“Les Italiens ont détruit notre culture celtique et germanique”

Una voce emerge dalla bellissima Francia: è una voce di rimprovero, con una nota dolente.

Olbodala (blogger francese). In effetti, alcuni di noi (nel cui numero sono anch’io) rimproverano all’Italia il suo passato bellicoso e ciò che i vostri antenati Romani fecero ai nostri (Celti e Germani). I Romani hanno distrutto la nostra cultura (celtica e germanica) e la nostra civiltà e l’hanno sostituita con la loro (greco-latina).

È una tragedia avere un’apparenza fisica celtica e germanica ma una lingua e cultura incompatibili con le nostre origini settentrionali.

Originale:

Olbodala. “En fait, certain(e)s d’entre nous (et je fais parti du lot) reprochent à l’Italie son passé belliqueux, et ce que leurs ancêtres romains ont fait aux nôtres (celtes et germains). Les romains ont détruit notre culture (celtique et germanique) et civilisation, et l’on remplacé par la leur (gréco-latine).

C’est un drame d’avoir une apparence physique celtique et germanique, mais d’avoir une langue et une culture incompatible avec nos origines septentrionales.”

Ψ

Un intervento che ferisce e fa pensare.

Dicevamo dell’opera di Giulio Cesare e di come, secondo numerosi storici, 1. la sua conquista della Gallia Comata e 2. l’esclusione dal potere di un’aristocrazia romana ormai decadente abbia prolungato (schermandola dai barbari) la vita della civiltà greco-romana permettendole di plasmare non solo la Francia ma tutta l’Europa e di porre le basi dell’Occidente come lo conosciamo.

Si tratta dunque di avvenimenti che vanno oltre la Francia, non solo perché la Gallia Comata oltre alla Francia comprendeva anche la Svizzera e porzioni del Belgio e dell’Olanda e della Germania, ma soprattutto perché persino quei “nordici” non conquistati dai Romani assunsero gradualmente una cultura “meridionale” greco-romana grazie anche, ma non solo, alla diffusione del Cristianesimo operata da Roma: si pensi solo all’alfabeto latino, ai mille elementi culturali dalla musica alla religione alle tecniche allo stesso concetto di letteratura e di poesia e più in generale alle categorie concettuali filosofiche giuridiche e scientifiche mediterranee ecc.

Smetto, non sono un neoimperialista romano, cerco solo di badare ai fatti storici (e amo le nostre radici, perché no).

 

Soffocamento culturale e genocidio

Purtroppo è anche vero che le civiltà o culture germaniche e celtiche (non solo in Francia) sono state soffocate e non sapremo mai in che direzioni sarebbero potute fiorire, il che in termini di bio-diversità culturale è sicuramente una tragedia.

Quanto alla Gallia Comata Cesare compì un quasi genocidio, è fuor di dubbio. Se Plutarco scrive il vero (Plinio il vecchio è anche più duro) vi furono un milione di morti – forse 1 gallo su 5 – più un altro milione ridotto in schiavitù, con 300 tribù soggiogate e 800 centri abitati distrutti.

Se questa immane catastrofe ha dato luogo alla Francia non possiamo che amarne il risultato finale ma una catastrofe e un genocidio restano pur sempre una catastrofe e un genocidio.

 

Annientamento culturale: perché?

OK, uno potrebbe dire, la Gallia venne conquistata con la forza e con stragi ma concentrandoci sui Celti perché la cultura celtica venne completamente cancellata? Moltissimi Galli erano ancora vivi e sappiamo che i Romani erano in genere tolleranti con gli usi e costumi dei popoli conquistati.

Lo storico francese Fernand Braudel è molto chiaro al riguardo:

Quando una cultura – egli dice – viene del tutto cancellata da un’altra significa che vi è una grande disparità di ricchezza e complessità.

E in effetti non è un caso che i Romani influenzarono profondamente il Nord-Ovest del loro impero (aree arretrate) ma assai meno il Sud (Nord Africa) e l’Est o Medio-Oriente (aree assai civilizzate) che in effetti dimenticarono quasi del tutto l’eredità romana quando accettarono di buon grado l’Islam, a loro più affine.

 

Una risposta che non può certo consolare

La mia risposta al blogger francese Olbodala (che non può certo consolare, la storia è spietata) venne scritta proprio seguendo questa visione (traduzione e poi l’originale, così sfoggio un po’ di francese):

Giovanni. Capisco e mi dispiace. E ci vorrebbe un libro per risponderle! I Romani erano dei vincenti. Inoltre, anche se la cultura celtica era più complessa di quanto non si pensi, il Mediterraneo era generalmente più civilizzato in quel periodo.

Per gli Italiani del nord (mio padre era di là) è avvenuta esattamente la stessa cosa: celti com’erano, hanno perso la loro cultura.

Secondo diversi studiosi (Braudel, Gramsci, Joseph Nye ecc., cfr. note 1 e 2) quando due culture si scontrano ci sono almeno due elementi in gioco: la forza e la seduzione (una cultura seduce quanto più è complessa e ricca.), il primo elemento, la forza, non essendo tutto.

Semplificando, un caso classico è quello dei Romani e dei Greci. I Romani vinsero con la forza, ma i Greci li sedussero a loro volta con la loro meravigliosa ricchezza culturale.

Ciò non avvenne quando Romani e Celti si incontrarono. Se i Celti persero la loro cultura ciò significa, credo, qualche cosa.

E, inversamente, se la civiltà greco-romana lasciò poche tracce in Nord Africa o nel Medio Oriente, anche ciò significa qualche cosa.

Il che non vuol dire che l’annientamento quasi totale della civiltà celtica non sia una tragedia.

Ho dimenticato i Franchi [ma si potrebbe parlare anche dei Normanni, ndr], un popolo germanico che conquistò la Gallia o Francia. Ovviamente, esercitando grande forza ma non sufficiente seduzione vennero progressivamente latinizzati.

Paul (blogger franco-canadese). Punto di vista interessante, Giovanni. Dovremmo dedurne che gli inglesi hanno fallito nella seduzione dei canadesi di lingua francese in quanto la cultura francese rimane fiorente in Québec nonostante la nostra immersione in un oceano di lingua inglese?
Paul Costopoulos

Giovanni. Penso sia proprio così, Paul, per quanto posso giudicare.

Ψ

Giovanni. Je comprends, and I am sorry. Mais il faudrait bien un livre pour vous répondre ! Les Romains étaient des vainqueurs. En plus, même si la culture celtique était plus complexe qu’on y pense, la Méditerranéen était généralement plus civilisée a cette époque la.

Aux Italiens du nord (mon père était de là) est arrivé exactement la même chose: celtiques, ils ont perdu leur culture.

Selon plusieurs savants (Braudel, Gramsci, Joseph Nye etc., cfr. 1 e 2), lorsque deux cultures se heurtent il y a deux éléments au moins qui jouent: la force et la séduction (= due à la complexité, à la richesse de la culture même etc.), la première n’étant pas suffisante.

Simplifiant, un cas classique est celui des Romains et des Grecs. Les Romains ont gagné avec la force, mais les Grecs ont gagné sur eux avec la séduction de leur richesse culturelle.

Cela n’a pas été le cas quand les Romains et les Celtes se sont heurtés. Si les Celtes ont perdu leur culture, cela veut quand même dire quelque chose.

Et, inversement, si la civilisation gréco-romaine n’a presque pas laissé des traces en Afrique du Nord ou au Moyen Orient, cela veut aussi dire quelque chose.

Ce qui ne veut pas dire que la quasi totale destruction de la civilisation celtique ne soit pas une tragédie.

J’ai oublié les Francs [mais on pourrait aussi parler des Normands, ndr], un peuple germanique qui conquit la Gaule ou France. Évidement, ils exerçant de la force mais pas assez de la séduction, ils sont étés progressivement latinisés.

Paul (Canadien français). Intéressant point de vue, Giovanni. Doit-on comprendre que les britanniques ont manqué de séduction pour les Québécois puisque la culture française reste florissante au Québec malgré notre immersion dans un océan anglophone?
Paul Costopoulos

Giovanni. Oui, je crois que cela s’est passé de cette façon, Paul, as far as I can tell.

Ψ

Note:

1) Brano di Joseph S. Nye che spiega molto bene la sua idea di soft power (seduzione, contrapposta alla forza, hard power). In inglese.

2) Articolo del Manifesto – giornale con idee pre-concette a mio parere ma con begli articoli di cultura – che fa un bel raffronto tra Gramsci (egemonia=seduzione) e Joseph Nye (soft power=seduzione)

Echi del Mediterraneo. ‘La nemica mia! La nemica della casa!’ (4)

Abbiamo chiesto dei lumi a Naguib Mahfouz per meglio comprendere alcuni aspetti dei costumi di chi si affaccia su questo antico mare. Vediamo un po’.

Ψ

E’ da notare come gli affascinanti personaggi della sua Trilogia del Cairo facciano un sacco di cose proibite: bevono alcolici, imbrogliano, mangiano carne di maiale, il tutto però in segreto e cercando di mantenere le apparenze.

Due figlie di Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad – il patriarca egiziano al centro dell’opera – litigano di fronte alla madre Amina e una di loro denuncia con rabbia il marito della sorella:

“Beve vino a casa senza nascondersi!”

Il che ci ricorda alcuni tunisini, descritti in un brano precedente, che bevevano tranquillamente birra in un caffè de La Goulette e che confessarono:

“Nous on fait tout, mais en cachette” (facciamo tutto, ma in segreto).

È irresistibile non pensare alla Sicilia, dove fare le cose en cachette è ben radicato (la Sicilia è stata sotto il dominio tunisino per più di 300 anni). E che dire dell’omertà siciliana, che rende così difficile sconfiggere la mafia?

Solo spunti ipotetici, che andrebbero approfonditi.

 

Il potere dell’uomo sulla donna

Un altro elemento è il potere patriarcale dell’uomo sulla donna. Nel brano precedente Kamal rimane sbalordito perché Aida osa apostrofare un gruppo di giovani uomini pur non essendo imparentata con loro. E Kamal, sia pure allarmato, passa sopra l’incidente perché trafitto da un amore a prima vista.

Il patriarcato, naturalmente, è anche il potere del marito sulla moglie. Infatti la stessa sorella adirata di cui parlavamo sopra dice a sua madre delle trasgressioni dell’altra sorella:

“Beve e fuma, agisce contro Dio e con Satana”.

La madre sconsolata risponde:

“Cosa possiamo fare? È una donna sposata e il giudizio sulla sua condotta è ormai nelle mani del marito … “

Questa è la società islamica, si potrebbe dire. D’accordo, ma il potere patriarcale è molto più antico dell’Islam. In realtà molte società musulmane (non tutte, perché c’è società e società) aderiscono semplicemente a tradizioni molto antiche già diffuse nel Mediterraneo e altrove molto prima di Maometto e che hanno lasciato tracce ovunque poiché pare che il patriarcato sia vecchio addirittura di 5-6 mila anni.

Era già presente a Roma (si pensi al terribile pater familias della prima Repubblica con diritto di vita e di morte su moglie e figli), in Grecia, a Cartagine ecc. E esisteva nel Mare nostrum e altrove (in Oriente, in India ecc.) molto prima che queste civiltà sorgessero.

Questa non è certamente la vita oggi in Italia, anche se nel Sud qualcosa di un patriarcato più antico sembra sopravvivere (e poi, parliamoci chiaro, siamo sicuri che in Occidente il rapporto uomo donna sia così avanzato? Pensiamo al movimento #metoo, alle uccisioni di fidanzate e mogli e a tante altre cose).

 

L’onore della famiglia emana dal capofamiglia

Ancora sul patriarcato, l’onore e il disonore della famiglia ricadono sul padre e sul marito. Ahmed Abd el-Gawwad, convocato dalla suocera della figlia a causa della cattiva condotta di questa, la rimprovera così:

“Nulla di ciò che è stato generato in casa mia dovrebbe essere macchiato da tali comportamenti! Non ti rendi conto che tutto il male che stai facendo porta disonore a me??”.

L’onore del patriarca dunque è l’onore di tutto il nucleo familiare (e viceversa). E’ lui la casa, il casato.

Vien fatto di pensare al Natale in casa Cupiello di Eduardo De Filippo, una deliziosa tragicommedia in cui Luca Cupiello (Eduardo), esasperato dalla moglie Concetta, grida a pieni polmoni:

“La nemica mia! La nemica della casa!”

Il patriarcato viene qui affermato in modo divertente e magistrale perché i napoletani sono raffinatissimi e in qualche modo si potrebbero chiamare “i cugini greci di Roma” se non si trattasse d’un salto storico troppo ampio.

Passando a un caso più tragico la povera Sana Cheema, di 25 anni, innamorata di un italiano a Brescia, torna in Pakistan e là, il 24 aprile 2018, viene uccisa dal padre e dal fratello perché non voleva accettare un matrimonio combinato. Sana non è che la vittima di costumi antichi, il suo comportamento portava disonore al padre e alla famiglia. E il padre patriarca e il figlio maschio, vice patriarca, lavano il disonore uccidendola.

Vicenda terribile. E viene da pensare, anche per distrarsi con una visuale più ampia, che quando viaggiamo non percorriamo soltanto lo spazio ma anche il tempo. Paesi non ancora del tutto sviluppati sono come delle macchine del tempo che ci mostrano com’era la vita tanti anni fa (il che non significa che giustifichiamo le cose spaventose che possono accadere in questi “presenti-passati”, non è questo il punto; inoltre il passato era anche pieno di tante cose buone, che nelle società avanzate non esistono più).

Ψ

Abbiamo cercato di esplorare alcune antiche tradizioni, mediterranee e non. Ci sembra chiaro, per riprendere Fernand Braudel, che ogni studio dei modi di pensare attuali (europeo, islamico, siciliano, napoletano ecc.) non sia completo senza guardare al passato infinito delle civiltà.

In sostanza la mente umana è come un museo poiché contiene tracce quasi infinite di concezioni passate, dall’età della pietra in poi, ma senza un inventario. Fare tale inventario è il lavoro di antropologi, sociologi e storici (e, in piccolo, di tutti noi).

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (2)

Refugees from North Africa are flooding Lampedusa, Sicily

[read the previous chapter]

Libya, a Critical Situation

“Thousands of people, mainly from Tunisia, but also from Libya and Egypt, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks” (BBC).

“Since January Italy is facing an exceptional flux of immigrants, with over 22,000 landings mainly from Tunisia… from Eritrea and Somalia via Libya on the island of Lampedusa.” (Le Monde)

Lampedusa, between Sicily and Tunisia

The situation in Libya is more critical. According to Le Monde anti-Gaddafi rebels have no military experience, despite arms and support arriving from Egypt and Nato intervention. The port city of Misrata in north-western Libya (130 mi to the east of Tripoli, see image below) seems now to be the hub of the crisis.

Gaddafi is ready to conquer it and there are rumours of tortures suffered by the unfortunate who in Misrata fell into the hands of pro-Gaddafi forces. BBC mentions use of “human shields in the war-torn town.”

Libyan uprising main cities. Via Wikipedia. Click to enlarge

According to one of Gaddafi’s 5 beautiful Ukrainan nurses, El Rais’s health is that of an iron-man 🙄

Is the Ukrainian nurse’s evaluation accurate? Well, a desert raider like him might get extra boost from ‘fight’. Berlusconi is similar but he is not a desert man

France who first led to the intervention now fears that “we are likely to get bogged down in Misrata” (as French foreign Minister Alain Juppé’s put it). France also fears too many immigrants are coming from Italy. Italy protests France is against the Schengen agreement and says Europe should help to contain the human flood.

More British war planes seem ready to begin ground attacks (instead of just no-fly-zone checks.)

Gaddafi has sent a message to Obama yesterday. Today H. Clinton dismissed it saying he must resign and go into exile. Anti-Gaddafi rebels complain that bureaucracy is causing “Nato to take too long to respond to calls for air strikes” (BBC ) [not to mention the fact that Nato has killed quite a few anti-Gaddafi protesters by mistake!]

Berlusconi and Sarkozi will meet in Rome on April 26th. By the way Italy has finally recognised Libya’s rebel National Council.

Berlusconi was hesitant given his personal ties with Gaddafi. Now that all is more or less in the hands of Nato he looks happier.

Moscow, Berlin and Turkish Ankara seek a role as mediators. Ankara has sent Ambassador Omur Soledin to Libya.

ψ

These the recent facts. Allow me some (Roman) rambling now.

Lost in their Opiate Dream

Women of Algiers
Women of Algiers by Eugène Delacroix, 1834, the Louvre, Paris. Click for a wider view of this great but a tad decadent painting (this is just a detail) and for credits

Aren’t the French and the British lost in an opiate dream that they can still play a world role ‘of their own’? I am for a EU tighter unification, it is clear, and any prima donna or Trojan horse trying to dismantle such process from within really rails me.

The Britons are famous in their efforts to obstruct any real unification of ‘the continent’ – from Napoleon’s (was it good?) and Hitler’s (it was good) until today.

And the French? Are they pro EU only when they can play a grandeur role in it?

[Gosh, when at times they pronounce this word (France) I cannot but think of De Gaulle (my father imitated le Général not without fidelity and humour) who used to say he had ‘une certaine idée de la Fraaaance‘.]

Of course I can understand their opiate dream, their greatness belonging to only 4-6 generations ago, a short span of time. But aren’t their imperial souvenirs damaging this region, Europe, the richest of the planet (not for long) but the weakest politically?  With the huge challenges ahead of us (ie Bric) is it intelligent? Is it forward-thinking?

[See a presumptuous post of mine on EU Trojan Horses]

Braudel observed:
“Sicile-Afrique? Fondamentale”

Italy, the eternal loose woman, is reclining herself on the middle of the Mediterranean.

Fernand Braudel:

L’Italie, avec la Sicile et la Tunisie coupent la Mediterranée en deux … Est et Ouest. La liaison Sicile Afrique est fondamentale”.

This centrality favoured the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean.

Carthage (today’s Tunis) had the same central position in the Med though reversed (from South northwards). Rome though won (but … read here)

Italy and Tunisia cut the Mediterranean in two. Wikimedia. Click to enlarge

Among the European nations Italy is perhaps the most popular in North Africa and the whole Med area (some grudge left in Libya, of course.)

We eat the same food, they sing our songs (and us theirs but we’re not aware of it,) they watch since the 1950s our now horrible TV, they get consoled and excited by our III-World South which they can understand.

Tunisia in the last 100 years always looked at Sicily (and Italy) as a beloved guiding light and its greatest inspiring model (“les Italiens pour nous sont comme des dieux”, “Italians are like gods to us”, a Tunisian manager once told me. You may like this post.

This role of Italy – its Mediterranean centrality over the millennia and our today’s persisting cultural and economical influence – is responsible in my view for a certain succession of events:

Berlusconi –> Ben Ali –> Mubarak …. then the rest of the Arab Spring.

A theory of mine perhaps. So let’s now test it.

All North Africa is exploding. Arab protesters in Paris. Click for credits and to enlarge

Arab 2011 Revolution.
Are all MED BIG MEN resonating?

1) Berlusconi began to wobble …

… and while the entire world was cheerfully chatting about it (lots of fun stuff) the Tunisians were watching closely...

[Some mysterious harmony vibrating in the Mediterranean …]

They couldn’t but notice this North MED(iterranean) BIG MAN about to fall, and they know he being not terribly different from many other modern-day MED BIG MEN all over coastal Mediterranean.

[A darn tradition of ours. Let us mention: a majority of tyrants in Greek city states, Alexander and the Hellenistic monarchs; the Roman well balanced republic later superseded by Julius Caesar, Augustus & other emperors; Louis XIV le Roi Soleil; Napoleon; Napoleon III; Mussolini il duce; Hitler son of romanized Austria-Germany;  Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria; Francisco Franco, the Caudillo; Salazar his neighbour; De Gaulle le général; Italian Umberto Bossi il celodurista (I got it hard!) and Silvio Berlusconi il Cavaliere]

Of course our PM is not Bel Ali, Gaddafi or Mubarak. Italy is democratic.

But Italy (unique in the West) has this patriarchal-paternal figure (Papi his girls called him) whose de facto powers go beyond democracy. Berlusconi can influence voters being the richest tycoon and media owner in our country – as if President Clinton and Murdoch were the same person!

Now our PM has though less constitutional power than Clinton and our usually sage President of Republic counts too in our charter. Magistrates are independent and tough, and people are not stupid. Which all is saving our ass from media fascism I hope.

So Berlusconi is something Tunisians could understand. Ben Ali controlled almost all Tunisian media via his family (I worked for a Tunisian Internet company owned by Ben Ali’s daughter or wife, I forgot.)

ψ

2) … so Tunisia blew up. Also plagued by unemployment etc. Tunisia rebels against Ben Ali’s well-organized fascism. I am witness to black-clad secret police guys’ total ubiquity. Mediterranean resonating empathy I’ll repeat.

After Berlusconi wobbles Tunisia begins to blow. Click for credits and to enlarge

A small country Tunisia, one might say. Ok, but Tunisia’s rebellion infected Egypt.

Now THIS changed things entirely.

The Land of Pharaohs Wakes Up

Egyptian protests. March of the Millions: Tahrir Square. Click for a great night view

2) Egypt gets infected. The Arab world and beyond is following.

Well, given its ancientness & importance when Egypt sneezes a whole piece of the planet may catch pneumonia. Egypt is the most respected Arab state of all, beyond a doubt.

Digression. According to the Indian-British Indologist A. L. Basham – A Cultural History of India, Oxford 1975 p. XXI- “there are four main cradles of civilizations [on this planet]: 1.China. 2. The Indian subcontinent [probably the most influential in the very long run imo, MoR]. 3. The ‘Fertile Crescent‘ [ie Egypt, Eastern Canaan-Syria-Phoenicia, Mesopotamia ie Iraq, MoR]. 4. The Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy.”

THIS was perhaps Cleopatra – found on the Esqulinus hill, one of the 7 h. Well …

[I’m starting – some scholars are starting – to suspect a North-Europe Hyperborean cradle too. Read here if you dare 🙂 …]

Egypt is at the head of num 3 region (even though Iraq invented writing.) The Greeks totally recognized Egyptian and other Eastern influences.

[But some scholars in-between 1800s-1900s  – mainly German but not only – wanted ALL colonizing West’s knowledge to be derived from an abstract ‘pure’ Greece in order to justify the exploitation of the lower-races. Winckelmann (1717 – 1768) earlier and Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) bear a foundational responsibility among the rest for this gloomy error]

Pythagoras (Πυθαγόρας) who spread a scientific-religious cult all over South Italy – which will affect Plato, ALL West science & the core of Christianity – travelled long years in Egypt, in the Middle East and Mesopotamia perhaps too: he was permeated by African and Eastern wisdom! Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) surely spent years in Egypt. Just 2 examples, the former being the greatest of them as for the future of Western culture.

Btw, the story of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Gaius Octavius and Cleopatra – do you remember it? (see above how sexy might have been Κλεοπάτρα, the last Pharaoh of Egypt; read this post)

Now all is getting dangerous  – but also promising let’s hope for humankind.

ψ

So let us laugh a bit. Berlusconi-owned newspapers barked against France who dared enter Mare Nostrum ie the Med:

“Beyond the Alps they should remember once in a while that in their history they don’t just have Napoleon, they also have General Cambronne!” (ineffable Georgio Mulé)

Filippo Ceccarelli’s comment on the Roman daily Repubblica:

“Imagine which weight will be given, in that place of sheer humility that is Paris, to this saucy invitation from George Mulé.”

A wild laugh, that gave me a half hour of oblivion.

ψ

This whole Arab thing is dangerous but I am fascinated that many of these countries are more ancient than Italy or Greece.

It is important to understand that Syria, Egypt etc. are not only Arabic: they are much more (and earlier) than that (read 1, 2 – delighful Diana Haddad! – and especially 3)

The more ancient a country – pls be patient – the greater its reverberations in large parts of the world.

Hadn’t Islamic revolution started in Iran, former ancient (non Arabic) Persia at the head of a thousands-year-old Empire, great model for Alexander and later Rome?

Which also explains why Fascism, invented by the Italians – a complete and rich State theory & practice – was so influential in the world despite Italy’s negligible economical importance at that time.

Which applies even more to today’s Egypt. A whole piece of the world is now boiling because of the land of the Pharaohs.

ψ

As French Fernand Braudel loved to say – “civilizations are not mortal.”

Related posts:

Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc. Arab Spring Revolutions seen from Rome (1)

The Southern Shores of the Mediterranean

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 1

Mare Nostrum, Patriarchy, Omertà. 2

Permanences. Rome and Carthage

Love Words from Egypt

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 1


Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Folks of the Mediterranean Sea

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

In some posts we tried to identify the cultural traits common to the people whose ancestors were subjects of the Roman Empire. One of the themes of this blog is in fact any possible remnant of the Ancient Roman world still surviving today.

The borderline or Limes of the Roman empire meant also the separation between what was Roman and what was non Roman. Particularly interesting is the central European Limes along the Rhine and the Danube, a sort of natural frontier of the empire since 7 C.E. onwards.

Ok, Roman and non Roman. Where are hence the traces of this disjunction in today’s societies?

Well, a lot of traces are there, since for example when Christianity breaks in two during the XVI century C.E. “is it by chance – argues French historian Braudel – that the separation of the fields occurs exactly along the axis of the Rhine and the Danube, the double frontier of the Roman Empire?” Really a good point, not many doubts about it.

Protestants and Catholics Split along the Limes

Luther in 1529 by Lucas Cranach.jpg

In 1517 the Protestant Reformation began with Luther nailing his 95 theses that will split West Christianity into Protestants and Catholics. “From 1545 (Wikipedia) the Counter-Reformation began in Germany ….Central and north-eastern Germany were by this time almost wholly Protestant, whereas western and southern Germany remained predominantly Catholic”.

This has to do with the Roman Empire border: namely the descendants of the romanized Germans mostly stayed with the Roman Catholics, which is amazing, while the descendants of the non romanized ones, plus other northern folks, left. From this fracture sprouted Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Presbyterian, Calvinists, Puritans etc.

Above you can see Luther in 1529 portrayed by the German painter Lucas Cranach.

The Ultimate Roman Border.
Attachment to a Heritage

UNESCO World Heritage LIMES logo

Some land reconnaissance now. First a nice map of the Roman Empire and its provinces. Then Wikipedia infos on the German Limes (Wikipedia is always a good initial info source, but nothing more). Also this map of the Roman provinces of Raetia and Germania Superior is not bad. And finally some info on the German Roman Limes, ultimate protection against the external Germanic tribes (Limes is Latin for Limit, border). A web site that now is no more was kept by those German federal states that actually were/are inside the Roman Empire. In it we did read:

“The Upper German-Raetian Limes (“Obergermanisch – Raetischer Limes” = ORL = Limes of the Roman provinces of Raetia and Germania Superior: see a map) marked the ultimate Roman border line in the north of the Roman Empire. It was erected against the Germanic people who were a constant threat to the antique world. Over a length of 550 km from the river Rhine in the northwest to the river Danube in the south-east the Limes extends across the four German federal states Rheinland-Palatinate, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.”

Kastell Welzheim, near the Limes, Porta Praetoria

These people are greatly attached to this heritage and have succeeded in getting a certain number of UNESCO-world heritage recognitions, like Regensburg (Ratisbona), and even the Projekt Weltkulturerbe Limes (project for the world heritage recognition of the German Limes) seems to have been accepted.

In the web site of the Deutsche Limes-Strasse Verein (the German Alliance For the Limes Roads) we read:

“the outer Upper Germanic-Rhaetian boundary wall (“Limes”) is one of the most outstanding archaeological monuments in Central Europe and has recently been put on the world cultural heritage list of the UNESCO. Many of the installations associated with the wall were unearthed as the result of excavations recently carried out by the different Regional Offices for the Protection of Ancient Monuments and have been conserved because of their excellent state of preservation.”

“They include forts, baths and towers together with parts of the fortifications themselves such as ramparts, ditches, walls and palisades. Also taken into consideration are museum-like facilities such as protective structures covering Roman ruins which are explained by plans, photographs and finds as well as archaeological parks located in the neighbourhood of boundary wall structures with reconstructed or restored exhibitions. Many of these areas are called “archaeological reserves” ….

“The German Limes Road runs close to the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes from the Rhine to the Danube. Most of the forts were founded at the beginning or middle of the 2nd century and existed until the end of the Roman occupation 260/270 A.D.. The “Limes” runs from Rhein-brohl to Regensburg ……We hope that you will get …a better understanding of the Roman past of this country and have a relaxing holiday …on the former borders of the Roman Empire.”

The Initial Battle of the Gladiator

For Roman-movies fiends (I am one of them) the Roman fortress Castra Regina (thence Regensburg) was founded in 179 A. D. for the Third Italic Legion during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (we are in the ancient Roman province of Raetia). Marcus Aurelius fought battles along the Limes against German (and non German) tribes.

Sounds like The Gladiator initial astounding battle scene doesn’t it? Well, that scene probably referred to the Marcomannic wars fought during the reign of Marcus Aurelius with battles mostly fought further north and beyond the Danube.

It doesn’t matter though since the area well corresponds to that film battle and its marvellously recreated atmosphere (see Regensburg in this map of Raetia and Germania Superior).

Pilgrimage

We are mentioning Raetia because we were there last August on a sort of pilgrimage along the Limes, and found out that Castra Regina is more or less the core of Regensburg‘s Old City or Altstadt. Thischarming city is located in north-eastern Bavaria, Oberpfalz.

Pfalz is German for Latin Palatium, which refers to the Palatine Hill in Rome (Latin Mons Palatinus). It is the hill where Rome started (according to legend and now also archaeology: first huts, then the town, on this and other hills) and where the Roman Emperors much later lived (the English palace, indicating an important building, comes from there).

From Palatinus derives Palatinate (Latin: Palatinatus), the area of the later German Holy Roman Empire, a sort of Middle Ages continuation of the Roman Empire. So it all fits together, as one can see.

The Last Italian City

Regensburg (Latin and Italian Ratisbona)

In Regensburg – right at the extreme (German) line of all this, the Limes going well beyond Germany – the population will later become Protestant, even though it has inherited this sort of Italian merry character, with people sitting in open-air cafés etc., like us in Rome.

“We are the last Italian city”, they say, which sort of angered some Munich friends of ours who said they were the real last Italians, not only because of the Catholic faith but also because of their even merrier festas with people dancing on tables in Oktober Fest.

They certainly said this to please us, but there is some truth, I believe: their elegance, their incredible love for Opera (more than us today alas) and good wine (like us) etc.

More on Regensburg arriving, which is a good observation point, and more of course on Bavaria and all, so to say, romanized Germany.

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Marcus Junkelman clad as a RomanPS. We cannot leave this topic without mentioning an incredible person:
Dr. Marcus Junkelmann from Munich (*), world-famous pioneer of experimental archaeology, living in a castle and speaking fluently Latin, we heard. Historian of Roman Legions and Army, he has reconstructed Roman weapons, infantry & cavalry techniques.

We see his picture on the left, this is his web site and Dr. Wilfried Stroh is one of his colleagues and possibly friend. People like them are getting numerous also in parts of the UK, who is also becoming very pro-Roman (also the organisation Nova Roma, “dedicated to the restoration of classical Roman religion, culture and virtues”, shows how Roman mania can be both weird and fascinating).

References. The Braudel quote is from La Mediterranée, Fernard Braudel, Flammarion 1985. Translation by Man of Roma. Fernard Braudel is one of the greatest French intellectuals. Here a few links, just to give an idea of his work:
A nice synthesis on Braudel in English, plus the Fernand Braudel Center, at Binghamton University, State University of New York (“founded in September 1976 to engage in the analysis of large-scale social change over long periods of historical time”).

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Other related posts:

Music, Politics and History
From the two Sides of the Roman Limes

Echoes from the Mediterranean. Part 2

Sacred Islam Prayer rug. Fair use

The French historian Fernand Braudel writes:

“Civilizations are not mortal. They survive transformations and catastrophes and when necessary rise up again from their ashes (…). Islam probably sprang from desert Arabia, crossed by caravans and with a long past behind, but it is above all a territory acquired by the conquest of Arabic horsemen and camel-drivers even too easily: Syria, Egypt, Iran, northern Africa. Islam is primarily a heir of the Near East, a whole series of cultures, economies and ancient sciences. Its heart lies in the narrow space that goes from Mecca to Cairo, Damask and Baghdad. (…)”

Islam Prayer. Fair use

“A civilization is in fact not only a religion – however a religion may be at the centre of any cultural system. It is an art of living as well, i.e. the reproduction of thousands of behaviours. In ‘The Arabian Nights’ saluting a king means ‘kissing before him the earth amid his hands’. Well, it is a gesture already customary at the court of the Parthian king Khosrau (531-579 AD) – Braudel continues – and it is the same gesture that in 1500 and 1600 (and later) European ambassadors in Istanbul, in Ispahan or in Delhi tried to elude finding it extremely humiliating for themselves and for the princes they represented. [The ancient Greek Historian] Herodotus, [490-425 BC] was upset by some [Ancient] Egyptian manners: ‘In the middle of the road, as a salutation, they prostrate the one in front of the other, lowering their hands down to their knees.’ “

Islamic Clothes. Fair use

“Think about the traditional costumes of the Moslems whose evolution will be very slow [see picture above]. It is already recognizable – Braudel argues – in the dress of the ancient Babylonians, described by the same Herodotus [more than] twenty-five centuries ago: ‘The Babylonians first of all wear a flax tunic down to their feet (which we would today call gandura, notes E. F. Gautier), and on top of it another wool tunic (which we would call djellaba); then they wear a short white mantle (we would say: a short white burnus); and they cover their heads with a mitre (a fez, today, or tarbush).’ And we could continue talking of the houses (pre-Islamic), and of food and superstitions: the hand of Fatima, … it already adorned the Carthaginian funeral steles (see figure below).”

Hand of Fatima used as a pendant. GNU Free Documentation License

“Islam is evidently tied to the compact historical ground of the Near East.” (…) In short – Braudel concludes – any study of our present ways of thinking necessarily has to look at the endless past of the civilizations.”

(La Mediterranée, by Fernard Braudel, Flammarion 1985. Translation by Man of Roma. Square bracket text is by MoR)

(The end )

Italian version

Stress and Joy. Conquest and Sorrow

Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Marble bust of Julius Caesar. Wikipedia
Italian translation

“He felt alive with the thrill of the fight”: it is a typical discharge of adrenaline and the English expression “thrill of the fight” well depicts this sensation of feeling alive. Stress can in fact be one of the joys of life in that it can make us feel terribly vital.

A similar feeling can be experienced before (and while) facing an audience, something teachers and lecturers (or musicians and actors) know very well.

“Adrenaline (Epinephrine) is a fight or flight hormone which is released from the adrenal glands when danger threatens or in an emergency. When secreted into the bloodstream, it rapidly prepares the body for action in emergency situations…” (Wikipedia).

Adrenaline

Talking again of fight (more than flight) I have always fantasised about how Julius Caesar might have felt at nearly 50, while, often at the head of his soldiers, he was attacking the fierce and brave Gallic tribes and actually conquering Gaul, a region a bit larger than modern France, comprising “Belgium, the German lands west of the Rhine, southern Holland, and much of Switzerland”.

I am sure he felt this tremendous thrill who made him like a young man in his twenties, hormones being highly effective drugs (as any teenager well knows.)

Caesar had greatness in all he did (see one of his busts above) no matter what we can think about him.

Even his most exciting literary work, De Bello Gallico

“is a genuine historical treasure. Rarely are we fortunate enough to have historical accounts written by eyewitnesses. Caesar was not only an eyewitness, but the lead player. It’s as though we had accounts of Alexander’s campaigns written by Alexander himself. Or Charlemagne‘s life in his own words. And, not only is it a first-hand account, but it is brilliantly written. Caesar’s commentaries, whether of the Gallic campaigns or of the Civil War that followed, are considered masterpieces of Latin prose. The writing is concise and straightforward. Caesar’s writings are still used today to teach Latin.”
[quote from the Amazon web site]

Let me just add that Caesar’s words were clear and ordinate and comprehensible”. I mean, they were as crystal-clear as his rational mind and conduct were, probably the best specimen of Roman rationality ever appeared, different from Greek rationality: the Greeks taught the world to think more efficiently, but strangely enough they were much less rational than one might think.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

I will finish this post with the tragic picture of the sad surrender to Caesar of the Gallic hero Vercingetorix, by the French painter Lionel-Noel Royer (1852-1926).

Vercingetorix tried to collect sparse Gallic tribes in a fierce and desperate effort to both unify Gaul and to escape from the yoke of a technologically-superior, more civilized (and disciplined) superpower. To be noted that the Romans, in the painting, look barbarous and stupid, while Vercingetorix appears elegant and civilized, which seems typical of 19th century nationalism.

Vercingetorix though proved to have been an extremely noble knight and soul.

Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. Public Domain image

Caesar had reasons for conquering Gaul that cannot be discussed here (see a list of related posts below).

What we can say, this tragedy having brought France into existence, we admit we enthusiastically adore the final result but we cannot forget all the sorrow and the atrocious price paid: 1 million people killed (according to Plutarch) – probably 1 out of 5 Gauls -, another million enslaved, 300 tribes subjugated and 800 cities destroyed (Plutarch;) last but not least, the quasi annihilation of the Gallic culture, to which we here pay our humble tribute.

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Note 1. The terms Gaul (Latin: Gallia, thence Gallus) and Celt (Celtus, Κέλτης) stem more or less from the same root. I have always thought – a personal opinion – that Galli is possibly how the Romans mispronounced the Greek term Κέλται, although they also used the terms Celti or Celtae preferred by the Greeks and probably derived from a native Celtic name.

The discussion on these words (and other Celtic stuff) is in truth immense and can provide an idea of how the descendants of the Celti are trying to fathom the mysteries of a culture almost totally wiped out by the Romans and other nations.

Waterloo Helmet

Why the Celtic heritage – not only in France – left so scanty traces? French (hence ‘Gallic’) Braudel is blunt: when a culture is erased by another culture, it means it was not so great in (relative) comparison [see some long comments on this topic in French].

Reversely, it is not by chance that the Romans deeply shaped the North West areas of their empire (eg Western Europe) while they less affected the East (and South) regions of it.

Additional infos on both the Celti and on the etymology of the term can be found in the Wikipedia, here and here.

Note 2.
In Book 5, Chapter 44, de Bello Gallico “notably mentions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, two Roman centurions of the 11th Legion. Vorenus and Pullo are dramatized as main characters in the 2005 HBO/BBC original television series Rome, a fictionalized account of Caesar’s rise and fall” (Wikipedia).

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Related posts:

Vercingétorix, le dernier roi des Gaules

Julius Caesar’s Conquest Of Gaul. When West / North Europe & The Mediterranean ‘Embraced’ (1)
[at the foot of this post three other installments on the same theme are linked]

Permanences. Rome and Carthage
France, Italy and the Legacy of Rome
Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)