Nova Roma means New Rome. On my funny pages I donâ€™t translate from Latin, although I do like to throw some in once in a while. Itâ€™s a cool language, no doubt about it. Currently, HBO is running a series called simply Rome. It started while Caesar was finishing up in Gaul, and just last week it concluded the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Cleopatra gave Caesar a son, oh joy, yada yada yada. I sound cynical, but the truth is that itâ€™s a great series, so good a story that I worry about it during the six days itâ€™s not on. Fourteen days this time as theyâ€™re taking a week off this week. Seeing all that Roman history brought to life made me curious about more details concerning Rome in its prime, so among other things I read Caesarâ€™s Commentaries, in which it is revealed that no one loves Caesar like Caesar (no kidding.) I also started looking up place names to see where they are today. For instance, Caesar conquered a town called Masilia, but it was never revealed exactly where Masilia was located. I found out, and immideately realized that if you let a Frenchman mispronounce the Latin word Masilia, it would probably come out sounding a lot like â€œMarseillesâ€. So thatâ€™s Masilia today. There is a plethora of source material on the Internet about ancient Rome, including the topic of this post.
That topic is none other than â€œNova Roma.â€ If youâ€™d like to see for yourself, check out http://www.novaroma.org/main.html. You may have heard of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a club dedicated to things medieval. Nova Roma is like that, but dedicated to things Roman. The aforementioned SCA has kingdoms, with monarchs, and it hosts tournaments and feasts and such things. Nova Roma has it all. Thereâ€™s a Caesar (the common name for an Emperor in Rome), currently one Franciscus Apulus. I havenâ€™t the foggiest idea if the office is good for life. They have Senators, Citizens, and a class they call socii, which I guess are members who arenâ€™t citizens. They pay dues, but they call them taxes. An interesting bunch of dudes, Iâ€™d say from what Iâ€™ve reported so far. But it gets stranger.
Dedicated to the restoration of classical Roman religion, culture and virtues
So it says on their default web page. Read it carefully. It doesnâ€™t say dedicated to the appreciation, or re-enactment, or study of those things. It says the restoration of things Roman. Itâ€™s cases like this where I donâ€™t know if theyâ€™re serious or having a go at us. As one whose ancestors sacked the city several times, Iâ€™m not all that eager to see things Roman brought back into existence. Of course, for thirteen bucks a year (the current tax rate for America Austroccidentalis (The American Southwest â€“ again, here Iâ€™ll translate as the humor is pretty much internal and not dependent upon the language) you might think that the actual rate of restoration of things Roman might be at a snailâ€™s pace. Or, maybe they donâ€™t mind, because in many important respects itâ€™s as if Rome never fell. Iâ€™ve learned some very interesting things in my researches in the small hours. Such as the following:
Caesar never invented a calendar, but the Egyptian astronomers he hired did. He gets the credit though. You can look up Caesarâ€™s calendar on line if you wish. Itâ€™s commonly known as the â€œJulianâ€ calendar. It had twelve months and a 365 day year. The months were named January, February, March, April, May, June, July, Sixth, October, November, and December. Thirty days had September, April, June and November. All the rest had thirty-one except for February which had 28 except on leap year (every four years) when it had 29. What? That sounds familiar? Yes, doesnâ€™t it. The only subsequent change was when Pope Gregory adjusted the leap years by not having it happen on century years that didnâ€™t divide evenly by 400. So if you remember the year 2000 it was a leap year, but 2100 will not be. Gregory also had to yank ten days out of a year to adjust the calendar to celestial reality. Thatâ€™s nothing to what Rome did when they switched from their old lunar calendar to the Julian one: they had a 455 day year, with extra months thrown in to make it come out even. Yoiks! So a Roman would recognize our calendar, especially one after Augustus was emperor since he chose the sixth month to name after himself. Why are the month numbers off? Because originally they only used ten months, with March (for the god of war) April, May and June being the first four.
Weekday names are similar, except that in English we mostly use Germanic equivalent godsâ€™ names. There was Sunday, an Eastern import for Rome and originally named for Jupiter. Then Lundi, which should look familiar if you know any French, Mardia (Marsâ€™s day â€“ Mardi in French), and so on up through Saturnsâ€™ day, the only one where we still use the Roman name. Our Tuesday, for instance, is named for Tus, the Norse god of war. Wednesday is named for Odin or Wotan, another fierce Norse god, rather than Mercury like the Romans. Still, we use different names, but the days are the same.
When buying and selling the Romans used a standardized system of weights and measures. The basis for it all was the uncia, which was a given weight. One uncia of water constituted one fluid uncia. The measures up from there are different than what we use but guess what one uncia weighs in todayâ€™s system? If you said one ounce, you win. Sixteen unciae to the pound, the world around, right? For distance the Roman standard was the Milli Passum, or thousand paces. (Paces would be pacii, but the milli passum was considered a unit.) A pace was a double step for a soldier on quick march. It was usually shortened on mileposts to MP, and in speech to Milli, or as weâ€™d put it, Mile. One milli passum is 1618 yards long. Guess how long our Mile is in Metric? Gâ€™wan! Well, when first conceived it was set at 1618 meters. That ratio of 1.618 to 1 is significant. If youâ€™re a Dan Brown fan you already know why, but even if youâ€™re not I donâ€™t want to get into it now. Itâ€™s not a coincidence that those two ratios are the same, though, Iâ€™ll say that much.
So our calendar, including some of our holidays (Christmas for example) is Roman; our weights and measures are Roman, and we measure distance in the Roman way. Further, we have a Senate, Corinthian columns on public buildings, and we use the Roman alphabet. We even use Roman numerals for special cases, like copyright dates on movies and such. Maybe, you know, thereâ€™s no reason to bring back Rome because maybe, in a real sense, it never went away.
Besides, I really donâ€™t want to live in ancient Rome. For one thing my ancestors wrecked the place. But beyond that, what exactly would I get out of worshipping Roman gods? Or out of following Roman codes instead of the laws of my state? The Romans were an amazing people, but a lot of them lived in fleabag firetraps called Insulae (Islands) which were basically tenements put up on city blocks. They had no way to preserve food. They enjoyed a much shorter life expectancy than do we. They were violent, and by our lights, amoral. You could get away with murder if the murdereeâ€™s family didnâ€™t mind too much, since it was the aggrieved who did the prosecuting (there was no Roman CSI or Law and Order.) And, worst of all, if you got a bum emperor, you were stuck with him until either he died or somebody did him in. Here, whether you despise Clinton or hate Bush, youâ€™ve got to admit that they were both short termers in the long run. Frankly, I like electricity and a general air of social justice. Iâ€™ll admit that other things I like, such as running water and sanitation, the Romans had as well, but their roads, while impressive, never curved because they couldnâ€™t around a corner. Some of my favorite highways are gracefully curved, donâ€™t you know? And I donâ€™t think the Via Appia would stand up to the traffic on I-80, either.
All of which
leads me back around to Nova Roma, and the one question that the very existence of the group begs so loudly: