Rome wasn’t built in a Day

Hands_of_God_and_AdamThe great masters of the Renaissance — da Vinci, Michelangelo, et al. — if asked by the Medici, the Holy Father or any other influential patron of the visual arts to put a “rush job” on their masterpieces, would’ve probably dropped their palettes, chisels and other tools of the creative trade, waved their hands in the air and wryly replied, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

It’s one of the most widely-used, time-tested expressions indicating that important, intricate work takes time. So, please be patient.

Original book cover - A. Tobler |@University of Toronto, CanadaEver wonder who cleverly arranged those six words into the powerhouse catchphrase that it is today?

As it turns out, nary a Roman, sandal clad or otherwise, first coined this locution. Shockingly, it was a 12th century cleric in the court of Phillippe of Alsace — the Count of Flanders — who gets the credit for dreaming up the phrase in French: Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour.

In 1895, Adolf Tobler, a Swiss linguist, published Li Proverbe au Vilain, a collection of Medieval French poems. Each verse is accompanied by a proverb or popular expression of the time followed by the phrase, “Or so the peasant says.”

It is in this compilation of 12th century literary art that the expression about the Eternal City not being quickly constructed over a 24-hour period first appears.

It wasn’t until 1538 that the saying ebbed into the English language when playwright-author John Heywood included it in his work A Dialogue Containing the Number in Effect of all the Proverbs in the English Tongue.

Rome panorama | ©Tom Palladio ImagesNext time you hear someone say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” be quick to respond, “Or so the peasant says.” After all, let’s give credit where credit is due. In this case, the wise, but anonymous, poet laureate who penned it first for the Count of Flanders.

©The Palladian Traveler

TPT Borsalino on Cobblestone | ©Tom Palladio Images



  1. This is fantastic. I love knowing the origin of words and expressions. Can’t wait to be able to quip, “Or so the peasant says” on the next opportunity. Though I may use it in other situations too, because that’s just going to be fun to say!

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