Roman fortitude used to be a proverbial expression but we rarely come across it these days. I would not have known why the expression existed until a few years ago when I read Livy’s account of Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 BC. Hannibal crossed the Alps into Italy with his Carthaginian army, including elephants, and later defeated huge Roman armies sent against him. At the battle of Cannae, the main Roman army was utterly destroyed: 70,000 Romans were killed, including 80 senators. Rome seemed to be Hannibal’s for the taking. The story of how the Romans never gave up but picked themselves up out of the dirt when all seemed to be lost makes for a gripping read. How did they do it? What was their strength? How did they think?
I found a very clear, concise, and meaningful exposition of the Roman soul in my dad’s old notebook (again). It comes from the book ‘The Romans’ by R.H. Barrow. Notice how often the word ‘respect’ comes up.
Self-subordination marked the Roman mind. ‘Because you bear yourselves as less than the gods, you rule the world’… Through obedience comes power. The great gift of Roman obedience flowered in due time into the great ideals of Roman law. By learning at infinite cost that lesson, Rome has set those ideals upon succeeding ages. The Romans were a ‘law-inspired nation’ but the law was of their making and they imposed it on themselves…
Respect for eternal values, the will of the gods and their expression as objective ‘right’ in the practical things of human life (Pietas).
Respect for human personality and human relationships (Humanitas), whether in the family or the state or the circle of friends, springing from a regard for the personality of each individual and issuing in the maintenance of his freedom (Libertas).
Respect for tradition (Mores) that holds fast to what has been handed down because it contains accumulated wisdom which no one moment and no one man can supply.
Respect for authority (Auctoritas), not as obedience to a superior power, but as regard for the judgment of men whose experience and knowledge deserve respect.
Respect for the pledged word (Fides) and the expressed intention, the faith of the Romans by which, with their friends and such as relied on them, they kept amity, and ‘the most sacred thing in life’.
Respect for these things presupposed training (Disciplinas), the training of the home, of public life, of life itself, and the training which comes from the self (Severitas). And training of this kind creates a responsible cast of mind (Gravitas) which assigns importance to important things, so that, when once the hand is placed to the plough, a man does not look back and falter, but keeps to his purpose (Constantia). These are the qualities which make up the genius of the Roman people.