The Splendor of Rome, Part 2
|Mary Wakefield Buxton|
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— One of the advantages of traveling to a Virginia Bar seminar is exposure to stimulating educational programs. Last year in Athens, local attorneys explained Greece’s legal system and included much information on how their present disastrous economic crisis developed. It was a first-rate program. The Italian lawyers offered us the same quality program.
Roman law influenced our legal system based on English Common Law. One of many examples is that over 2,000 years ago a Roman citizen had the right to kill a thief in his home at night, but not during the day unless the thief attacked him.
Present Italian law stems from their Constitution adopted in 1946 after Mussolini fell at the end of WWII. In Italy, there is a four-tier system to justice: local justices of the peace, courts, courts of appeal, and a supreme court. An interesting rule is that anyone with damages over 550 Euros must have an attorney in order to go to court.
The major problem is seeking justice is a slow process, with many cases taking up to three years to settle. The judicial system is supposedly independent and autonomous, judges are hired and promoted on basis of blind test scores, but one wonders how politics does not affect final selection to some extent. A prosecutor must investigate every complaint and a case is never permanently closed but archived. If a new witness should ever appear, a reinvestigation begins.
Over the centuries the Catholic Church has greatly influenced Italian laws. At one time the church ruled in all aspects of Italian life but Mussolini put an end to the power of the church with his concord that set present limitations to the church. Vatican City, an independent country within Italy, was formed and the church has had waning influence over Italian life ever since.
Italy now allows divorce, abortion and joint economic status to married women, but divorce calls for a 3-year separation before it can be considered. The nation recognizes union only between a male and a female. Not until the 70s were children born of unmarried couples given equal status to children born within a marriage. The state does not recognize a church wedding and priests today must read the civil ceremony in a church ceremony before it is deemed legal. Like in Virginia, no protection is given to unmarried women as to property rights and, also like here, couples who decide to forfeit marriage and simply co-habitate are growing in numbers.
I had hoped to miss the “demonstrations” I encountered in Greece last year, but we were exposed to a “flash mob” walking back from the coliseum one morning putting on a show in front of St. Mary’s Basilica. They were college students demanding free education. It was tame by what we had seen in Greece. The students merely came together in front of media and waved banners and chanted in unison. The police were present.
It seemed ironic to me because in the plaza in front of the basilica is an ancient Egyptian obelisk that had been stolen from Egypt by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. It appeared to me that humanity still wants something from somebody else, whether it is obelisks from conquered neighboring countries or purloined tax revenues to foot one’s own expenses.
History strikes me as one tale of someone stealing someone else’s possessions all throughout time. The Catholic Church, for example, took all its lustrous marble from the Roman temples which now stand in ruins. It is amazing to tour the Vatican and other Vatican churches outside, such as St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s, and see all the splendid marble inlays, all taken from earlier buildings.
My guide told me the only Roman structures that survived were those that were converted into Christian churches. Examples of this were the beautiful Church of Angels that Michelangelo re-did and the Pantheon, the exteriors being Roman ruins and the interiors Catholic basilicas.
The Coliseum still stands in ruins today only because a pope finally ordered a halt to thieving dismantlement. He reminded his fellow citizens that Christians refusing to swear allegiance to the Roman emperor had died by the thousands at this site and thus it should be preserved.
Gazing on Roman ruins today totally stripped of its ornate marble columns and even the metal that once trimmed its majestic exteriors lends an extremely eerie feeling. Let no one doubt what happens to possessions, values, laws, language, even ethnicity, when one culture is overcome by another.
I imagined a frightful thought. That’s mainly what writers are good for. They write of the unthinkable. I thought of the poem “Ozymandias” and another thousand years or so in the future with tour groups looking upon ruins in Washington, D.C., where guides might tell tourists . . . “A great republic once stood here.”