What is it about the Roman Empire that captivates the minds of so many men? We posed this question to a historian.
You may have noticed the new trend on social media:
Women are asking men how often they think about the Roman Empire, and a surprising number of responses range from daily to monthly.
But does a history professor at UiA think a lot about the Roman Empire? Not according to his own account. However, he believes there is a simple reason why some men do.
“Men, in general, have a greater fascination with war and weaponry compared to women. They also show great interest in historical periods such as the Viking Age and wartime events such as World War II,” says Professor Knut Dørum at the University of Agder (UiA).
According to Dørum, the surge in interest in the Roman Empire coincided with the release of the film Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe, on the big screen in the early 2000s.
The history professor emphasises that the film isn’t entirely historically accurate for those seeking to learn more about that tumultuous era.
However, just as in Gladiator, gladiatorial battles and the practice of slave trading were significant aspects of Roman society.
“The Roman Empire was a military state with 500,000-600,000 professional soldiers tasked with defending extensive territories,” explains Dørum.
During the empire's peak, the Romans ruled over large swathes of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and at one point, they even ventured close to India.
Numerous archaeological discoveries attest to the wealth amassed through plunder and the slave-based economy. The Romans constructed grand cities, villages, amphitheatres, fortifications, and a network of roads.
“Even today, you can walk around in Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, and other places in the Middle East and encounter infrastructure left behind by the Romans,” he points out.
The Romans' desire for conquest also played a role in the development of several contemporary Western languages.
“Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Romanian are ‘military languages.’ They originated from the language of Roman soldiers and underwent subsequent development,” elaborates Dørum.
While it is easy to form the impression that the Roman Empire was ahead of its time, the history professor emphasises that it also had its negative sides.
“Medical knowledge was rudimentary; the Romans were not very modern in this regard. People died in large numbers from diseases, and lifespans were notably short,” he adds.
There were more poor people than wealthy, and corruption and abuses of power were prevalent.
The modern state as we know it today, with its laws, politics, jurisprudence, economic structures, and democracy, has its origins in the Roman Empire.
Few empires in history have had such a significant impact on subsequent eras, Dørum points out. The Roman Empire was after all the first major empire in a European context.
“There are good reasons why the Middle Ages and the Renaissance drew inspiration from the Roman Empire,” he says.
However, every great empire eventually falls. Ironically, the empire the Romans sought to expand became the reason for its downfall: The Roman Empire grew too vast and difficult to govern effectively.
“New ethnic groups, many of whom were enlisted as Roman soldiers and allowed to settle within the empire's borders, inundated and finally crushed the Roman Empire,” Dørum states.
Among these ethnic groups were the Germanic peoples, Visigoths and Vandals, which is where the term ‘vandalism’ originates from.
As a professor, Knut Dørum observes that there may be an excessive focus among men on themes related to killings, weaponry, and armies within the field of history.
He believes that there is a need to recruit more women into the field of history to reduce the emphasis on brutality.
“We need to feminise the field of history. War is not a game; it is terrible. We men should embrace interests beyond arms and warfare, focusing on subjects that women care about. History should not be reduced to a form of gaming,” he says.