Were the Romans light in their sandals?

In all the craziness of the "gay caveman" this week, I seem to have missed this (from the Telegraph 4/8/11):
Roberto De Mattei, 63, the deputy head of the country's [Italy's] National Research Council, claimed that the empire was fatally weakened after conquering Carthage, which he described as "a paradise for homosexuals".

The fall of the Roman Empire was a result of "the effeminacy of a few in Carthage, a paradise for homosexuals, who infected the many.

"The abhorrent presence of a few gays infected a good part of the (Roman) people," Prof Mattei told Radio Maria, a Catholic radio station.

Thankfully, the report goes on,
The remarks prompted angry calls for his resignation, with critics saying his comments were homophobic, offensive and unbecoming of his position.

I'm not so sure about the use of the term "critics" - probably should have been "sane, reasonable people." The video of De Mattei's statement can be found here (in Italian, of course).

Over at Rogue Classicism, David Meadows has a good break-down of the story, and he points out that the coverage of De Mattei's remarks is much better than the media's coverage of the Corded Ware burial or the fake lead codices.

This certainly isn't the first time someone has put forth the idea that homosexuality led to the fall of the Roman Empire. For some light but surprisingly good reading on the topic, I'm actually going to recommend the wikipedia article on Homosexuality in Ancient Rome. Right in the second paragraph, it notes:

The term homosexuality is anachronistic for the ancient world, since there is no single word in either Latin or ancient Greek with the same meaning as the modern concept of homosexuality, nor was there any sense that a man was defined by his gender choices in love-making; "in the ancient world so few people cared to categorize their contemporaries on the basis of the gender to which they were erotically attracted that no dichotomy to express this distinction was in common use", James Boswell has noted.
If wikipedia authors can understand the anachronism of applying the label "gay" to the ancient Romans, why couldn't the English language news media figure this out in relation to the "gay caveman"?

At any rate, there wasn't one single thing that caused the collapse of the Roman Empire, a collapse that took a long time and was likely influenced by a number of factors. But if you want a good list of simple, reductionist theories for its fall, you can find a fairly comprehensive list of plausible and implausible causes here. My favorites are malaria and lead poisoning - there's no solid evidence for them, but they both can cause cool pathological changes in the skeleton.


Stefanie said…
*Bangs head against wall*

Even my first year undergraduate students get that homosexuality is a modern concept!

Popular Posts