, the mother of Romulus, nor from _ruma_, but, according to
Niebuhr, from the Greek _rhoma_, signifying strength; while Michelet
tells us that city was called after the River Rumo, the ancient name of
the Tiber.

Romulus, the legendary founder, was supposed to have lived B.C. 752. The
growth of the community on the Seven Hills began, according to the old
annalists, with a settlement of shepherds. We are told that after the
death of Romulus, the first king, the city was ruled by Numa Pompilius.
This sovereign instituted nine guilds of industry, and united the mixed
population. Tarquinius Superbus, the despotic king, reigned with
fanatical religious austerity, and after his banishment Rome became a
republic.

The first system of rule was sacerdotal, the second aristocratic, and
the third a state of liberty for the plebeians. Then came the Gauls who
burned the city to the ground and harried the whole country. Hannibal
and Scipio arose, and we enter upon the period of the great Punic Wars,
followed by the stirring epoch of Cæsar and Pompey.

How shall we separate myth and simple tradition from the veracious
chronicles of the Roman people? What were the causes of the downfall of
their proud city, and the decadence of the great race that invaded all
quarters of Europe? These are the questions which fill the mind as we
wander to-day in Rome. We are reminded of the menace of wealth, the
insecurity of prosperity, and the devastating influence of militarism
and the lust of conquest. We meditate, too, on the spirit of persecution
that flourished here, the love of ferocity, and the cruelty that
characterised the recreations of the city under the emperors.

With all its eminence in art and industry, in spite of its high
distinction in the science of warfare, and its elaborate jurisprudence
and codes, Rome, at one time terrorised by Nero, at another humanely
governed by Aurelius, was in its last state a melancholy symbol of
decrepitude and failure. The final stage of degradation was worse than
the primitive period of barbarism and superstition.

In the Middle Ages, at the time when most of the wealth went to the
Popes of Avignon, the city had fallen into pitiful decay. The majestic
St Peter’s was threatened by destruction through lack of repair; the
Capitol was described as on a level with “a town of cowherds.”

The monarchy of Rome is said to have endured for about two hundred and
forty years. The city extended then over a wide area, and was protected
by walls and towers. The Coliseum, the Pantheon, and the Forum were
built as Rome grew in might and magnificence, and the Roman style of
architecture became a model for the world. Happily these structures have
survived. The Rome of pagan days and the Rome of the Renaissance are
mingled here strangely, and the pomp and affluence of former times
contrasts with the poverty of to-day that meets us in the streets.

Note the faces of the people; here are features stern and regular,
recalling often old prints of the Romans of history. The dress of the
poorer women is ancient, while that of the upper classes is as modern as
the costumes of Paris, Berlin, or London. On days of fête it is
interesting to watch these people at play, all animated with a southern
gaiety which the northerner may envy. The life of Rome is outdoor; folk
loiter and congregate in the streets; there is much traffic of vehicles
used for pleasure. Over the city stretches “the Italian sky,” ardently
blue–the sky that we know from paintings before we have visited
Rome–and upon the white buildings shines a hot sun from which we shrink
in midsummer noons.

It is hard to decide which appeals to us the more strongly in Rome–the
relics of Cæsar’s empire or the art of the Middle Ages. The Coliseum
brings to mind “the grandeur that was Rome,” in the days of the pagan
majesty, while St Peter’s, with its wealth of gorgeous decoration and
great paintings, reminds us of the supreme power of the city under the
popes.

In the Coliseum there is social history written in stone. We look upon
the tiers rising one above the other, and picture them in all the
splendour of a day of cruel carnival. We may see traces of the lifts
that brought the beasts to the arena from the dens below.

_Ad leones!_ The trumpet blares, and a victim of the heretical creed is
led into the amphitheatre to encounter the lions. How often has this
soil been drenched in blood. How often have the walls echoed with the
plaudits of the Roman populace, gloating upon a spectacle of torture, or
aroused to ecstasy by the combats of gladiators.