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Rome, Italy
Rome from the air
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRome from the air - Credit: Oliver-Bonjoch
The capital of Italy and its largest city, population 2.76 million as of 2010, Rome has an ancient and fabled history. Located on the Tiber River near the center of the “shin” of the Italian boot, its history goes back two and a half millennia.

In legend, it was founded by Romulus, one of twin brothers suckled by a wolf, who killed his brother Remus before founding the city in 753 BCE. In reality, archaeological remains suggest it grew out of pastoral settlements on the Palatine Hill, possibly in the middle of the 8th century BCE, but this is not certain.

Known as the capital of the Roman Republic from 509 BCE, the country became the Roman Empire in 27 BCE under the rule of Augustus, seventeen years after the assassination of Julius Caesar. The empire grew to reach across much of Europe and the Middle East, and its capital was the wealthiest, largest, and most important city in the world for a thousand years. It also gathered spiritual significance when the Bishop of Rome became the Pope in the early 4th century AD during the reign of emperor Constantine I.

The Colosseum
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Colosseum - Credit: Andreas Tille
Rome was sacked in 410 AD by the Visigoths led by Alaric I, and the empire collapsed 476. The Papacy remained, although it relocated briefly to Avignon, France (coincidentally the location of Snowden’s mortal wounding in Catch-22) in 1309-1377. Because the Popes were patrons of the great artists of their day, Rome was also home at times to such geniuses as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli.

Under the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Rome grew again in power and population after 1922, surpassing 1 million inhabitants. Declared an open city in World War II, meaning its holders would not defend it against attack, it did not undergo the heavy bombing experienced by other European capitals, but the Allies did bomb Rome on June 19, 1943, killing 3,000 and wounding 11,000. It was liberated from the Germans on June 4, 1944.

For much of Catch-22, Rome is the headquarters for General P.P. Peckem, the head of Special Services who is the political rival of General Dreedle, Yossarian’s ultimate commander in the 27th Air Force. The men always go to the brothels of Rome for their R-and-R, where Nately falls in love with a whore, and Yossarian falls in love with pretty much everyone, from Luciana to the maid in the lime-green panties.

One of the nicknames for Rome is “The Eternal City.” Heller makes this the title of the climactic Chapter 39, in which Yossarian wanders the streets of Rome and takes in the devastation and suffering of war.