Pompeii, Italy - Basilica; Fitchburg, MA - Main Street
When people come together, living in the same area and interacting with one another it can rightfully be called a community. But a community is more than just a gathering of people who live together. The dynamics of community reflect an altruistic point of view; people come together in times of crisis to assist one another. Communities are more than the sum of their parts, creating a society which is centered around a powerful sense of camaraderie. This is especially prevalent in two places exhibited here: The Basilica in Pompeii, Italy, and Main Street in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
To the Romans, the basilica was a central engine of the community. “Basilicae” were public buildings, having a similar role to government districts such as we have today. Pompeii’s basilica was no different in this function. Located on the southwest corner of Pompeii’s forum, the basilica was a place for official business, where local government matters such as court trials were discussed as well as a place business was conducted (Fulford 290). Consequently, the basilica was a cornerstone of any ancient Roman community (literally in the case of Pompeii), as a place where public business was carried out. The basilica was always among the first public works constructed in a Roman settlement, considered to be vital to a city’s function (Ball and Dobbins 484). The idea driving Roman society was the res publica, or “public matters.” The Romans believed that government was a part of society and that society was made up of shared concerns of the people and the land they lived on (Nelsestuen 133). This concept is where we get the word for the American form of government that we have today, the “republic.”
People today have their own type of basilica, in the form of areas often referred to as “downtown.” In the community of Fitchburg, a cultural center around Main Street fulfills this role. Down this road, there are thriving shops and restaurants mixed in with official buildings such as post offices, religious organizations, the library, and even the Fitchburg Art Museum. Once upon a time there was even a Fitchburg theatre which drew large audiences from the 1930s until the 1970s. People in this city often walk this road for no reason other than to enjoy the thriving sense of kinship that one feels upon seeing all that this community has to offer.
The theme of community is a powerful one which has its roots in the ancient world, specifically Classical era Greece. In his Works and Days, Hesiod claimed “he who enjoys a good neighbor has a precious possession…Take fair measure from your neighbor and pay him back fairly with the same measure, or better, if you can; so that if you are in need afterwards, you may find him sure” (Hesiod 347-351). The idea that people assist one another and benefit from their mutual assistance is the bedrock on which large communities function. Western culture is built around this idea that we are stronger together than we are alone.
Larry F. Ball, and John J. Dobbins. “Pompeii Forum Project: Excavation and Urbanistic Reappraisals of the Sanctuary of Apollo, Basilica, and Via Della Fortuna Neighborhood.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 121, no. 3, 2017, pp. 467–503. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.3764/aja.121.3.0467.
Fulford, Michael. “Shops, Stalls, Stores: Pre-Consumption Deposits and Centrally Organised Distribution in Antonine Britain.”Britannia, vol. 45, 2014, pp. 279–284. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24737454.
Hesiod, Works and Days. Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.
Grant A. Nelsestuen. “Overseeing Res Publica: The Rector as Vilicus in De Re Publica 5.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 33, no. 1, 2014, pp. 130–173. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/ca.2014.33.1.130.
Caitie Mayo, Student, Fitchburg State University