Where is your “Caput Mundi” – Capital of the World?

We were greeted with warm “Buongiarno”s amidst the crisp fresh morning air when we landed in Rome. It was spring, and I was there to attend a global event organized by the non-profit organization I belong to. I have spent time carefully planning my itinerary – I knew I wanted:

  • to see Michelangelo’s David in Florence,
  • to get onto a gondola ride and be at Caneletto’s St Marc’s square in Venice,
  • to reflect on my life while gathering with the others at St Peter’s square in Vatican City,
  • to taste the best gelato in Rome, and
  • to simply be a nosy tourist to marvel at the monuments and sites featured in the scenes of the mystery thrillers of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons”.

Yes, I was excited about this trip! As the taxi zig-zagged through the Roman’ streets to bring us to our hotel, I watched the city and its people waking up to the morning rhythm of life. Suddenly the word “Caput Mundi” flashed through and interposed between the morning street scenes – a word I’ve come across, perhaps in my research for my itinerary.

The Latin phrase “Roma Caput Mundi” – literally means “Rome, head of the world”. We know Classical Greece, Ancient Rome are considered the cradles of western civilization, influencing thoughts, languages, beliefs, customs etc of people from Europe, which later spread to America and Oceania.

Having been born and spent my adolescence years in the east, my eastern civilization root reminded me that we also have a similar word – it actually is the name of a country: Zhōngguó 中国, literally means “ the central/middle of the kingdom/nation”. This chinese name for China is still used today, though not many may have realized the term first appeared in China on a ritual vessel during the Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BCE), while Rome at its peak (recognized as the largest city by the western civilization) was during the epoch around 100 BCE – 400 CE.

I bemused at the thought of how these two civilizations, both great as they are made the same claim that their own country was the “center” of the world (which factually we know there can only be one) – yet, this belief is not uncommon at all. As I toured through the great cities in Italy, I was most impressed by the wisdoms of the Romans, the well-travelled merchants, the skilled builders and painters, the structured governance etc have all made Rome such a great centre and influencer of the western civilization. I then reflected these were the exact same attributes that have made China the “middle kingdom” and exerting its influence in the eastern part of the world.

So, where is “Caput Mundi” in this debate?

In my opinion, first “Caput Mundi” shifts with time. In today’s modern world, some may say it is the USA because of its important influence on the rest of the world, yet many are beginning to speculate if this may shift to Russia or China in the near future. Secondly – though the world will have a “Caput Mundi”, I believe we as individuals, will each have our own “Caput Mundi” – Mine is where I live. As I moved from one country to another, I realized focusing my attention to learn from the community I live in, integrating into the local activities, learning the customs and trying out the cuisines etc have brought much fun and have helped me to live a richer life – so within my microcosm and short history of life– I have also shifted my “Caput Mundi” with times…

Now, where is your Caput Mundi?

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