March 3, 2008

The eternal Roman and Mediterranean soul

Ostuni, PugliaIf it is not a mystery that, on the one hand, the Greek-Roman soul was intimately tied to Egypt and North Africa, it is also true that, on the other, the North-African regions are nowadays considered diverse and almost European by Sub-Saharan black people. Add to this that during the whole Middle Ages North Africans were the most powerful, civilised and wealthy among all Mediterranean and European folks, even though in these days the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean tend to exchange their roles, since wealth has now moved to the north. Then consider that

many villages in southern Italy (or in so many Greek islands, not to mention Spain, who was under Arabic rule for so long) look Arabic or belonging in any case to the deep southern Mediterranean: take Ostuni, in Apulia, or Sperlonga, in the south of Latium; then look at Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia (see picture above). They are almost identical, belonging to a very similar culture, whether we like it or not, because during the Middle Ages the winning model came from the southern Mediterranean coasts, where civilization (and power) lay.

As a result, according to this Man of Roma’s delicious and thoughtful post, the differences between parts of Italy (and Greece, and Spain) and the North African Countries are not as great as someone might think. And all this while there are parts of Italy—most of the northern and central regions—that since centuries are basically “north-oriented,” and had in the post-Second World War decades an economic, industrial, and socio-cultural growth that made them some of the richest and most developed areas of Europe (while about half of the southern regions still lay in a state of disrepair).

By the way, perhaps that is also why to rule this Country has always been such an “impossible” task—being Italy a too long peninsula … as well as the outcome of very different historical courses and destinies.

To conclude, though I’m not sure I fully agree with Man of Roma—I would prefer to stress the differences rather than the similarities between Southern Italy and the North African Countries—, I recommend a careful reading of his post, supposing that you like travelling through time and space as much as I personally do.


  1. Dear rob,

    first of all thanks for your interest in my post. I really find all your writings – posts and comments - stimulating and highly professional. I saw in the Normblog profile of yours (my best compliments!) that you have lived in La Maddalena, and that your parents are from Northern Italy. This can create a difference of perspective.

    I am a Roman (though a few ancestors of mine come from the Alpine region), and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean. In fact Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European -although, continuing to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, she is something far beyond Europe.

    As Alex from said in a comment to the post of mine you quote, "why the human race almost delights in dwelling upon differences"? I know that September 11 has created a lot of problems in our relationship with the Muslims. I know there are dangers. And I also know that sometimes 'African' in our country is not a compliment, since these people are less rich than we are (same old story: the rich scorns the poor; I am sure they did the same with us centuries ago).

    But, first of all, I do not agree with Oriana Fallaci's view. I do not see this great menace. There are so many similarities among Mediterranean people, and we must concentrate on these and on peace. Being history-aware surely can help.

    My blog is on our Roman roots(thence western), and I believe there is no danger of losing our identity when in contact with people that are similar to us but also, I agree, diverse.

    I deeply believe in Roman 'humanitas', which is basically clear conscience of what we are and full respect for what others are. One of the effects of Roman humanitas - which made Rome great – is this capacity the Romans had of making a friend out of an enemy. So this dwelling upon differences could, in my view, bring only more sorrow.

    All the best

    Man of Roma

  2. Dear Man of Roma,

    Thanks for this comment (and for the kind words), which in my opinion adds something very important to the topic under discussion. I understand your point of view, which is the outcome of what I’d define as a profound approach to history—that is the best or the only way to deal with history itself. That is why I take note of your arguments, proposing to think them over carefully.

    At the moment, however, I’d point out that my approach to the whole issue is in some way, à la Jacques Maritain, “Distinguer pour unir.”

    Besides, I have loved this statement of yours

    “One of the effects of Roman humanitas - which made Rome great – is this capacity the Romans had of making a friend out of an enemy.”

    But …, may I take the liberty of remarking that, if it is certainly true that they used to make a friend out of an enemy, it’s also true that they (almost) always did so just one moment after persuading him with “solid” arguments … ;-)

    All the best

  3. > if it is certainly true that they used to make a friend out of an enemy, it’s also true that they (almost) always did so just one moment after persuading him with “solid” arguments … ;-)

    I agree, they sometimes made use of 'solid' arguments. But the interesting part, in my view, came later, in the course of the years, during which a relationship of mutual dignity and esteem kept growing. This is why Hannibal was defeated, after all. He was not only defeated by Rome, but by Rome's friends (and ex enemies) as well.


  4. As far as I know, this is absolutely true.

    "Fecisti patriam diversis gentibus unam;
    profuit iniustis te dominante capi;
    dumque offers victis proprii consortia iuris,
    Urbem fecisti, quod prius orbis erat."

    Rutilius Namatianus, De Reditu Suo