Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Stand confidently - on the wreck of your enemies

I'm just back from a few days in Rome.  I love the city but had never got around to exploring the Forum.  This time I was there with my son Jake and we decided to go for it.

Temple of Caesar, check.  Various triumphal arches, check.  Place where Brutus stabbed Caesar, check.  Temple of the Vestal Virgins, check.  All awesome stuff, and with the background of the Colosseum one way and the Capitol the other, you certainly feel you've got your money's worth.  Speaking of money, you even get to see the melted coins which trickled into the floor of one of the main trading rooms - dating back to an occasion when the Goths arrived and torched the place with so little notice that the traders didn't have time to leave with their cash.  All of us who think the world moves faster these days, and that there's more global interaction, should stop and think a bit when we hear that one.

At the Capitol end of the Forum are the remains of a few walls, no more than a couple of metres high.  So far so blah.  But, dear reader, these are (as you may have guessed) not just any old walls.  These are the remains of the rostra.  This was a platform where all the great orators spoke in public.  Yes, this is where Mark Anthony came to bury Caesar not to praise him.  Basically, if you wanted to say something in ancient Rome, this is where you stood up and said it.

But it's the next detail that really sent my mind racing.  'Rostra', which we now use as a term in theatre for any kind of moveable platforms, actually meant something very specific in Latin.  It was the Romans' word for the bronze battering-rams which early fighting ships had fixed to their prows.  Quite logically, given the value of bronze, a victorious fleet would combine victory spoils with the sweet pleasures of neutering their opponents, by the simple act of sawing off the losers' rostra.  Mostly, those would be fixed onto new ships.  But in 318 BC, following the naval victory of Antium, the Romans brought the captive rostra back to Rome and built them into their (then shiny and new) public speaking platform.

Just think what that means.  You stand there, a politician or an emperor, a captain of armies or of industry, at a moment when you want to charm, calm or castigate your people, to reassure or to rouse them.  And you're literally standing on the wreck of Rome's enemies.  How can you fail?

I am currently wondering what this means for corporate and political communications in the twenty first century.  Let me know what you think...

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