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by Archaeology Newsroom

Imperium sine fine. Ancient Rome Confronting the ‘End of Days”: Cyclical Time and Perpetual Renaissance

In periods of external pressure or internal crisis, Ancient Rome was haunted by the prospect of its imminent fall. This fear was fed by widespread beliefs in the cyclic repetition of cosmic eras, as well as in the periodic destruction of the universe, either by means of total combustion (ekpyrosi) or by cataclysm. These “end of the world’ scenarios were built upon the cosmological ideas of Greek philosophers, such as Heraclitus, Plato and the Stoics, who in their turn were influenced by the religious and astrological beliefs of ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and Indians. In their endeavour to overcome this kind of anxiety, the Romans resorted to various intellectual strategies, following two distinct patterns of thought, both found in the poems of Vergil: (a) the eschatological proposal, consisting in the anticipation of an infant whose birth would herald the second coming of the Golden Age; (b) the political proposal, implying the re¬foundation of Rome, after the triumph of Augustus over Marc Anthony. When the second option clearly prevailed. Rome was proclaimed Urbs Aeterna: its universal domination was now considered to be limitless – an imperium sine fine.