The Forgotten Legacy of Roma Caput Mundi

AGI-Rome participants in January 2018 during a special tour of the Colosseum with Dr. Georgea Colella exploring the migration, slavery and prostitution during the Roman Empire. 

The Forgotten Legacy of Roma Caput Mundi

Rita Ewing

The revolving subject of this program related to refugee integration and the concept of accompaniment. Perhaps, because this theme relates closely to my own research as a Migration Studies scholar, it resonated with me throughout my experiences in this program. During the program we were reminded of the rising facts and figures of Forcibly Displaced Persons worldwide. Due to media misrepresentation, economic downturns, and the uprising of nationalist movements, reception towards FDPs has been hostile and hotly contested since Europe’s refugee crisis of 2015. By examining the discourse related to anti-immigration sentiment, arguments are often premised on the loss of national identity related to the influx of the foreign-born populations. Though history may come alive while walking the ancient streets of Rome, these anti-immigration sentiments seem to reflect blindness towards how its own history of migration has shaped Rome today. A city so indicative to history and migration should prove emblematic to refugee resettlement, yet it struggles to do so. In this experiential report I explore the dichotomy between Europe’s anti-refugee sentiments to Rome’s evidentiary example of how migration has historically functioned.

We stood outside of the Colosseum with our guide as she briefed us on how the site functioned as the epicenter of migration, slavery, and prostitution. As the center of the Roman Empire, Rome found itself as a transit point and home to people from all corners of the empire. The effects of these migratory influences cannot only be seen in the architecture and language, but are also visible within the external characteristics of the Roman citizen. As our guide explained, peoples and cultures blended and what resulted is the Rome we recognize today. To better understand the concept of integration, I recommend this piece by Alastair Ager and Alison Strang, Understanding Integration: A Conceptual Framework. Migration is not new, and the fears related to the natural processes of migration are historically unfounded. The concept that integration of new peoples will dismantle the existing national identity does not recognize that neither the nation-state nor its associated identity exists in a vacuum, rather they are part of a constantly evolving process that incorporates spheres of influences over time. To further explore the concept of citizenship and belonging, I highly suggest Nira Yuval-Davis’ work, The 'Multi-Layered Citizen'. As our guide explained, Roman citizenship could be bought, and what it meant to be Roman varied depending on class and gender. How we recognize political incorporation today is not how it once was, nor is it bound to remain the same centuries from now. Lastly, to conceptualize how citizenship functions in this evolving supra-national, globalized world, this think-piece Should Citizenship be for Sale? is enlightening. Evidence of migration lives and breathes in the streets of Rome. Those same streets we walk on today are in the same footsteps of migrants before us. To deny FDPs from seeking refuge is not only denying them of their human rights, but also denying the history that built and will continue to build cities, cultures, ideas, and languages.






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