Historians and Journalists Defend Donald Trump After President Is Mocked on Ancient Rome Comments

President Donald Trump has come under fire for suggesting that the culture and values that bind the U.S. and Italy date back thousands of years to ancient Rome.

The remarks were made during a Wednesday press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the White House. They prompted derision online from social media users who interpreted Trump's comments as suggesting the two nations had been allied for thousands of years, even though both are less than 250 years old.

But others came to Trump's defense, suggesting the president was in fact commenting on Roman cultural, political and legal traditions that imbue all modern Western nations and governments, including the U.S.

Trump said Wednesday that the "United States and Italy are bound together by a shared cultural and political heritage dating back thousands of years to Ancient Rome."

Many social media users jumped on Trump's comments, citing them as a further example of the president's apparent historical illiteracy. The Western Roman Empire had collapsed by 476, 1,300 years before the foundation of the U.S. Italy too, is a very young country, having only been unified from rival city states by 1871.

The most vociferous online critics interpreted Trump's comments as suggesting the U.S. and Italy had been allies since ancient times. But the president did not say this.

In fact, Trump's assertion of a shared heritage between American and Italian culture is an accurate one, though he did make at least 12 other false claims during his meeting with his Italian counterpart, CNN noted.

Though the polities governing Rome and the North American landmass changed many times from antiquity to the modern day, the political and cultural influence of the Roman Kingdom, Republic and finally Empire is ever-present in modern democracies.

The concept of elected officials, the separation of branches of government and a wide range of legislative traditions began with Rome. Roman law, although much harsher than modern systems, also formed the basis of modern Western legal tradition.

Culturally, Roman architecture, art, science and technology—much of it in turn inspired by ancient Greek culture—has been ever-present in the evolution of the Western world.

Multiple historians and journalists came to Trump's defense. Mike Duncan, a best-selling author and podcaster who became famous for his work on ancient Rome, wrote on Twitter, "My scorching hot take is that what he said is basically fine."

ABC News correspondent Terry Moran concurred. "Trump was absolutely 100 percent correct that Italy and the USA share a political and cultural history dating back to Ancient Rome," he explained. "The Senate, for instance. Look it up. Also Cicero, Cato, Cincinnatus, etc etc If you are tweaking Trump for this, you're embarrassing yourself."

CNN reporter and Trump fact-checker Daniel Dale argued that the president's critics were unfairly misrepresenting his comments. "People are wrongly describing this statement to mock it," he said on Twitter.

"Trump said the two countries have a shared political-cultural heritage that dates to Ancient Rome, not that there were actual ties between two actual countries as far back as Ancient Rome."

Donald Trump, Italy, Ancient Rome, historian
President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House on October 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Getty