Michael Fontaine (Professor and Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education, Cornell University)
March 29, 2018
Comparisons between ancient Rome and the United States are suddenly all around us. Why, and what do they portend? Right around the time Jesus was born, ancient Rome’s 500-year-old republic failed. Its traditions of representative elections, checks and balances, tolerance, and freedoms of movement and expression were swept away, never to recover. In their place rose the Roman Empire, an increasingly authoritarian and Orwellian structure that saw state-sponsored persecutions of minorities, artists, and dissidents at home, endless foreign wars abroad, and, eventually, even the requirement for all citizens to believe certain theological propositions. How did Rome transform in this way, and why did it never go back? In this talk I’ll highlight political institutions, imperial expansion, the breakdown of republican institutions, the civil wars, and a few personalities whose names, 2000 years on, are still familiar to us all.