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First, let me state that I DO admire the roman achievements. However, my affection to the subject was tarnished when I read in a site, dedicated to the same topics as RAT, a statement that shocked me. It said that the romans where in actuality the nazis of the era.

The more I think about it, the more I see the similarity. Through technological superiority, dedication and discipline, both used extremely brutal force to occupy and enslave other nations.
Genocide was a legitimate act. Slaughtering woman and children was not immoral. Having innocent people horribly tortured and killed was plain fun (actualy, AFAIK that was NOT the case in Germany as a whole). Both considered themselves as of superior rigths, while others are as good as animals or objects. Both aspired to dominate the world.

At the roman era, slavery, cruelty and brutality was not unheard of, but it seems they took it a big step forward. In a way, like the nazis took colonialism to another level. It doesnt give neither the excuse of "everybody did it".

All this makes me very uneasy. What is the moral difference between reenacting a ligioner and reenacting an SS man? How do I settle my fascination of the culture, with my distaste of the ways and morality?

How do you?
Let me preface by saying that, as a Christian, my view of ancient ethics is strongly colored by the Bible. That book says that the way of salvation has been and always will be in the God of Israel and His Son. That has all sorts of implications of how I view Rome; most of them aren't especially good.

That being said, I don't think that the comparison with the Nazi's is completely fair. You have to place each culture in its proper context.

The Nazis operated in a world where democracy, women's suffrage, personal liberty, respect for human life, and Judeo/Christian values were all thriving in various places. Hitler explicitly chose and violently implemented a different set of values. His was a creed of racial and cultural superiority and national pride and vengeance all founded on bloodshed.

The Romans operated in a world where despotism, slavery, disorder, human sacrifice, uncivilized barbarism, and political disunity were common and thriving. They brought to the table an emphasis on law and order, political unity, social services, and to some extent political representation. Whatever else they brought, the Romans brought Order. They also brought running water and writing and other cultural advancements. It is true they did not bring respect for human life or a commitment to personal liberty. They didn't come to free the slaves.

But whereas Hitler introduced systematized forced labor and genocide against his enemies (particularly the Jews) in a context in which they had been largely rejected, the Romans were simply acting in accordance with the accepted practices of the time.

In short, you can't expect the Romans to have acted like a modern, enlightened, Western democracy.
But it wasn't unreasonable to expect Nazi Germany (a modern, Western, post-Enlightenment democracy) to behave in an enlightened fashion.

The Romans were not the Nazis of their day.

I have several Jewish friends and none of them saw what you see at all. They actually responded in the same way although not as detailed an answer that Ensifer gave. Ensifer said it best. You have to look at actions based on the times not our modern eyes. I am quite sure that there are things today that ancient societies would see as displeasing or strange. Besides, all dictatorships or totalitarian systems of government to a certain degree or other (some more and some less) have the things you mentioned in common. It is not an absolute feature of the two you mentioned.

IMHO, genocide was not something the Romans were seeking as an active event or task. They needed the people they conquered to do things for them like pay taxes, supply bodies for the army, build etc..... Wiping out an entire race of people would be counter productive to their cause. However, if the Romans felt that a people were being overly troublesome, then that option could have been proceeded with to remove something that would otherwise be a financial, resources, etc burden. Unlike the case in WWII, it was a matter of we just need to remove you.

However, if it continues to bother you that much, then you may want to select another hobby. There is no point in stressing yourself about something that should be fun and educational.
Most comparisons of ancient cultures to modern ones are mostly crap, and they're usually designed to make someone look bad. Sure, you can find basic or superficial similarities almost anywhere, and obviously most modern cultures owe something to ancient ones. But don't get carried away. And most importantly don't let your enjoyment of the study of history be tainted because someone did something mean two thousand years ago. Take heart in the fact that modern civilized countries have tried very hard to evolve beyond that, and in many cases have succeeded. Not every country on the planet can say that.

In further defense of the Romans, they were also far more tolerant of other religions and cultures than most of the world at that time. There was a limit to their patience, yes, but even that is not necessarily a bad thing for law and order. And under Roman law, slaves had a lot more chance at freedom and advancement than in other parts of the ancient world, so even that "evil" part of their culture wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Love your history and keep learning from it. Just be careful of those who have only learned enough to be dangerous!

I would suggest educating yourself more about the ancient world as that should certainly settle the problem for you- for anyone to compare the Romans with the National Socialists is just lazy thinking and demonstrates significant ignorance and the typical modern-day susceptibility to propaganda. The primary mistake is to look at it in a modern context- it's unfair, and simply ridiculous. Conquest, brutality and such were the norm in the ancient world and only quite recently have we been taught to find it 'wrong' despite the fact that so many who say they do now still practicing it under various justifications. And just in the simplest terms, I don't see any reason for conflict of any form of reenacting or interest in the subject since nobody's idolizing the massacres, torture or other 'distasteful' aspects- and the interest is simply in terms of historical fact, not getting one's jollies, or glorification, etc.
Others have already pointed out the danger of using our modern ideas to view Roman behaviour. I agree wholeheartedly, so it is with some apprehension that I will point out that the best Roman public ethics puts some modern statesmen to shame.

Take a look at Marcus Aurelius, and what he admired:

To recognise the malice, cunning, and hypocrisy that power produces…

It was through him that I… conceived of a society of equal laws, governed by equality of status and of speech, and of rulers who respect the liberty of their subjects above all else…

My adopted father
Indifference to superficial honours…
Listening to anyone who could contribute to the public good…
His altruism…
His restrictions on acclimations – and all attempts to flatter him…
His constant devotion to the empire’s needs. His stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take responsibility – and blame – for both…
His attitude to the gods: no superstitiousness. And his attitude to men: no demagoguery, no currying favour, no pandering…
His willingness to yield the floor to experts – in oratory, law, psychology, whatever – and to support them energetically…
The way he kept public actions within reasonable bounds – games, building projects, distributions of money and so on – because he looked to what needed doing and not the credit to be gained from doing it.

Meditations, Book I.

I guess my point is that the best of the Romans had superb ethics and tried to govern accordingly. If we point at slavery and slaughter with a critical eye, we should also look at some extraordinary figures such as Marcus Aurelius.
David, that's a great post! Thank you for those quotations.

Musing on this topic has led me to some further observations.

Nazi Germany was very much a personality cult. One man, Adolf Hitler, rose to power on the wings of national military and economic disaster. In the chaotic and crippled Germany following WW I, Hitler was successfully able to market himself to his countrymen and remake the nation in his own image. He was a master of manipulation, and while Germany as a whole was never blameless in what happened, Germany under Hitler was much more about Hitler than about Germany. Even the architectural and visual iconography that we associate with the Nazis bore Hitler's stamp.

Rome, on the other hand, was never so strongly shaped by the individual personality of its leaders. Rome was not defined by the vision of a single, charismatic leader who was chosen to raise it from the ashes. It was rather a massive edifice of tradition that was shaped over centuries. Even the most megalomaniacal and debauched of its rulers were perceived primarily in terms of their office, rather than the other way around. (Whereas the office of Führer cannot be conceptualized apart from Hitler himself.) Every Roman had his place in Rome, and it was Rome herself that supplied the context for each person's existence, from the lowest slave up to the emperor himself. And in theory at least, Rome explicitly stood for a specific set of virtues and outlook on life. To be a "Roman" meant something specific about how you approached life: virtus, pietas, gravitas.

As a result, while its difficult to conceptualize an SS officer as anything other than an extension of Hitler's will, it is possible to read a Roman legionary as a symbol of the virtues that Rome was supposed to represent. Obviously theory and reality often did not align, just as the medieval knight of legend and symbol and the actual medieval knight are two very different animals. Still, there is a real symbolic value to these warriors that exists separately from any specific human incarnations of them. The Schutzstaffel, on the other hand, was purely a creation of Adolf Hitler and did and stood for whatever he wanted it to.
Years ago, as an exercise, I sat down and got together as much data as I could and did a little exercise in comparing Hitler's death toll to the Romans, taking into account world population and period of time:

Quote:As Rome went from somewhere around 753 BCE to 850 CE (correct me if I'm wrong) I think you can take the average estimate at 1 CE, which seems to be around 100,000,000. The problem is different estimates put it at 300,000,000. Let's say 200,000,000 then.

As Hitler was in power, initially as Chancellor, from 1933 to 1945 ... I think it's safe to use the average population of 1930 at 2,070,000,000.

So, at 50 million deaths, Hitler's actions caused the deaths of 2.42% of the world's population. As a yearly average, that makes it 4,166,667 per year.

Caesar and others seem to have been rather good at genocide also, so it would need to include those deaths. This is a link to the
Body Count of the Roman Era. The author agrees all figures are debatable, and Gibbon is used heavily. It says the body count is 8,665,000. averaged over 603 years, this makes the average annual body count to be 14,370 deaths. Put that against the 200,000,000 average population, you have 0.00007185% per year.

I'm not feeling too well, so my maths could be up the spout.

As an annual average death toll though, I reckon it to be:

Hitler and the Nazis; 4,166,667 pa
Rome 753 BCE to 850 CE; 14,370 pa

The population of 1930 CE was 10.35 times that of 1 CE. The average death toll was 289.96 times greater per annum, without population taken into account. I make it to be 28.02 times greater on average taking population numbers into account.

So, Hitler killed over 28 times more people than the Romans

Given advances in medical treatment, I can't help but still feel that the ratio of Hitler to Romans is a roughly fair one. A comparison to the Rwandan genocide actually comes out as the worst, but I foget the ratio (it was shocking).
While I generally agree with David's analysis, I object to his claiming the Roman's didn't practice the cult of personality. The emperors were deified. Several were just as loony as Hitler. And, despite Rome's usual toleration of other religions, they were quite intolerant of those who didn't bend the knee to the emperor. It was probably equal parts personalty cult and empire building.

Yes, Marcus Aurelius was an extraordinary person, but so were Caligula and Commodus . . . and not in the same way. :roll:

Here in Virginia many don home-spun gray and drill as soldiers of the Confederate States of America. It does not mean that they are racists or endorse slavery. If playing the role troubles your conscious, don't do it. Otherwise, don't worry.
Quote: The emperors were deified. Several were just as loony as Hitler. And, despite Rome's usual toleration of other religions, they were quite intolerant of those who didn't bend the knee to the emperor. It was probably equal parts personalty cult and empire building.
What of the Republic?
The Republic didn't deify emperors, of course. In fact, though deifying Julius Caesar after his death was a step in the creation of the emperor ship. You may remember that Augustus introduced the "first citizen" idea as another step in the same progression.

The Roman Republic in fact stands out among their historical neighbors, many of whom were still tribal kingdoms. The speeches of Cicero and others reveal fairly high ethics among republicans.

No, Rome wasn't Nazi, but you can see why Hitler may have appropriated the title and symbolism of the Roman Empire as a shortcut to propagandizing his own people. The Third Reich, after all, was to be the third incarnation of Rome.
I thought the Reichs were German, not Roman, Reich meaning unified/federal states, and Hitler wasn't alluding to ancient Rome but to previous incaranations of a unified Germany?

First Reich: Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Heiliges römisches Reich deutscher Nation)
Second Reich: Deutsches Reich, unified German states under Bismarck.
Second Reich according to Hitler: 1871-1918 monarchy.
You may be right. I'd learned that the Roman Empire was the first reich, and the Holy Roman Empire the second.

Your version makes more sense, especially as Hitler would have been wooing the Germans in the 1930s who thought Germany might have won World War One had it not been betrayed by the democrats, socialists, Jews, bankers, etc.
Rome did deify the emperors. But the individual personalities of the various emporers never defined what it meant to be a Roman in the same way that the individual personality of Hitler defined what it meant to be a Nazi. The influence of Hitler's personality was pervasive and defining.

In Rome, one crazy emporer soon gave way to one less crazy--or more crazy. There was certainly an array of personalities. But none of those personalities fundamentally redefined what it meant to be Roman.