Simón Bolívar’s Rome

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International Journal of the Classical Tradition


In 1805, a young Simón Bolívar had been in Europe for about five years, solidifying his education and making social connections. After Napoleon’s coronation in Paris as emperor of France in December 1804, a ceremony that Bolívar may have witnessed, he travelled to Milan, where he saw Napoleon’s coronation as king of Italy in May 1805. A few months later, in Rome on 15 August 1805 – six years before independence was declared in Venezuela –, the twenty-two-year-old Bolívar purportedly made an oath to liberate his homeland from Spanish political domination. The end of the oath is most often quoted:

¡Juro delante de usted; juro por el Dios de mis padres; juro por ellos; juro por mi honor, y juro por mi Patria, que no daré descanso a mi brazo, ni reposo a mi alma, hasta que haya roto las cadenas que nos oprimen por voluntad del poder español!

I swear before you, I swear by the God of my fathers, I swear on their graves, I swear on my honour, and I swear by my Country that I will not rest body or soul until I have broken the chains binding us to the will of Spanish might!

The Oath has become what Christopher Conway has called ‘a foundational scene of Latin American identity’. This essay considers the implications of its setting not in the New World but in the heart of the Old World, in Rome. Obviously, Rome was an important political model for Bolívar. More than twenty years ago, Pierangelo Catalano studied the Roman influences in Bolívar’s political thought, concluding that his great originality consisted of his adoption of ‘un modelo constitucional, el romano’ (‘a constitucional model, that of Rome’) and his ‘esfuerzo constante por adaptarlo a la realidad hispanoamericana’ (‘constant effort to adapt it to Spanish American reality’). Catalano focused on the particulars of Bolívar’s political proposals, analysing the concrete details he borrowed from republican Rome via Rousseau; but neither he nor other scholars consider the less pragmatic and metaphorical ways that Bolívar appropriated Rome. What was it about Rome, which Bolívar consistently referred to throughout his career, that so inspired him?


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