Posted by Dennis » 3 Comments »
Mommsen continues to reveal something of his personal feelings when talks about such things as nature furnishing the Romans with the perfect order for the family: the father at the head, and all others subordinate. He loves hyperbole, again and again informing us that the Romans accomplished nationhood and the family more perfectly than any other people.
His etymological games recur as well, and often make me wince. Because of a certain fixation with numbers as the basis of so much in Roman society, he wants soldiers to be the ‘thousand’ marchers, though the root may well be connected to the Sanskrit mil-, meaning ‘assemble.’ In that case, the soldiers, milites, would be those who go in formation, just as comites (companions) simply go together.
The reason I give these off-the-cuff etymologies (cp. my derivation of Latium as ‘wetland’ from *lat-) is to show the lack of real authority for his guesses (even if I do find mine more convincing). His attempt to connect populus (people) and popla (butcher) is also unfortunate.
The real value of the chapter is what he has to say about the essential foundation of Roman society and the distinction between one’s place in his family, under the pater familias, and within the community under the law.
Law was Mommsen’s real area of expertise, and it shows, keeping in mind that the whole picture is an idealized distillation of the facts intended to give a picture of the Roman constitution at its earliest stage.
This may a good point to remind ourselves that the theoretical, conjectural, and background work should largely be done by the end of volume one, and then we’ll be on to history proper. Stickit out. I think the payoff will be worth it.