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Foundation: Myths Of Rome

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Published: Wed, 10 May 2017

Although the foundation of Rome cannot be traced back using scholarly articles instead archaeological records have been used to provide immense data using settlements, religious sites and material dated back to the foundation of Rome. We have retrospective accounts from Livy and Virgil.

The reign of Augustus was a time that used the foundation myths and the retelling of them to unify Rome due to the fragmented state that Rome was in after the civil wars.

The use of the myths was used to unify Rome as one and to relate to the people that they all had and have common origins. By doing this Augustus was using myth to promote a message, not only of political union but of a union that the people originated from one beginning, to further drive this point he built statues of much grandeur and restored the hut of Romulus.

Romulus and Aeneas in his imperial imagery; for instance, he erected statues of these figures in his new imperial Forum, and ostentatiously restored the thatched ‘hut of Romulus’ on the Palatine after it was destroyed by fire.

(Block 2 Page 108)

By retelling the foundation myth stories Augustus was appealing to the moral side of the people’s nature by suggesting that all of Rome should be in unity and that tradition should be remembered and recognised. He was billing himself as Rome’s second founder hoping to unify Rome in a more peaceful age.

In my opinion this is most definitely a use of myth for moral messages and perhaps a way to control the people in his reign.

In some of the accounts written by Livy, whom is thought to be a friend of Augustus but also a truthful person, it states that

Livy’s writing does reveal that he was an advocate of the morality associated with the Roman republic. At the same time, however, he was frequently optimistic about the new imperial era.

(Block 2 page 110)

Perhaps also Livy is a tactician, while supporting his friend Augustus his scepticism of the super natural elements and of the foundation myths of Rome, are evident for he suggests that the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus was in fact a prostitute with the nickname of wolf. However Livy in his accounts of myth does show recognition and makes use of some mythical characters such as Aeneas, Romulus and Remus.

Augustus used many of the writings from the accounts of Livy including the curule chair and the purple boarded toga to promote a unified Rome for example. On the reverse of a coin it showed Augustus with the inscription reading,

‘He restored the laws and rights of the Roman people’.

(Block 2 Page 112)

This is another demonstration of how Augustus used myth supported by the writings of Livy to unify Rome. The inscription on the coin represents this and refers to all Roman people.

Nero’s use of myth

Nero in his reign was a great entertainer and I am certain used myth as a vehicle for communication with the people of Rome. Nero was using the characters to project the parallels between him and his power as an Emperor of Rome and perhaps to influence how he was thought of. This is exemplified in the reference of Suetonius were he writes of Nero singing of the myth of Niobe to link him with the god Apollo.

Nero planned to rule by following the example of Augustus so Nero was therefore following the close association that Augustus had with Apollo. This would also help us to understand that myth was being reused to keep the morality and belonging of the Roman people unified. Nero also associated himself with another god Sol by having images of him pictured in a radiate crown which would show the link to Sol.

Being seen by the people of Rome was important for a ruler, and, without mass media, public events were always a stage for the emperor; how an emperor behaved in front of and toward the crowd enabled a dialogue between rulers and ruled. Nero wanted the people to see him as a god and used the similarities of himself and Apollo to create peace. Even in official coinery Nero can been seen akin to Apollo in the way he is presented as Apollo Citharoedus, advancing right in flying robes, playing lyre which he did often.

Nero justified his own singing by observing that singing ‘is sacred to Apollo’ (Primary Source 2.6, p. 39).

(Block 2 page 143)

In the reign of Nero even the Elite were made to perform and this perhaps allied Nero with the lower classes of Rome and allowed him to reach further to masses and become more popular. Nero used myth as an entertainment tool and would use themes of tragedies to perform to. It has been noted that Suetonius recorded Nero being involved in the ballets about the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus. He would sing about Niobe.

Many of the rulers of Rome have used myth for different ends, in the case of Augustus he wanted to unify Rome and improve the strength of the empire by using myth to communicate of the origins of Rome by unifying the people the empire would be stronger.

Nero in comparison was so taken up with the theatre and performing that he used it as a vehicle to promote himself to all of Rome, some believed he was claiming a god like status through the performance of myth and the production of relics depicting him as the gods Apollo or Sol.

Flavian Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre was an in important stage for myth and by using the amphitheatre as a performance arena myth was able to reach wider audiences. The players in the arena would impersonate characters from myth although in some circumstances the endings to the myths may be dramatised to entertain the audience. The audience would have to have prior knowledge of myths to identify characters from their props, such as Juno characterised by holding a diadem and sceptre. This meant that it was no only the elite that were aware of the myths but most of society.

Political and Moral use of myth

It is known that Rome was decorated elaborately with temples, pictures, buildings and statues. This decoration was often dedicated to the gods and myths. It is shown myth was not only understood by the elite but by the all Romans as they were encompassed by all this imagery even in as far as the very coinage that they carried in their pockets.

It is clear from the findings of many a signet ring, and images of the gods expressed in many ways in the guise of Emperors, that these rings could also be significant indicators of political allegiance to the Gods and therefore the Emperors’ who were represented as them. Therefore it is likely that political allegiance and identity were also communicated through the medium of myth.

It has been stated that at heart of most political points are rhetoric, myth and symbolism. This will only work if myth is believed and can be a cause of unrest if the general public have access to other sources of information. Myths are a source of propaganda still used and allied with today

A number of the myths were rewritten in Augustus’s reign and this could be why he used them to help retell the myths and stories in a way that would support him throughout his reign, because at this time it was a period in which there was a great unrest and war in Rome. By focussing on the concept of the origins of Rome this would optimistically allow for the conflicts to dispel and develop into a unified peaceful focus for an integrated Rome.

It needs also to be noted that the writings by Livy from the period of the rein of Augustus, do not all lend themselves to support Augustus and all of his ideals.

From the view of Livy he interpreted the rape of the Sabine women as a politically motivated attack, a way to increase the population of Rome because they did not have women folk so the women had a dedicated use being that of reproduction. This act also cemented the relationship the Sabine villages in time after the attack, because now their daughter had offspring that were Roman and Sabine and the women acted as political mediators between both sides resulting in a combined relationship and an extension t the Roman Empire.

Myth has been woven into to political life and it was a vehicle of communication between ruler and subjects. Theatrical performances that linked myth to the reality of contemporary life allowed stories to be a method of communicating with the public. The all important image to that of an Emperor was signified in many ways by having statues built of themselves in poses and with props that were representative of Gods.

Myth at home

The representation of myths in Villas echoed that of the imperial Rome, the example of the Roman Villa decorated highly with images taken from myth. It seems that myths had an importance to the Roman people because they are pictured on very mundane items as well as the precious, from wall paintings, pottery and silverware to combs and other everyday items.

Myth is referred to in epitaphs and funerary monuments from the rich to the poor although it is not a claim to be a God it does show the widespread use of myth and how important it was to people of Rome. Myths were symbols for people to associate themselves with and present their knowledge beliefs and their own identity.

Conclusion

Myths were used to communicate moral and political messages but they were also retold for entertainment purposes. It is evident that rulers used myth to try and establish some type of hold and control over society. The Emperors wanted and needed to have a united Rome and used myth to retell of a time of greatness. By relating to myth the rulers are establishing an identity with myth and the ideology that is presented in a story form, this then increases a person’s awareness of the correct way to behave or to warn of consequences should they behave like the characters in the myths. Although the use of myth appears to be very wide spread I believe that rulers would use the stories and adapt them to fit their own purpose, by doing this it would allow a firm control of the people from both a political and moral standing.

The Romans appeared to have been surrounded by myth because it was displayed in many forms from statues and monuments created by the emperors’ to the items of pottery that would be used in many houses. It was used as propaganda allowing for each ruler to place their own interpretation and spin depending on their own needs and requirements. The evidence that shows how important myth was to the Romans and still exists in funerary monuments and the use of myth has provided a tool for rulers to use as a medium to deploy messages to their subjects, due to their beliefs, significance and meaning to Roman people.

(Word Count 1954)


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