Rome, the United States of America, and the Meaning of Empire
University of Utah Member ΦΑΘ-AP
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol III.
In modern literature and media, authors often draw convenient examples from historical episodes and hold them side by side with current events in an attempt to explain or inspire contemporary phenomena. These comparisons serve many parties and purposes, yet rarely are the serious historian or the quest for historical accuracy part of that agenda. Thus, the practice remains widespread for various reasons, including arrogance, seductiveness, and especially convenience, among others. The Roman Empire of antiquity and the supposed “American Empire” of modernity constitute one such comparison, and a common one at that. This imagined parallel, however, is more inaccurate, misleading, and potentially dangerous than most. In order to address those who would desire to cast the United States as the “New Roman Empire,” this investigation will examine the core tenet of that assertion: the definition of the term “empire” itself. A brief discussion of Roman imperium will clearly delineate the basic requirements to be considered an empire. The ensuing attempt to apply these standards to the United States answers the question definitively, and dispels any lingering temptations to describe either a new American Rome, or an American Empire at all. The United States is neither, and claiming such lends neither legitimacy nor clairvoyance to American efforts throughout the globe.