Core narrative

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Romans, like most people, had a body of core narratives. Not propaganda, these were internal stories, stories that they told about themselves. They helped Romans define who they were, at least in the ideal. They also helped to explain their past.

In the recent past, some of these stories were labeled as myth, but in some cases recent archaeological work has tended to support some of the details of these narrative, for example, regarding the approximate date of the first coming together of the Roman community. [1] [2]

Putting the matter of historical accuracy aside, by sharing in the narrative we can listen to the Romans talking about themselves. The challenge, of course, is to come to understand the ways in which the stories were understood and contributed to the composition of the Roman psyche.

These narratives have had a long life, and many of them have continued to inspire art and thought[3] , if not action, long after the Roman world passed out of all recognition. They can be said to embody "Roman virtues", and by contextualizing the virtues in these stories, by framing them in scenarios, we are offered a way to understand them as the Romans did. It is as possible for us to find inspiration and guidance in these stories as it was for our Roman ancestors.

With some notable exceptions, the legends of Rome are not tales of the gods (the complex tales of Greek legend were only grafted on to the gods of the Romans later, as the impact of Greek culture on Roman religion was felt), but tales of mortals. Men and women who exemplify the ideals of the Roman citizen (or who represent their antithesis) are at the heart of these legends. Thus they are closer to the men and women who heard and hear them, and embrace them as guideposts for their own lives.


  1. UNRV History: "Founding of Rome"
  2. LiveScience: "Ruins Support Myth of Rome's Founding"
  3. e.g., Stoddard, William H. (2003), "Horatius at Khazad-dum"

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