The Three Ancient Super-Powers: part 3, The Romans

The last, and ultimately the most powerful, of the superpowers of the ancient world was the Roman Empire. Why were they ultimately the winners in the power struggle?

We have seen decades of power struggle between the USA and the USSR. They fought the cold war using technology and financing small wars around the globe, secretly manipulating other countries to prove their power. Now China is stealing a march on them by taking over economically, like the Phoenicians did.

In the ancient world, it was the warmongers who eventually got the upper hand.

I wonder if Putin knows this already?

The Ancient Romans: the aggressive new upstarts

The Greeks and Phoenicians muddled alongside each other for five centuries of pirate raids.

romansFrom the 3rd century B.C. a third power made its presence felt. The Romans were a group of farmers from dangerous malarial swamps with no natural resources or crafts to trade. They were not much good at sailing, either. All they had going for them were their outstanding military skills and aggression.

With nothing much to sell, they were not interested in trading and founding loosely-allied city states. They were building a military empire, with a centralised government. Ultimately it was this difference in outlook and objectives that made them the winners.

They began as raiders on land, conquering Italy. When they met the Phoenicians and Greeks they copied every aspect of their culture that they could, including their ships and sailing skills.

They beat the disjointed Greeks easily, picking them off one city-state at a time. They so admired the superiority of the Greek culture that they adopted it – gods, arts, philosophy and all – and spread it wherever they conquered.

The Carthaginians were altogether harder to beat. They had seen their mother country in the Middle East destroyed once, so they knew the key to success was unity. The two powers were so closely matched that the Romans, after three „Punic Wars“ which lasted centuries, only won by a whisker.

The Carthaginians went down in Roman history as the most terrifying enemies on the planet. Their very name became stuff of legend and nightmares for Roman children. But for a few small twists of fate, we Europeans might all be speaking a Semitic language derived from Phoenician.

The Romans regarded Sicily as a backwater, fit to be intensively farmed and asset-stripped. Roman Sicily was characterised by political corruption, financial extortion and exploitation of the locals. They rebuilt some of the Greek and Phoenician cities they had ruined and taxed the natives to the brink of starvation, generation after generation.

How to get the Roman feel in modern Sicily

Have a seafood salad. The Romans ate far more fish than meat, and particularly liked prawns and shellfish. They even established oyster farms around Sicily.

seafood salad

The Romans also introduced a much wider variety of vegetables to Sicily, and ended the Phoenician and Greek obsession with pulses. They loved strong flavours and tangy, vineagary sauces, so try some vegetables cooked in Sicilian agrodolce (sweet and sour) style.

zucca

Finally, eat anything with anchovy paste on it. A great Sicilian classic uses roast bell peppers, olives and anchovies as well as their paste. The Romans loved fish sauce, which they called garum, on anything. They established Garum factories throughout their empire and Sicilian and Spanish garum were considered the best. Garum was fermented and probably more like the fish sauce used in modern South-East Asian stir-fries, but anchovy paste is the closest you will get in modern Sicily.

peperoni-e-acciughe

Where to see the Romans in modern Sicily

The Villa Romana del Casale

The Villa Romana del Casale is one of the few impressive Roman legacies. Once the centre of a vast farm estate, the villa was the residence of a very rich family and is famous for its outstanding mosaics. Amid dynamic hunting scenes and beautiful portrayals of animals, the most famous of them shows ladies doing weight training in bikinis.

Mosaici-Villa-Romana-del-Casale

Need travelling entertainment for your kids?
Learn some Sicilian card games

Book front cover

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15 thoughts on “The Three Ancient Super-Powers: part 3, The Romans

  1. I’ve really enjoyed your three posts on the ancient superpowers. I think economic and cultural superpower is always the way to go and that is the one thing that Russia can’t ever have under Putin or most of his forebears because they are all based on fear and don’t offer anything attractive to outsiders. China will do well because of their numbers and hard work but again will their inward looking culture ever appeal to those outside SE Asia?

    The Romans lasted so well because they didn’t just conquer but once past the initial destruction phase 🙂 enriched many lands and people under them. I think us British were a cross between the Phoenicians and Romans, it was all largely done for economics but with a well-organised admin and military to back it up.

    Long after all the wars though it is the benefits and culture which we remember from the old and not so old empires which is why largely I think the Russians, Islamists and to a degree China won’t be looked up to as they don’t offer anything constructive or enjoyable even if of the relatively shallow nature of a Hollywood movie or The Beatles let alone law, civil rights or critical thinking/learning.

    Sorry for that rambling, I have the flu 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re very insightful for someone with flu and I fully agree with your observations.
      It’s interesting that South Korea deliberately set out to export K-pop to the world and has invested a fortune in manufacturing pop stars to promote abroad – they wanted to offer an alternative to the widely exported US culture and add another dimension to the Chinese focus on pure economic growth.
      Anyway I hope you get better soon! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ah, I would not say that Russia does not offer anything to outsiders…I mean this is the land of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Chekhov, and Nabokov! Cities like Petersburg, Moscow, and places like Hermitage, Peterhof, and the Moscow Metro is like a palace!

      While, true, a whole bunch of these were made by Italians during the Renaissance, even the gem of Russia, ballet came from the Italians (and the French) who went to Russia…I still would not say that Russia does not offer anything to outsiders! There is culture, books, religion, architecture, food, the world’s biggest country with so many different ethnicities and traditions! There are gems in Russia. Petersburg used to be called “Venice of the North” but now I believe Amsterdam has that title, but I could be wrong.

      I mean there is even a Grand Russian ballroom in Rome every year! I think about two years ago it was a Pushkin year. Last year was War and Peace theme, not to mention the year of Italy and Russia : ) (Although it does worry me how close Russia and Lega Nord/Forze Italia are…)

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      1. Well, forgive my old memory . . . if you are English, of course your cooking sux😜 Or are you from StateSide? Damn, don’t ever get old😓

        But no, while I can cook, I can’t bake. That’s why I was hoping you could help me out😉

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      2. I’ll have you know quite a few people have eaten food made by me and nevertheless gone on to lead normal, healthy lives!
        But if we’re going to have nice cakes for our tea (yes I am English), I had better order them in… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, I really enjoy reading your blog posts, especially the ones about the history of Italy, especially Sicily. My husband and I found Villa Romana a few years ago while we were driving around Sicily. It was magnificent! Ci vidiamo!

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  3. There is a logical mistake in your posting! First you write that the Romans taxed the natives to the brink of starvation, then you present marvellous dishes. You should have presented dry bred and water! 🙂

    The Romans were not all bad. Cicero was once quaestor on Sicily and a great friend of Sicily and when Sicily was plundered by a certain Verres the Sicilians came to Cicero to be their advocate. Verres fled before Cicero could hold his famous speeches against Verres.

    Today we know from these speeches a lot about the cultural richness of Sicily, because Verres plundered it all, and Cicero made a long list of it …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha haa! Maybe the Romans ate all this nice food while leaving the starving Sicilians sitting around them begging for crumbs??!! 😛

      And yes, Cicero was a great friend to the Sicilians. He had such a strong sense of justice.
      But he was the only one, wasn’t he? As far as I know all the others were fairly exploitative….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Do you think if any of the Roman emperors were alive today (zombie Nero anyone??), they would look at Rome and be like: “THAT’S Rome? Why is it so tiny!? What the hell is Lazio? And ROMANIA?” : )

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