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Rome and Ethnic Diversity

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is good advice for anyone who finds their way to Rome. One can never be entirely sure which behavior is expected of a visitor when visiting an ethnically diverse place such as Rome. Roman history is replete with references to the multitude of kingdoms and territories that the great and powerful Roman Empire had defeated and subdued, and subsequently absorbed into the Roman fold. It is therefore unsurprising that Rome, the heart and soul of the Latin nation, is as ethnically diverse today as it was in ancient times.

A Brief Look at Rome Today

Rome (or Roma in Italian and Latin) is the capital of Italy and of its region, called Latium. It is located across the confluence of the Tiber and Aniene rivers. Rome is the largest commune in Italy and it is also one of the largest European capital cities in land area, with an area of 1,285 square kilometers. The commune territory extends up to the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the district of Ostia, on the south-west, located on the shore.

Rome is also called "la Città Eterna" (the Eternal City), "l'Urbe" (the latin for the City pre-eminently) and "The City of the Seven Hills".

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

According to Wikipedia, in the age between the 10th and 8th centuries BC, the main population of central Italy consisted of two main groups of Italic people, the Osco-Umbri and Latins. Latium Vetus (the ancient territory of Latium) was populated by the non-Latin Etruscans, and the Volscians, Sabines, Aequi, Rutuli, and Ausonians. These people migrated from different areas of Italy, including current Tuscany, Marches, and Liguria.

Among them, the Latins developed an organized society, which was the main source of the people who settled in Rome. The Latins originally stayed in Colli Albani (the Alban hills, modern Castelli – 20 to 50 miles, or 30 to 80 km, southeast of the Capitoline hill); later, they moved down towards the valleys, which provided better land for animal breeding and agriculture.

Culture that is identifiably and certainly Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 7th century to an increasingly Hellenic-oriented culture that was influenced by Greek traders and Greek neighbors in Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. The name "Rome" suggests Etruscan influences from the word "rhome", meaning "hard", which is more likely than the mythical story of Romulus and Remus, the twins suckled by a she-wolf (La Lupa).

Rome was at first ruled by kings. Then, about 500 BC, the Roman Republic was established, with two annually elected consuls at its head, guided by a senate. During the time of Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14, the Roman Republic was succeeded by the Roman Empire.

At its greatest extent the empire of Rome encompassed territories stretching from Britain and Germany to North Africa and the Persian Gulf. After 395 it was split into the Byzantine Empire and the Western Roman Empire, which rapidly sank into anarchy under the onslaught of barbarian invaders from the north and east. The last emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus (born c. 461), was deposed by Goths in 476, the traditional date for the end of the empire.

All Roads Lead to Rome

Because of the number of cultures that Rome conquered in its prodigious reign, there were many ethnic groups who reached Italia and subsequently settled there. These groups include Romans, Italians, Goths, Greeks, Spanish, Celts, Turks, Crusaders, Romanians, and Gypsies over the centuries. By 100 AD Rome is a rich mix of different cultures and religions. Despite such dictatorial power wielded by Rome at the height of its power, Rome was actually more democratic when it comes to keeping its people’s cultural practices and traditions alive. The freedom by which its constituents – citizen or otherwise – exercise their diversity can be still be seen in present Rome’s architecture, language and people.

Rome’s architecture shows a fusion of traditional Etruscan and Greek elements. For the whole of the republican period, Roman architecture was a nearly exact copy of that of Greece. However, it was late through their reign that they achieved originality in construction.

Carried over from Macedonia, mosaic was used to tile the floors of houses in Rome. Mosaic floors are particularly associated with Roman dwellings from Britain to Dura-Europas. Splendid mosaic floors distinguished luxurious Roman villas across North Africa. In Rome, Nero and his architects used mosaics to cover the surfaces of walls and ceilings in the Domus Aurea, built 64 AD.

Moreover, the dialects of Rome, which comprised the Italiano Centrale, is a group of western Romance dialects spoken in Latium, Umbria, central Marche, extreme southern Tuscany, and a little part of Abruzzo in central Italy. These dialects may have slight differences among them, but all are closely related to Tuscan and are mutually intelligible with each other as well as with standard Italian.

Italiano Centrale dialects include Marchigiano (from the central part of Marche), Umbrian dialects (Umbria), Cicolano-Reatino-Aquilano (L'Aquila and Province of Rieti), Tuscia dialect (Tuscia, northern part of Latium), Romanesco (Rome), Romanaccio, Giudeo-Romanesco, Castelli Romani dialect (Castelli Romani), and Ciociaro (Ciociaria, southern part of Latium).

Italkian, another minority dialect in Rome, was spoken mainly in urban areas in Rome and in central and northern Italy (especially in Livorno) from the 10th to the 17th centuries in Italy. Described as a mix between Italian and Hebrew, it is estimated that only a tiny number of people speak Italkian fluently today and less than 4,000 people still use it in their everyday speech.

Italkian is not the only dialect that employs Hebrew. Others include Yiddish, which is a mix between German and Hebrew, and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), a mix between Spanish and Hebrew. Linguists also make a distinction between such Jewish Italo-Romance dialects as Giudeo-Ferrarese, Giudeo-Mantovano, Giudeo-Modenese, Giudeo-Reggiano, and Giudeo-Veneto.

Today Rome continues to flourish as migrants from other countries come and settle there. The ethnic diversity that Rome has is now not only limited to European ethnic groups but also to Asian and Latino groups. Estimates of non-Italian residents based on the 2001 census and on 2003 population register data range from just over 98,000 to almost 300,000 (or about 4 to 12% of the city's total population), with the largest numbers of foreigners coming from Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, and Sri Lanka.

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