You don’t need to be an expert in Classical Civilisations to be able to identify the enduring influences that Ancient Rome has on our modern world. Receptions of Classical Rome are woven into our everyday lives and provide us with a rich cultural tapestry to appreciate. In the media we are bombarded with filmic, serial and documentary interpretations of Roman culture, countless books are published year on year, ancient texts are readily available online and with the proliferation of social media platforms, the ancient world is arguably more accessible to the masses now, than it has ever been in the past. Ancient Rome is well and truly alive; but a disturbing consequence of this far-reaching accessibility it that certain elements of Roman culture and practice have been appropriated to serve purposes that are an affront to a tolerant and open-minded society.
I’m strapped for time this week, I’ve got lots going on so this post doesn’t set out to go into any great detail, I’m keeping this one brief but I wanted to provide a quick overview of, what I’ve called the dark side of Classical Reception and provide what I hope will be an interesting talking point!
Symblolic representations of Ancient Roman culture are well-known, I’m sure that just reading about them has conjured up various images. I’m sure you can visualise the she-wolf suckling the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, no doubt the majestic eagle standard more often than not depicted at the head of a Roman legion springs to mind, but for me, the acronym SPQR is one of the most enduring symbolic representations of Roman culture than any other. SPQR is the main topic of this weeks post because as I was reading some articles on Twitter earlier in the week I was genuinely shocked to find out that SPQR has been appropriated by some white nationalist groups in the United States who now use the acronym as a symbol of their supremacist organisations.
The basis of this post is the online article ‘The Misuse of an Ancient Roman Acronym by White Nationalist Groups’ I urge you all to go and read this article because it is very interesting, it can be viewed online at –
For those of you who are unfamiliar with SPQR, it translates in Latin as Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Senate and People of Rome). Without going into too much detail (please read the full article for a thoroughly engaging discussion), SPQR stood for the compromise or balance of power that existed between the Roman Senate and the Roman people, in effect it symbolised the constitution of the Roman Republic and it maintained that the people kept the senate in check and vice a versa. However, in the modern context according to the classicist Curtiz Dozier there are many documented examples of how SPQR has been used to emphasise what he describes as…
‘European racial and cultural purity, idealization of military power and violence, and admiration of Hitler and Nazi ideology’.
Now, perhaps I’ve been naive about this and realistically now I think about it, there’s loads of ancient symbols out there that have been appropriated by various organisations to suit their agenda. Of course a great many of these are respectable good organisations, but there are some that aren’t! The most obvious and horrific example that springs to mind is the Nazi party. I suspect that when many people think of Nazi symbolism they immediately think – Swastika. However, the symbol that became synonymous with the totalitarian regime is certainly not traditionally steeped in hatred, nor are it’s origins even remotely reminiscent of its use by the Nazi party as a representation of Aryan purity, anti-Semitism and racism. The Swastika can be traced back to the cultures of Eurasia where it represented divinity, spirituality & good luck. Granted, the Swastika is not a Roman symbol but it serves to support my point and in the light of that example, I suppose my initial shock that SPQR has been appropriated to serve a sinister purpose too has been lessened given that so many other examples exist.
I would value some input on this interesting topic…
What are your views/experiences on the appropriation of ancient symbolism?
Can you identify some other examples?