‘Obama’s Prototype’: Rome’s First Black Emperor, Septimius Severus (Corriere Della Sera, Italy)
For centuries, people have compared the United States with ancient Rome. America’s founding fathers borrowed heavily from the Roman Republic in creating the American state, and many see modern America as an analogue of third century Rome in decline. But now there is yet another analogy just as compelling as anything that came before. For Italy’s Corriere Della Sera, columnist Ennio Caretto compares America’s first Black president, Barack Obama, to Rome’s first Black emperor, Septimius Severus, who ruled the greatest power in the ancient world from 193-211.
For the Corriere Della Sera, columnist Ennio Caretto starts off his fascinating comparison this way:
The American Dream looking back 2,000 years: Two multiracial, multicultural dominions and the same demand for impunity around the world.
Since 1776, when America proclaimed its independence, it has been considered the “Second Rome.” In the year that the momentous work of the English historian Edward Gibbon was published, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, two of the founding fathers of today’s sole superpower, Thomas Paine and William Drayton, began to imagine America as the new “caput mundi [world capitol].” In General George Washington, their first president and a reserved and well-educated man, the American elite saw a new Cincinnatus. The sculptor Horatio Greenough dedicated a marble statue to him similar to that of the Roman emperors, wrapped in a toga, and the populace immediately titled it “George Jupiter.” In all likelihood, the president was flattered: an enthusiast of Roman history, he loved the tragedy Cato (written by another Englishman Joseph Addison) so much that he had his troops recite it.
Since 2008, the year Obama was elected America’s first Black president, the country has had yet another reason to identify itself with ancient Rome. The Roman Empire, the most multiracial and multicultural in history, also bore an Obama prototype: Septimius Severus, the first Black emperor. This Libyan general in the Roman legions, born in Leptis Magna in 146 A.D., was a protégé of Marcus Aurelius, and took power by force of arms in 193 A.D. He married a Syrian woman and inaugurated a new dynasty – the first of color in the Roman world.
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