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Ancient Rome: A New History

Ancient Rome: A New History

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Ancient Rome: A New History, by Dr. David Potter -- Professor of Greek, Latin, and Roman history at the University of Michigan and an internationally recognized authority on the Roman Empire -- narrates the spectacular evolution of Roman power from its earliest days as a city-state along the banks of the Tiber to its decline and fall after the reign of Justinian. Potter’s work affords an introductory but lively overview of Roman history in only 368 pages (something which is a feat in unto itself).

In this revised and expanded second edition of Ancient Rome, Potter draws upon new sources and diverse perspectives from the fields of archaeology, economics, literary criticism, and geography. Divided into eight sections -- the handy introduction, which delineates methods and approaches to Roman history is included in this count -- Potter successfully traverses over a thousand years of history in succinct and coherent language. Topics such as “Early Political Structures,” “Life Expectancy, Marriage, and Values,” “The Militarism of the Third Century BC,” “Barbarian Ascendancy (AD 238-270),” and “The World of Heraclius and Umar (AD 565-642),” attest to the assortment of subjects Potter shares with the reader.

Ancient Rome is an accessible and attractive book by virtue of its diagrams, photographs, and digital reconstructions. (There are 200 illustrations in total of which 149 are in color.) The illustrations are of exceptional quality and visually striking. Everything from portraits and paintings to battle plans and coins contextualize Potter’s engaging analysis of history. Aside from the illustrations and photographs, we also appreciated the maps found throughout and the timelines presented in chronological order. Throughout the text, primary source documents and interesting quotes are integrated into the chapters, which should arouse the interest of the student and instructor alike.

Other features in the publication include a “Notes to the Reader” section, a useful glossary with terms in English and Latin, a “Recommended Reading” section with suggestions for further study, an acknowledgements section, the sources of illustrations, and a general index. One is surprised not to find a chronological list of emperors or a list of key battles with corresponding dates in the text.

The Our Site recommends Ancient Rome to university professors or collegiate instructors teaching introductory courses in Roman history. Ancient Rome works well as a textbook or as casual reading for those who know little of Roman history. It is, however, not suitable for those with advanced knowledge of Roman history or culture.

This volume has been published in English through Thames & Hudson in the United States and is currently available

10 Innovations That Built Ancient Rome

The Romans enjoyed many amenities for their day, including public toilets, underground sewage systems, fountains and ornate public baths. None of these aquatic innovations would have been possible without the Roman aqueduct. First developed around 312 B.C., these engineering marvels used gravity to transport water along stone, lead and concrete pipelines and into city centers. Aqueducts liberated Roman cities from a reliance on nearby water supplies and proved priceless in promoting public health and sanitation. While the Romans did not invent the aqueduct—primitive canals for irrigation and water transport existed earlier in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon—they used their mastery of civil engineering to perfect the process. Hundreds of aqueducts eventually sprang up throughout the empire, some of which transported water as far as 60 miles. Perhaps most impressive of all, Roman aqueducts were so well built that some are still in use to this day. Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain, for instance, is supplied by a restored version of the Aqua Virgo, one of ancient Rome’s 11 aqueducts.


For more information, and the history of Rome as a complete civilization, see Ancient Rome.

Rome timeline
Roman Kingdom and Republic
753 BC According to legend, Romulus founds Rome.
753–509 BC Rule of the seven Kings of Rome.
509 BC Creation of the Republic.
390 BC The Gauls invade Rome. Rome sacked.
264–146 BC Punic Wars.
146–44 BC Social and Civil Wars. Emergence of Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar.
44 BC Julius Caesar assassinated.

Earliest history Edit

There is archaeological evidence of human occupation of the Rome area from at least 5,000 years, but the dense layer of much younger debris obscures Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites. [2] The evidence suggesting the city's ancient foundation is also obscured by the legend of Rome's beginning involving Romulus and Remus.

The traditional date for the founding of Rome is 753-04-21 BCE, following Marcus Terentius Varro, [3] and the city and surrounding region of Latium has continued to be inhabited with little interruption since around that time. Excavations made in 2014 have revealed a wall built long before the city's official founding year. Archaeologists uncovered a stone wall and pieces of pottery dating to the 9th century BCE and the beginning of the 8th century BCE, and there is evidence of people arriving on the Palatine hill as early as the 10th century BCE. [4] [5]

The site of Sant'Omobono Area is crucial for understanding the related processes of monumentalization, urbanization, and state formation in Rome in the late Archaic period. The Sant'Omobono temple site dates to 7th–6th century B.C.E, making these the oldest known temple remains in Rome. [6]

Legend of Rome origin Edit

The origin of the city's name is thought to be that of the reputed founder and first ruler, the legendary Romulus. [7] It is said that Romulus and his twin brother Remus, apparent sons of the god Mars and descendants of the Trojan hero Aeneas, were suckled by a she-wolf after being abandoned, then decided to build a city. The brothers argued, Romulus killed Remus, and then named the city Rome after himself. After founding and naming Rome (as the story goes), he permitted men of all classes to come to Rome as citizens, including slaves and freemen without distinction. [8] To provide his citizens with wives, Romulus invited the neighboring tribes to a festival in Rome where he abducted many of their young women (known as The Rape of the Sabine Women). After the ensuing war with the Sabines, Romulus shared the kingship with Sabine King Titus Tatius. [9] Romulus selected 100 of the most noble men to form the Roman senate as an advisory council to the king. These men he called patres, and their descendants became the patricians. He created three centuries of equites: Ramnes (meaning Romans), Tities (after the Sabine king), and Luceres (Etruscans). He also divided the general populace into thirty curiae, named after thirty of the Sabine women who had intervened to end the war between Romulus and Tatius. The curiae formed the voting units in the Comitia Curiata. [10]

Attempts have been made to find a linguistic root for the name Rome. Possibilities include derivation from the Greek Ῥώμη, meaning bravery, courage [11] possibly the connection is with a root *rum-, "teat", with a theoretical reference to the totem wolf that adopted and suckled the cognately-named twins. The Etruscan name of the city seems to have been Ruma. [12] Compare also Rumon, former name of the Tiber River. Its further etymology remains unknown, as with most Etruscan words. Thomas G. Tucker's Concise Etymological Dictionary of Latin (1931) suggests that the name is most probably from *urobsma (cf. urbs, robur) and otherwise, "but less likely" from *urosma "hill" (cf. Skt. varsman- "height, point," Old Slavonic врьхъ "top, summit", Russ. верх "top upward direction", Lith. virsus "upper").

City's formation Edit

Rome grew from pastoral settlements on the Palatine Hill and surrounding hills approximately 30 km (19 mi) from the Tyrrhenian Sea on the south side of the Tiber. The Quirinal Hill was probably an outpost for the Sabines, another Italic-speaking people. At this location, the Tiber forms a Z-shaped curve that contains an island where the river can be forded. Because of the river and the ford, Rome was at a crossroads of traffic following the river valley and of traders traveling north and south on the west side of the peninsula.

Archaeological finds have confirmed that there were two fortified settlements in the 8th century BC, in the area of the future Rome: Rumi on the Palatine Hill, and Titientes on the Quirinal Hill, backed by the Luceres living in the nearby woods. [13] These were simply three of numerous Italic-speaking communities that existed in Latium, a plain on the Italian peninsula, by the 1st millennium BC. The origins of the Italic peoples lie in prehistory and are therefore not precisely known, but their Indo-European languages migrated from the east in the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.

According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, many Roman historians (including Porcius Cato and Gaius Sempronius) considered the origins of the Romans (descendants of the Aborigines) as Greek despite the fact that their knowledge was derived from Greek legendary accounts. [14] The Sabines, specifically, were first mentioned in Dionysius's account for having captured the city of Lista by surprise, which was regarded as the mother-city of the Aborigines. [15]

Italic context Edit

The Italic speakers in the area included Latins (in the west), Sabines (in the upper valley of the Tiber), Umbrians (in the north-east), Samnites (in the South), Oscans, and others. In the 8th century BC, they shared the peninsula with two other major ethnic groups: the Etruscans in the North and the Greeks in the south.

The Etruscans (Etrusci or Tusci in Latin) are attested north of Rome in Etruria (modern northern Lazio, Tuscany and part of Umbria). They founded cities such as Tarquinia, Veii, and Volterra and deeply influenced Roman culture, as clearly shown by the Etruscan origin of some of the mythical Roman kings. Historians have no literature, no texts of religion or philosophy therefore, much of what is known about this civilisation is derived from grave goods and tomb findings. [16] The behaviour of the Etruscans has led to some confusion. Like Latin, Etruscan is inflected and Hellenised. Like the Indo-Europeans, the Etruscans were patrilineal and patriarchal. Like the Italics, they were war-like. The gladiatorial displays actually developed out of Etruscan funerary customs. [17] [18]

The Greeks had founded many colonies in Southern Italy between 750 and 550 BC (which the Romans later called Magna Graecia), such as Cumae, Naples, Reggio Calabria, Crotone, Sybaris, and Taranto, as well as in the eastern two-thirds of Sicily. [19] [20]

Etruscan dominance Edit

After 650 BC, the Etruscans became dominant in Italy and expanded into north-central Italy. Roman tradition claimed that Rome had been under the control of seven kings from 753 to 509 BC beginning with the mythical Romulus who was said to have founded the city of Rome along with his brother Remus. The last three kings were said to be Etruscan (at least partially)—namely Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius and Tarquinius Superbus. (Priscus is said by the ancient literary sources to be the son of a Greek refugee and an Etruscan mother.) Their names refer to the Etruscan town of Tarquinia.

Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and others. It claims that Rome was ruled during its first centuries by a succession of seven kings. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro, allots 243 years for their reigns, an average of almost 35 years, which has been generally discounted by modern scholarship since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr. The Gauls destroyed much of Rome's historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC (according to Polybius, the battle occurred in 387/6) and what was left was eventually lost to time or theft. With no contemporary records of the kingdom existing, all accounts of the kings must be carefully questioned. [22] The list of kings is also of dubious historical value, though the last-named kings may be historical figures. It is believed by some historians (again, this is disputed) that Rome was under the influence of the Etruscans for about a century. During this period, a bridge was built called the Pons Sublicius to replace the Tiber ford, and the Cloaca Maxima was also built the Etruscans are said to have been great engineers of this type of structure. From a cultural and technical point of view, Etruscans had arguably the second-greatest impact on Roman development, only surpassed by the Greeks.

Expanding further south, the Etruscans came into direct contact with the Greeks and initially had success in conflicts with the Greek colonists after which, Etruria went into a decline. Taking advantage of this, Rome rebelled and gained independence from the Etruscans around 500 BC. It also abandoned monarchy in favour of a republican system based on a Senate, composed of the nobles of the city, along with popular assemblies which ensured political participation for most of the freeborn men and elected magistrates annually.

The Etruscans left a lasting influence on Rome. The Romans learned to build temples from them, and the Etruscans may have introduced the worship of a triad of gods — Juno, Minerva, and Jupiter — from the Etruscan gods: Uni, Menrva, and Tinia. However, the influence of Etruscan people in the development of Rome is often overstated. [23] Rome was primarily a Latin city. It never became fully Etruscan. Also, evidence shows that Romans were heavily influenced by the Greek cities in the South, mainly through trade. [24]

Roman Republic Edit

The Roman Republic traditionally dates from 509 BC to 27 BC. After 500 BC, Rome joined with the Latin cities in defence against incursions by the Sabines. Winning the Battle of Lake Regillus in 493 BC, Rome established again the supremacy over the Latin countries it had lost after the fall of the monarchy. After a lengthy series of struggles, this supremacy became fixed in 393, when the Romans finally subdued the Volsci and Aequi. In 394 BC, they also conquered the menacing Etruscan neighbour of Veii. The Etruscan power was now limited to Etruria itself, and Rome was the dominant city in Latium.

Also a formal treaty with the city of Carthage is reported to have been made in the end of the 6th century BC, which defined the spheres of influence of each city and regulated the trade between them.

At the same time, Heraclides states that 4th-century Rome is a Greek city. [25]

Rome's early enemies were the neighbouring hill tribes of the Volscians, the Aequi, and of course the Etruscans. As years passed and military successes increased Roman territory, new adversaries appeared. The fiercest were the Gauls, a loose collective of peoples who controlled much of Northern Europe including what is modern North and Central-East Italy.

In 387 BC, Rome was sacked and burned by the Senones coming from eastern Italy and led by Brennus, who had successfully defeated the Roman army at the Battle of the Allia in Etruria. Multiple contemporary records suggest that the Senones hoped to punish Rome for violating its diplomatic neutrality in Etruria. The Senones marched 130 kilometres (81 mi) to Rome without harming the surrounding countryside once sacked, the Senones withdrew from Rome. [26] Brennus was defeated by the dictator Furius Camillus at Tusculum soon afterwards. [27] [28]

After that, Rome hastily rebuilt its buildings and went on the offensive, conquering the Etruscans and seizing territory from the Gauls in the north. After 345 BC, Rome pushed south against other Latins. Their main enemy in this quadrant were the fierce Samnites, who outsmarted and trapped the legions in 321 BC at the Battle of Caudine Forks. In spite of these and other temporary setbacks, the Romans advanced steadily. By 290 BC, Rome controlled over half of the Italian peninsula. In the 3rd century BC, Rome brought the Greek poleis in the south under its control as well. [29]

Amidst the never ending wars (from the beginning of the Republic up to the Principate, the doors of the temple of Janus were closed only twice – when they were open it meant that Rome was at war), Rome had to face a severe major social crisis, the Conflict of the Orders, a political struggle between the Plebeians (commoners) and Patricians (aristocrats) of the ancient Roman Republic, in which the Plebeians sought political equality with the Patricians. It played a major role in the development of the Constitution of the Roman Republic. It began in 494 BC, when, while Rome was at war with two neighboring tribes, the Plebeians all left the city (the first Plebeian Secession). The result of this first secession was the creation of the office of Plebeian Tribune, and with it the first acquisition of real power by the Plebeians. [30]

According to tradition, Rome became a republic in 509 BC. However, it took a few centuries for Rome to become the great city of popular imagination. By the 3rd century BC, Rome had become the pre-eminent city of the Italian peninsula. During the Punic Wars between Rome and the great Mediterranean empire of Carthage (264 to 146 BC), Rome's stature increased further as it became the capital of an overseas empire for the first time. Beginning in the 2nd century BC, Rome went through a significant population expansion as Italian farmers, driven from their ancestral farmlands by the advent of massive, slave-operated farms called latifundia, flocked to the city in great numbers. The victory over Carthage in the First Punic War brought the first two provinces outside the Italian peninsula, Sicily and Sardinia. [31] Parts of Spain (Hispania) followed, and in the beginning of the 2nd century the Romans got involved in the affairs of the Greek world. By then all Hellenistic kingdoms and the Greek city-states were in decline, exhausted from endless civil wars and relying on mercenary troops.

The Romans looked upon the Greek civilisation with great admiration. The Greeks saw Rome as a useful ally in their civil strifes, and it wasn't long before the Roman legions were invited to intervene in Greece. In less than 50 years the whole of mainland Greece was subdued. The Roman legions crushed the Macedonian phalanx twice, in 197 and 168 BC in 146 BC the Roman consul Lucius Mummius razed Corinth, marking the end of free Greece. The same year Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, the son of Scipio Africanus, destroyed the city of Carthage, making it a Roman province.

In the following years, Rome continued its conquests in Spain with Tiberius Gracchus, and it set foot in Asia, when the last king of Pergamum gave his kingdom to the Roman people. The end of the 2nd century brought another threat, when a great host of Germanic peoples, namely Cimbri and Teutones, crossed the river Rhone and moved to Italy. Gaius Marius was consul five consecutive times (seven total), and won two decisive battles in 102 and 101 BC He also reformed the Roman army, giving it such a good reorganization that it remained unchanged for centuries.

The first thirty years of the last century BC were characterised by serious internal problems that threatened the existence of the Republic. The Social War, between Rome and its allies, and the Servile Wars (slave uprisings) were hard conflicts, [32] all within Italy, and forced the Romans to change their policy with regards to their allies and subjects. [33] By then Rome had become an extensive power, with great wealth which derived from the conquered people (as tribute, food or manpower, i.e. slaves). The allies of Rome felt bitter since they had fought by the side of the Romans, and yet they were not citizens and shared little in the rewards. Although they lost the war, they finally got what they asked, and by the beginning of the 1st century AD practically all free inhabitants of Italy were Roman citizens.

However, the growth of the Imperium Romanum (Roman power) created new problems, and new demands, that the old political system of the Republic, with its annually elected magistrates and its sharing of power, could not solve. The dictatorship of Sulla, the extraordinary commands of Pompey Magnus, and the first triumvirate made that clear. In January 49 BC, Julius Caesar the conqueror of Gaul, marched his legions against Rome. In the following years, he vanquished his opponents, and ruled Rome for four years. After his assassination in 44 BC, the Senate tried to reestablish the Republic, but its champions, Marcus Junius Brutus (descendant of the founder of the republic) and Gaius Cassius Longinus were defeated by Caesar's lieutenant Marcus Antonius and Caesar's nephew, Octavian.

The years 44–31 BC mark the struggle for power between Marcus Antonius and Octavian (later known as Augustus). Finally, on 2 September 31 BC, in the Greek promontory of Actium, the final battle took place in the sea. Octavian was victorious, and became the sole ruler of Rome (and its empire). That date marks the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Principate. [34] [35]

Roman Empire Edit

Rome Timeline
Roman Empire
44 BC – AD 14 Augustus establishes the Empire.
AD 64 Great Fire of Rome during Nero's rule.
69–96 Flavian dynasty. Building of the Colosseum.
3rd century Crisis of the Roman Empire. Building of the Baths of Caracalla and the Aurelian Walls.
284–337 Diocletian and Constantine. Building of the first Christian basilicas. Battle of Milvian Bridge. Rome is replaced by Constantinople as the capital of the Empire.
395 Definitive separation of Western and Eastern Roman Empire.
410 The Goths of Alaric sack Rome.
455 The Vandals of Gaiseric sack Rome.
476 Fall of the west empire and deposition of the final emperor Romulus Augustus.
6th century Gothic War (535–554). The Goths cut off the aqueducts in the siege of 537, an act which historians traditionally regard as the beginning of the Middle Ages in Italy [36]
608 Emperor Phocas donates the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV, converting it into a Christian church. Column of Phocas (the last addition made to the Forum Romanum) is erected.
630 The Curia Julia (vacant since the disappearance of the Roman Senate) is transformed into the basilica of Sant'Adriano al Foro.
663 Constans II visits Rome for twelve days—the only emperor to set foot in Rome for two centuries. He strips buildings of their ornaments and bronze to be carried back to Constantinople.
751 Lombard conquest of the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Duchy of Rome is now completely cut off from the empire.
754 Alliance with the Franks, Pepin the Younger, declared Patrician of the Romans, invades Italy. Establishment of the Papal States.

Early Empire Edit

By the end of the Republic, the city of Rome had achieved a grandeur befitting the capital of an empire dominating the whole of the Mediterranean. It was, at the time, the largest city in the world. Estimates of its peak population range from 450,000 to over 3.5 million people with estimates of 1 to 2 million being most popular with historians. [37] This grandeur increased under Augustus, who completed Caesar's projects and added many of his own, such as the Forum of Augustus and the Ara Pacis. He is said to have remarked that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble (Urbem latericium invenit, marmoream reliquit). Augustus's successors sought to emulate his success in part by adding their own contributions to the city. In AD 64, during the reign of Nero, the Great Fire of Rome left much of the city destroyed, but in many ways it was used as an excuse for new development. [38] [39]

Rome was a subsidised city at the time, with roughly 15 to 25 percent of its grain supply being paid by the central government. Commerce and industry played a smaller role compared to that of other cities like Alexandria. This meant that Rome had to depend upon goods and production from other parts of the Empire to sustain such a large population. This was mostly paid by taxes that were levied by the Roman government. If it had not been subsidised, Rome would have been significantly smaller. [40]

Rome's population declined after its apex in the 2nd century. At the end of that century, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Antonine Plague killed 2,000 people a day. [41] Marcus Aurelius died in 180, his reign being the last of the "Five Good Emperors" and Pax Romana. His son Commodus, who had been co-emperor since AD 177, assumed full imperial power, which is most generally associated with the gradual decline of the Western Roman Empire. Rome's population was only a fraction of its peak when the Aurelian Wall was completed in the year 273 (in that year its population was only around 500,000). At this time, part of the Roman aristocratic class circulated in Rome following the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which destroyed the city of Pompeii.

Crisis of the Third Century Edit

Starting in the early 3rd century, matters changed. The "Crisis of the Third Century" defines the disasters and political troubles for the Empire, which nearly collapsed. The new feeling of danger and the menace of barbarian invasions was clearly shown by the decision of Emperor Aurelian, who at year 273 finished encircling the capital itself with a massive wall which had a perimeter that measured close to 20 km (12 mi). Rome formally remained capital of the empire, but emperors spent less and less time there. At the end of 3rd century Diocletian's political reforms, Rome was deprived of its traditional role of administrative capital of the Empire. Later, western emperors ruled from Milan or Ravenna, or cities in Gaul. In 330, Constantine I established a second capital at Constantinople.

Christianization Edit

Christianity reached Rome during the 1st century AD. For the first two centuries of the Christian era, Imperial authorities largely viewed Christianity simply as a Jewish sect rather than a distinct religion. No emperor issued general laws against the faith or its Church, and persecutions, such as they were, were carried out under the authority of local government officials. [42] A surviving letter from Pliny the Younger, governor of Bythinia, to the emperor Trajan describes his persecution and executions of Christians Trajan notably responded that Pliny should not seek out Christians nor heed anonymous denunciations, but only punish open Christians who refused to recant. [43]

Suetonius mentions in passing that during the reign of Nero "punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition" (superstitionis novae ac maleficae). [44] He gives no reason for the punishment. Tacitus reports that after the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, some among the population held Nero responsible and that the emperor attempted to deflect blame onto the Christians. [45] The war against the Jews during Nero's reign, which so destabilised the empire that it led to civil war and Nero's suicide, provided an additional rationale for suppression of this 'Jewish' sect.

Diocletian undertook what was to be the most severe and last major persecution of Christians, lasting from 303 to 311. Christianity had become too widespread to suppress, and in 313, the Edict of Milan made tolerance the official policy. Constantine I (sole ruler 324–337) became the first Christian emperor, and in 380 Theodosius I established Christianity as the official religion.

Under Theodosius, visits to the pagan temples were forbidden, [46] the eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum extinguished, the Vestal Virgins disbanded, auspices and witchcrafting punished. Theodosius refused to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House, as asked by remaining pagan Senators.

The Empire's conversion to Christianity made the Bishop of Rome (later called the Pope) the senior religious figure in the Western Empire, as officially stated in 380 by the Edict of Thessalonica. In spite of its increasingly marginal role in the Empire, Rome retained its historic prestige, and this period saw the last wave of construction activity: Constantine's predecessor Maxentius built buildings such as its basilica in the Forum, Constantine himself erected the Arch of Constantine to celebrate his victory over the former, and Diocletian built the greatest baths of all. Constantine was also the first patron of official Christian buildings in the city. He donated the Lateran Palace to the Pope, and built the first great basilica, the old St. Peter's Basilica.

Germanic invasions and collapse of the Western Empire Edit

Still Rome remained one of the strongholds of Paganism, led by the aristocrats and senators. However, the new walls did not stop the city being sacked first by Alaric on 24 August 410, by Geiseric on 2 June 455, and even by general Ricimer's unpaid Roman troops (largely composed of barbarians) on 11 July 472. [47] [48] This was the first time in almost 800 years that Rome had fallen to an enemy. The previous sack of Rome had been accomplished by the Gauls under their leader Brennus in 387 BC. The sacking of 410 is seen as a major landmark in the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire. St. Jerome, living in Bethlehem at the time, wrote that "The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken." [49] These sackings of the city astonished all the Roman world. In any case, the damage caused by the sackings may have been overestimated. The population already started to decline from the late 4th century onward, although around the middle of the fifth century it seems that Rome continued to be the most populous city of the two parts of the Empire, with a population of not less than 650,000 inhabitants. [50] The decline greatly accelerated following the capture of Africa Proconsularis by the Vandals. Many inhabitants now fled as the city no longer could be supplied with grain from Africa from the mid-5th century onward.

At the beginning of the 6th century Rome's population may have been less than 100,000. Many monuments were being destroyed by the citizens themselves, who stripped stones from closed temples and other precious buildings, and even burned statues to make lime for their personal use. In addition, most of the increasing number of churches were built in this way. For example, the first Saint Peter's Basilica was erected using spoils from the abandoned Circus of Nero. [51] This architectural cannibalism was a constant feature of Roman life until the Renaissance. From the 4th century, imperial edicts against stripping of stones and especially marble were common, but the need for their repetition shows that they were ineffective. Sometimes new churches were created by simply taking advantage of early Pagan temples, while sometimes changing the Pagan god or hero to a corresponding Christian saint or martyr. In this way, the Temple of Romulus and Remus became the basilica of the twin saints Cosmas and Damian. Later, the Pantheon, Temple of All Gods, became the church of All Martyrs.

Eastern Roman (Byzantine) restoration Edit

In 480, the last Western Roman emperor, Julius Nepos, was murdered and a Roman general of barbarian origin, Odoacer, declared allegiance to Eastern Roman emperor Zeno. [52] Despite owing nominal allegiance to Constantinople, Odoacer and later the Ostrogoths continued, like the last emperors, to rule Italy as a virtually independent realm from Ravenna. Meanwhile, the Senate, even though long since stripped of wider powers, continued to administer Rome itself, with the Pope usually coming from a senatorial family. This situation continued until Theodahad murdered Amalasuntha, a pro-imperial Gothic queen, and usurped the power in 535. The Eastern Roman emperor, Justinian I (reigned 527–565), used this as a pretext to send forces to Italy under his famed general Belisarius, recapturing the city next year, on December 9, 536 AD. In 537–538, the Eastern Romans successfully defended the city in a year-long siege against the Ostrogoth army, and eventually took Ravenna, too. [52]

Gothic resistance revived however, and on 17 December 546, the Ostrogoths under Totila recaptured and sacked Rome. [53] Belisarius soon recovered the city, but the Ostrogoths retook it in 549. Belisarius was replaced by Narses, who captured Rome from the Ostrogoths for good in 552, ending the so-called Gothic Wars which had devastated much of Italy. The continual war around Rome in the 530s and 540s left it in a state of total disrepair – near-abandoned and desolate with much of its lower-lying parts turned into unhealthy marshes as the drainage systems were neglected and the Tiber's embankments fell into disrepair in the course of the latter half of the 6th century. [54] Here, malaria developed. The aqueducts except for one were not repaired. The population, without imports of grain and oil from Sicily, shrank to less than 50,000 concentrated near the Tiber and around the Campus Martius, abandoning those districts without water supply. There is a legend, significant though untrue, that there was a moment where no one remained living in Rome. [ citation needed ]

Justinian I provided grants for the maintenance of public buildings, aqueducts and bridges – though, being mostly drawn from an Italy dramatically impoverished by the recent wars, these were not always sufficient. He also styled himself the patron of its remaining scholars, orators, physicians and lawyers in the stated hope that eventually more youths would seek a better education. After the wars, the Senate was theoretically restored, but under the supervision of the urban prefect and other officials appointed by, and responsible to, the Eastern Roman authorities in Ravenna.

However, the Pope was now one of the leading religious figures in the entire Byzantine Roman Empire and effectively more powerful locally than either the remaining senators or local Eastern Roman (Byzantine) officials. In practice, local power in Rome devolved to the Pope and, over the next few decades, both much of the remaining possessions of the senatorial aristocracy and the local Byzantine Roman administration in Rome were absorbed by the Church.

The reign of Justinian's nephew and successor Justin II (reigned 565–578) was marked from the Italian point of view by the invasion of the Lombards under Alboin (568). In capturing the regions of Benevento, Lombardy, Piedmont, Spoleto and Tuscany, the invaders effectively restricted Imperial authority to small islands of land surrounding a number of coastal cities, including Ravenna, Naples, Rome and the area of the future Venice. The one inland city continuing under Eastern Roman control was Perugia, which provided a repeatedly threatened overland link between Rome and Ravenna. In 578 and again in 580, the Senate, in some of its last recorded acts, had to ask for the support of Tiberius II Constantine (reigned 578–582) against the approaching Dukes, Faroald I of Spoleto and Zotto of Benevento.

Maurice (reigned 582–602) added a new factor in the continuing conflict by creating an alliance with Childebert II of Austrasia (reigned 575–595). The armies of the Frankish King invaded the Lombard territories in 584, 585, 588 and 590. Rome had suffered badly from a disastrous flood of the Tiber in 589, followed by a plague in 590. The latter is notable for the legend of the angel seen, while the newly elected Pope Gregory I (term 590–604) was passing in procession by Hadrian's Tomb, to hover over the building and to sheathe his flaming sword as a sign that the pestilence was about to cease. The city was safe from capture at least.

Agilulf, however, the new Lombard King (reigned 591 to c. 616), managed to secure peace with Childebert, reorganised his territories and resumed activities against both Naples and Rome by 592. With the Emperor preoccupied with wars in the eastern borders and the various succeeding Exarchs unable to secure Rome from invasion, Gregory took personal initiative in starting negotiations for a peace treaty. This was completed in the autumn of 598—later recognised by Maurice—lasting until the end of his reign.

The position of the Bishop of Rome was further strengthened under the usurper Phocas (reigned 602–610). Phocas recognised his primacy over that of the Patriarch of Constantinople and even decreed Pope Boniface III (607) to be "the head of all the Churches". Phocas's reign saw the erection of the last imperial monument in the Roman Forum, the column bearing his name. He also gave the Pope the Pantheon, at the time closed for centuries, and thus probably saved it from destruction.

During the 7th century, an influx of both Byzantine Roman officials and churchmen from elsewhere in the empire made both the local lay aristocracy and Church leadership largely Greek speaking. The population of Rome, a magnet for pilgrims, may have increased to 90,000. [55] Eleven of thirteen Popes between 678 and 752 were of Greek or Syrian descent. [56] However, the strong Byzantine Roman cultural influence did not always lead to political harmony between Rome and Constantinople. In the controversy over Monothelitism, popes found themselves under severe pressure (sometimes amounting to physical force) when they failed to keep in step with Constantinople's shifting theological positions. In 653, Pope Martin I was deported to Constantinople and, after a show trial, exiled to the Crimea, where he died. [57] [58]

Then, in 663, Rome had its first imperial visit for two centuries, by Constans II—its worst disaster since the Gothic Wars when the Emperor proceeded to strip Rome of metal, including that from buildings and statues, to provide armament materials for use against the Saracens. However, for the next half century, despite further tensions, Rome and the Papacy continued to prefer continued Byzantine Roman rule: in part because the alternative was Lombard rule, and in part because Rome's food was largely coming from Papal estates elsewhere in the Empire, particularly Sicily.

Rome Timeline
Medieval Rome
772 The Lombards briefly conquer Rome but Charlemagne liberates the city a year later.
800 Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor in St. Peter's Basilica.
846 The Saracens sack St. Peter.
852 Building of the Leonine Walls.
962 Otto I crowned Emperor by Pope John XII
1000 Emperor Otto III and Pope Sylvester II.
1084 The Normans sack Rome.
1144 Creation of the commune of Rome.
1300 First Jubilee proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII.
1303 Foundation of the Roman University.
1309 Pope Clement V moves the Holy Seat to Avignon.
1347 Cola di Rienzo proclaims himself tribune.
1377 Pope Gregory XI moves the Holy Seat back to Rome.

Break with Constantinople and formation of the Papal States Edit

In 727, Pope Gregory II refused to accept the decrees of Emperor Leo III, which promoted the Emperor's iconoclasm. [59] Leo reacted first by trying in vain to abduct the Pontiff, and then by sending a force of Ravennate troops under the command of the Exarch Paulus, but they were pushed back by the Lombards of Tuscia and Benevento. Byzantine general Eutychius sent west by the Emperor successfully captured Rome and restored it as a part of the empire in 728.

On 1 November 731, a council was called in St. Peter's by Gregory III to excommunicate the iconoclasts. The Emperor responded by confiscating large Papal estates in Sicily and Calabria and transferring areas previously ecclesiastically under the Pope to the Patriarch of Constantinople. Despite the tensions Gregory III never discontinued his support to the imperial efforts against external threats.

In this period the Lombard kingdom revived under the leadership of King Liutprand. In 730 he razed the countryside of Rome to punish the Pope who had supported the duke of Spoleto. [60] Though still protected by his massive walls, the pope could do little against the Lombard king, who managed to ally himself with the Byzantines. [61] Other protectors were now needed. Gregory III was the first Pope to ask for concrete help from the Frankish Kingdom, then under the command of Charles Martel (739). [62]

Liutprand's successor Aistulf was even more aggressive. He conquered Ferrara and Ravenna, ending the Exarchate of Ravenna. Rome seemed his next victim. In 754, Pope Stephen II went to France to name Pippin the Younger, king of the Franks, as patricius romanorum, i.e. protector of Rome. In the August of that year the King and Pope together crossed back the Alps and defeated Aistulf at Pavia. When Pippin went back to St. Denis however, Aistulf did not keep his promises, and in 756 besieged Rome for 56 days. The Lombards returned north when they heard news of Pippin again moving to Italy. This time he agreed to give the Pope the promised territories, and the Papal States were born.

In 771 the new King of the Lombards, Desiderius, devised a plot to conquer Rome and seize Pope Stephen III during a feigned pilgrimage within its walls. His main ally was one Paulus Afiarta, chief of the Lombard party within the city. He conquered Rome in 772 but angered Charlemagne. However the plan failed, and Stephens' successor, Pope Hadrian I called Charlemagne against Desiderius, who was finally defeated in 773. [63] The Lombard Kingdom was no more, and now Rome entered into the orbit of a new, greater political institution.

Numerous remains from this period, along with a museum devoted to Medieval Rome, can be seen at Crypta Balbi in Rome.

About the Author

Dan-el Padilla Peralta is the author of Divine Institutions: Religions and Community in the Middle Roman Republic (PUP, 2020) and Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, as well as co-editor of Rome: Empire of Plunder: The Dynamics of Cultural Appropriation. An Associate Professor of Classics at Princeton University—where he is affiliated with the Programs in Latino Studies and Latin American Studies as well as the University Center for Human Values—Padilla Peralta was a member of the editorial board of, and contributed writing to, the journal Eidolon.

His public writing, which has also appeared in the Guardian, Matter, and Vox, is motivated “ by the sense that writing and teaching have a vital role to play in the pursuit of social justice, and by the strong conviction that classics and classicists should be allies and champions for Black and Brown folk. ” You can read a profile of Padilla Peralta in the New York Times Magazine and follow him on Twitter at @platanoclassics.

27 Facts About Ancient Rome That Are Eerily Relevant Today

For more than a millennia, the Roman Empire dominated the earth. Of course, the exact time frame is up for debate, but, depending on which historian you ask, Roman rule dates as far back as circa 750 B.C.E. and ran up until somewhere in the latter half of the fifth century C.E. No matter how you cut it, that's a staggeringly large chunk of human history.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that the era of Julius Caesar and Marcus Aurelius has had a major, permeating effect on society as we know it. Here are all the ways that life in Ancient Rome is eerily relevant to life today.

At 25,846 people per square-kilometer, Manhattan has the highest population density of any American locale. Even so, it pales to that of ancient Rome. Many experts estimate that, at the city's peak, 1 million people lived within the Aurelian Walls—resulting in a population density of 72,150 per square-kilometer. Small wonder ancient Romans were the first people to live in apartments.

Wikimedia Commons/Cesare Maccari

Because the Roman republic practiced separation of power in its government, the Senate, whose name comes from the Roman "Senatus Populus Que Romanus" (SPQR), existed to oversee elections, legislation, criminal trials, and even foreign policy. But after the Roman republic defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars in 146 B.C.E., the Senators focused more and more on protecting their own self interests—and quickly developed into extremely polarized partisanship.

According to Jim Barron, a history and classics teacher at the Germantown Friends School, "The Senators were always under the impression that they were doing what was best for the republic" resulting in "doing something this way, or doing it that way. No compromise [could] be reached."

By the first century C.E., the Romans had already harnessed water power. Aqueducts and enormous waterwheels were often used to power mills that ground grain into flour, which was used to feed the masses. Despite the troves of knowledge, technology, and information that were lost following the fall of Rome, hydropower survived. That technology has morphed into the hydropower we know today, which is currently responsible for 71 percent of all renewable energy and 16.4 percent of energy overall worldwide.


When it comes to raising children, modern parents face some of the same problems as ancient parents, especially since the trope of rebellious youth was present even in the Roman Age. Parents of wild teenagers will be able to relate to Cicero, whose son, Marcus, regularly skipped his university lectures to go out drinking and partying. From Rome's chariot races to free-flowing wine, it's easy to see how the young Marcus could be easily distracted.

If you've ever been stuck in the nosebleed seats at Gillette Stadium, blame the Romans. According to a report in Sports Illustrated, stadiums and arenas today are largely influenced by the stadiums and arenas of Ancient Rome. (It should be noted, however, that the design of Roman stadiums was a bit derivative of the amphitheaters that populated the landscape of Ancient Greece.)

Wikimedia Commons/Alessio Nastro Siniscalchi

You might think the shopping mall is a uniquely American innovation. (Just ask the 42 million annual visitors to the Mall of America, in Minneapolis.) But the world's very first shopping mall dates back to the first century C.E. Trajan's Market—named after Trajan, one of the so-called Five Good Emperors—featured more than 150 individual shops and offices.

Someone would have invented it sooner or later, but in fact, it's the Romans we have to thanks for indoor plumbing. Though they didn't perfect it (toilets were usually in kitchens and lead pipes often caused lead poisoning), they were the first to install a network of pipes in the home. The pipes were used to move waste, but were also used to move water in the hotter months as a way to keep cool indoors. The Romans are also responsible for inventing the sewer system, though most indoor plumbing systems didn't actually lead to the sewer.

When it comes to bread, the Romans were revolutionary beyond inventing the water-powered mill. They also popularized yeasted bread for the first time in history and even formed baker's guilds that catered to wealthy citizens. High demands for white bread led to the invention of the first mechanical dough mixer. (Though, at the time, "mechanical" meant: powered by donkeys and horses.)


You think your commute is bad? Traffic in Ancient Rome started at the a.m. rush hour…and carried all the way into the night. To take it from 1st-century scribe Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis—which means taking it with a massive grain of salt, as Iuvenalis was a well-known satirist—the traffic literally caused in multiple deaths, as a result of insomnia due to noise pollution. And you thought 295 was bad…

Wikimedia Commons/DieBuche

Long before American politicians on both sides of the aisle were arguing over health care and other government-subsidized commodities, the Romans were happily doling out portions of free grain to the city's poorest citizens. The policy, called Cura Annonae, advanced as the empire grew, eventually offering these portions to citizens outside the city. By the 3rd century C.E., the empire was no longer just distributing grain, but bread, olive oil, wine, and even pork.

Silphium was an herb beloved by the Romans for its natural contraceptive properties. When consumed, it induced menstruation, and could—as legend has it—even force miscarriages in pregnant women. The herb was so popular that the Romans consumed it into extinction around the end of the 1st century.

Wikimedia Commons/Jean-Christophe Benoist

The Romans were master builders not just in terms of architecture, but also in terms of building materials, the most impressive of which was concrete. Unfortunately, the knowledge of the makeup of Roman concrete was lost during the fall of Rome. Though modern engineers have managed to create sturdy concrete, our mortar is still no match. Made with volcanic ash, Roman concrete was incredibly strong and reactive to other materials, making it resistant to weather and other naturally erosive agents. No wonder many of these concrete structures still stand millennia later.

One of Rome's greatest accomplishments in the field is the vast network of roads that the empire built all across the Mediterranean. Made of laid gravel and large, flat stones, these roads covered over 50,000 miles and mostly served to connect conquered cities. Many of these roads lasted well into the Middle Ages, and fragments of them can even be seen today.

Carpe diem, alma mater, semper fi, e pluribus unum, et cetera—these are just a few of the phrases we've adopted from Latin, the native language of the Roman Empire. But Latin roots are far deeper than adopted phrases. The language laid the groundwork for an entire class of so-called "Romance" languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. All told, about a billion people speak Romance languages in either a primary or secondary capacity.


As the Roman empire rapidly grew, the number of mouths to feed increased, so farmers had to be strategic about their crops. What they came up with is a system of crop rotation, one that most Western farmers still practice today. Roman farmers rotated three fields through three stages that were equally important to the success and yield of their crops: "food, feed, and fallow." One field was used for growing, the next for feeding livestock, and the third would lay bare to regain nutrients.

Recreational drugs have been around since the dawn of time—just ask the Romans! Reportedly, for fun, they'd eat a fish called Salema Porgy—also known, in today's parlance, as the Sarpa Salpa—to intentionally get high. According to one report in Clinical Toxicology, ingesting the fish can result in severe hallucinations. (Oh, the extent scientists will go to for "research…")


During elections, we often hear candidates promise to improve veteran care and benefits—but the reality is that veteran pensions and health care are highly stipulated, and often subpar. Roman veterans would recognize the struggle. Like modern politicians, Roman politicians often wrestled with the problem of pensioning legionnaires, those who had fought in the Roman legion. Ultimately, Caesar first established the pension system, offering soldiers a retirement plan worth 13 times a soldier's salary for those who served at least 20 years.

Wikimedia Commons/John Rylands University Library

Nearly everyone in the English-speaking world has read Shakespeare, whether it be for pleasure or because it was required reading in school. Ergo (that's a Latin word, by the way), you've interacted with Roman literature. One of the bard's greatest influences, after all, was the Roman poet Ovid. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter's Tale are just a few of the stories Shakespeare based on Ovid's fables. What's more, Ovid, Horace, and Virgil were the three Roman poets at the center of the "Golden Age of Poetry," whose works are still studied and read today.

Initially a small religious sect in the Roman province of Judea, Christianity would eventually grow into the world's most popular religion. Three centuries later, the emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Even after the fall of Rome, Christianity continued to spread.

Long before football fans were shelling out thousands of dollars for a seat at the Super Bowl, Romans filled stadiums—like the 250,000-seat Circus Maximus—to watch chariot racers. Some of the more popular stars were practically ancient-era versions of LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Derek Jeter…all put together! Just look at Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who was so beloved that he earned the modern equivalent of $15 billion.


The fact that the Romans would think to vaccinate themselves against poisons rather than diseases says a lot about the threats that Roman emperors faced at the time. Called "mithridatism," after King Mithridates IV of Pontus, many believed that it was possible to build immunity against some of the most deadly poisons, like arsenic. It wasn't until the 18th century that Edward Jenner thought to do that same thing with deadly diseases.


Modern-day democracy is often said to be based upon Athenian democracy, but there are plenty of parallels between it and Roman democracy, as well. Some of those parallels: the division of government branches, the idea of elected officials, and, wouldn't you know it, crooked politicians. In fact, Marcus Tullius Cicero—the same politician who argued fiscal conservatism to the Roman heads of state—was known to have pocketed a minor fortune by setting aside portions of government money for himself.


Romans established a republic as a governing body, and included annual democratic elections that have served as rough models for modern democratic elections. But over time, these elections also suffered from the same kind of excessive spending that is hotly debated today. As Slate notes, "Vote-buying made sense for individual politicians at the same time as it undermined the elite as a whole," but, "by the end, chronic election-buying had helped grind down all faith in republican government."

Wikimedia Commons/Silvestre David Mirys

Land reforms have never been simple—not now, and definitely not during Roman times, such as when the Tiberius Gracchus proposed land be distributed to plebeians as a way to grow the army. Reportedly, his proposal sparked a five-decade-long debate that resulted in approximately zero people getting exactly what they want. Sound familiar? If not, just Google "redistricting" or "gerrymandering."

There's one big lesson that can be taken from Caesar's assassination: getting rid of a tyrant doesn't get rid of tyranny. Following the assassination—which happened because of his heavy-handed tyrannical rule—came a parade of even worse tyrants. Caligula, Augustus, Tiberius, and Nero all followed Caesar—and all were more murderous, more eccentric, and more self-involved than Caesar ever was. And for more paradigm-shifting historical trivia, don't miss these 30 Crazy Facts That Will Change Your View of History.


The plebian tribunes were a huge advance for the lower class of the Roman Republic. Once they had their seat in the government, the plebeians exerted their power in the form of secession. Not unlike the concept of a government shutdown, plebian secessions involved the plebeian class, that is, the working class, leaving the city and the patricians to fend for themselves. This move was a successful form of negotiating and balancing the power and needs of all the Republic's citizens, both rich and poor. Eventually, Hortensian Law was put in place, officially declaring plebeians and patricians equal under the eye of the law.

One of the most visible ways Rome has remained relevant in the modern day is in its lasting impact on architecture. No architectural innovation was so impactful as the arch. While the arch was not a new concept, the Roman arch utilized a keystone, which was larger and heavier than other stones that balanced supporting stones when placed in the center. The result was an arch more durable and effective even in large-scale architecture than ever before. Many still exist today, notably in the Roman aqueducts that remain across Mediterranean Europe.

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The center of the early social structure, dating from the time of the agricultural tribal city state, was the family, which was not only marked by biological relations but also by the legally constructed relation of patria potestas. The Pater familias was the absolute head of the family he was the master over his wife (if she was given to him cum manu, otherwise the father of the wife retained patria potestas), his children, the wives of his sons (again if married cum manu which became rarer towards the end of the Republic), the nephews, the slaves and the freedmen (liberated slaves, the first generation still legally inferior to the freeborn), disposing of them and of their goods at will, even having them put to death.

Slavery and slaves were part of the social order. The slaves were mostly prisoners of war. There were slave markets where they could be bought and sold. Roman law was not consistent about the status of slaves, except that they were considered like any other moveable property. Many slaves were freed by the masters for fine services rendered some slaves could save money to buy their freedom. Generally, mutilation and murder of slaves was prohibited by legislation, [ citation needed ] although outrageous cruelty continued.

Apart from these families (called gentes) and the slaves (legally objects, mancipia i.e. "kept in the [master's] hand") there were Plebeians that did not exist from a legal perspective. They had no legal capacity and were not able to make contracts, even though they were not slaves. To deal with this problem, the so-called clientela was created. By this institution, a plebeian joined the family of a patrician (in a legal sense) and could close contracts by mediation of his patrician pater familias. Everything the plebeian possessed or acquired legally belonged to the gens. He was not allowed to form his own gens.

The authority of the pater familias was unlimited, be it in civil rights as well as in criminal law. The king's duty was to be head over the military, to deal with foreign politics and also to decide on controversies between the gentes. The patricians were divided into three tribes (Ramnenses, Titientes, Luceres).

During the time of the Roman Republic (founded in 509 BC) Roman citizens were allowed to vote. These included patricians and plebeians. Women, slaves, and children were not allowed to vote.

There were two assemblies, the assembly of centuries (comitia centuriata) and the assembly of tribes (comitia tributa), which were made up of all the citizens of Rome. In the comitia centuriata the Romans were divided according to age, wealth and residence. The citizens in each tribe were divided into five classes based on property and then each group was subdivided into two centuries by age. All in all, there were 373 centuries. Like the assembly of tribes, each century had one vote. The Comitia Centuriata elected the praetors (judicial magistrates), the censors, and the consuls.

The comitia tributa comprised thirty-five tribes from Rome and the country. Each tribe had a single vote. The Comitia Tributa elected the Quaestors (financial magistrates) and the patrician Curule Aedile.

Over time, Roman law evolved considerably, as well as social views, emancipating (to increasing degrees) family members. Justice greatly increased, as well. The Romans became more efficient at considering laws and punishments.

Life in the ancient Roman cities revolved around the Forum, the central business district, where most of the Romans would go for marketing, shopping, trading, banking, and for participating in festivities and ceremonies. The Forum was also a place where orators would express themselves to mould public opinion, and elicit support for any particular issue of interest to them or others. Before sunrise, children would go to schools or tutoring them at home would commence. Elders would dress, take a breakfast by 11 o'clock, have a nap and in the afternoon or evening would generally go to the Forum. Going to a public bath at least once daily was a habit with most Roman citizens. There were separate baths for men and women. The main difference was that the women's baths were smaller than the men's, and did not have a frigidarium (cold room) or a palaestra (exercise area). [ citation needed ]

Different types of outdoor and indoor entertainment, free of cost, were available in ancient Rome. Depending on the nature of the events, they were scheduled during daytime, afternoons, evenings, or late nights. Huge crowds gathered at the Colosseum to watch events such as events involving gladiators, combats between men, or fights between men and wild animals. The Circus Maximus was used for chariot racing.

Life in the countryside was slow-paced but lively, with numerous local festivals and social events. Farms were run by the farm managers, but estate owners would sometimes take a retreat to the countryside for rest, enjoying the splendor of nature and the sunshine, including activities like fishing, hunting, and riding. On the other hand, slave labor slogged on continuously, for long hours and all seven days, and ensuring comforts and creating wealth for their masters. The average farm owners were better off, spending evenings in economic and social interactions at the village markets. The day ended with a meal, generally left over from the noontime preparations.

Clothing Edit

In ancient Rome, the cloth and the dress distinguished one class of people from the other class. The tunic worn by plebeians (common people) like shepherds was made from coarse and dark material, whereas the tunic worn by patricians was of linen or white wool. A magistrate would wear the tunica angusticlavi senators wore tunics with purple stripes (clavi), called tunica laticlavi. Military tunics were shorter than the ones worn by civilians.

The many types of togas were also named. Boys, up until the festival of Liberalia, wore the toga praetexta, which was a toga with a crimson or purple border, also worn by magistrates in office. The toga virilis, (or toga pura) or man's toga was worn by men who had come of age to signify their citizenship in Rome. The toga picta was worn by triumphant generals and had embroidery of their skill on the battlefield. The toga pulla was worn when in mourning.

Even footwear indicated a person's social status. Patricians wore red and orange sandals, senators had brown footwear, consuls had white shoes, and soldiers wore heavy boots. Women wore closed shoes of colors such as white, yellow, or green.

The bulla was a locket-like amulet worn by children. When about to marry, the woman would donate her bulla (sometimes called partha) to the household gods, along with her toys, to signify maturity and womanhood.

Men typically wore a toga, and women wore a stola.

The woman's stola was a dress worn over a tunic, and was usually brightly colored. A fibula (or brooch) would be used as ornamentation or to hold the stola in place. A palla, or shawl, was often worn with the stola.

Food Edit

Since the beginning of the Republic until 200 BC, ancient Romans had very simple food habits. Simple food was generally consumed at around 11 o'clock, and consisted of bread, salad, olives, cheese, fruits, nuts, and cold meat left over from the dinner the night before. Breakfast was called ientaculum, lunch was prandium, and dinner was called cena. Appetizers were called gustatio, and dessert was called secunda mensa (or second table). Usually, a nap or rest followed this.

The family ate together, sitting on stools around a table. Later on, a separate dining room with dining couches was designed, called a triclinium. Fingers were used to take foods which were prepared beforehand and brought to the diners. Spoons were used for soups.

Wine in Rome did not become common or mass-produced until around 250 B.C. It was more commonly produced around the time of Cato the Elder who mentions in his book De Agri Cultura that the vineyard was the most important aspect of a good farm. [2] Wine was considered a staple drink, consumed at all meals and occasions by all classes and was quite cheap however, it was always mixed with water. [ citation needed ] This was the case even during explicit evening drinking events (comissatio) where an important part of the festivity was choosing an arbiter bibendi (Judge of Drinking) who was, among other things, responsible for deciding the ratio of wine to water in the drinking wine. Wine to water ratios of 1:2, 1:3, or 1:4 were commonly used. Many types of drinks involving grapes and honey were consumed as well. Mulsum was honeyed wine, mustum was grape juice, mulsa was honeyed water. The per-person-consumption of wine per day in the city of Rome has been estimated at 0.8 to 1.1 gallons for males, and about 0.5 gallons for females. Even the notoriously strict Cato the Elder recommended distributing a daily ration of low quality wine of more than 0.5 gallons among the slaves forced to work on farms. [ citation needed ]

Drinking non-watered wine on an empty stomach was regarded as boorish and a sure sign of alcoholism whose debilitating physical and psychological effects were already recognized in ancient Rome. An accurate accusation of being an alcoholic—in the gossip-crazy society of the city bound to come to light and easily verified—was a favorite and damaging way to discredit political rivals employed by some of Rome's greatest orators like Cicero and Julius Caesar. Prominent Roman alcoholics include Mark Antony, Cicero's own son Marcus (Cicero Minor) and the emperor Tiberius whose soldiers gave him the unflattering nickname Biberius Caldius Mero (lit. boozer of pure wine, Sueton Tib. 42,1). Cato the Younger was also known as a heavy drinker, frequently found stumbling home disoriented and the worse for wear in the early hours of morning by fellow citizens.

During the Imperial period, staple food of the lower class Romans (plebeians) was vegetable porridge and bread, and occasionally fish, meat, olives and fruits. Sometimes, subsidized or free foods were distributed in cities. The patrician's aristocracy had elaborate dinners, with parties and wines and a variety of comestibles. Sometimes, dancing girls would entertain the diners. Women and children ate separately, but in the later Empire period, with permissiveness creeping in, even decent women would attend such dinner parties.

Education Edit

Schooling in a more formal sense was begun around 200 BC. Education began at the age of around six, and in the next six to seven years, boys and girls were expected to learn the basics of reading, writing and counting. By the age of twelve, they would be learning Latin, Greek, grammar and literature, followed by training for public speaking. Oratory was an art to be practiced and learnt and good orators commanded respect to become an effective orator was one of the objectives of education and learning. Poor children could not afford education. In some cases, services of gifted slaves were utilized for imparting education. School was mostly for boys, however some wealthy girls were tutored at home, but could still go to school sometimes.

The native language of the Romans was Latin, an Italic language in the Indo-European family. Several forms of Latin existed, and the language evolved considerably over time, eventually becoming the Romance languages spoken today.

Initially a highly inflectional and synthetic language, older forms of Latin rely little on word order, conveying meaning through a system of affixes attached to word stems. Like other Indo-European languages, Latin gradually became much more analytic over time and acquired conventionalized word orders as it lost more and more of its case system and associated inflections. Its alphabet, the Latin alphabet, is based on the Old Italic alphabet, which is in turn derived from the Greek alphabet. The Latin alphabet is still used today to write most European and many other languages.

Most of the surviving Latin literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin. In the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which became the Byzantine Empire Greek was the main lingua franca as it had been since the time of Alexander the Great, while Latin was mostly used by the Roman administration and military. Eventually Greek would supplant Latin as both the official written and spoken language of the Eastern Roman Empire, while the various dialects of Vulgar Latin used in the Western Roman Empire evolved into the modern Romance languages still used today.

The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and over time Vulgar Latin evolved and dialectized in different locations, gradually shifting into a number of distinct Romance languages beginning in around the 9th century. Many of these languages, including French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish, flourished, the differences between them growing greater over time.

Although English is Germanic rather than Romanic in origin—Britannia was a Roman province, but the Roman presence in Britain had effectively disappeared by the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions—English today borrows heavily from Latin and Latin-derived words. Old English borrowings were relatively sparse and drew mainly from ecclesiastical usage after the Christianization of England. When William the Conqueror invaded England from Normandy in 1066, he brought with him a considerable number of retainers who spoke Anglo-Norman French, a Romance language derived from Latin. Anglo-Norman French remained the language of the English upper classes for centuries, and the number of Latinate words in English increased immensely through borrowing during this Middle English period. More recently, during the Modern English period, the revival of interest in classical culture during the Renaissance led to a great deal of conscious adaptation of words from Classical Latin authors into English.

Although Latin is an extinct language with very few contemporary fluent speakers, it remains in use in many ways. In particular, Latin has survived through Ecclesiastical Latin, the traditional language of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the official languages of the Vatican City. Although distinct from both Classical and Vulgar Latin in a number of ways, Ecclesiastical Latin was more stable than typical Medieval Latin. More Classical sensibilities eventually re-emerged in the Renaissance with Humanist Latin. Due to both the prevalence of Christianity and the enduring influence of the Roman civilization, Latin became western Europe's lingua franca, a language used to cross international borders, such as for academic and diplomatic usage. A deep knowledge of classical Latin was a standard part of the educational curriculum in many western countries until well into the 20th century, and is still taught in many schools today. Although it was eventually supplanted in this respect by French in the 19th century and English in the 20th, Latin continues to see heavy use in religious, legal, and scientific terminology, and in academia in general.

Literature Edit

Roman literature was from its very inception influenced heavily by Greek authors. Some of the earliest works currently discovered are of historical epics telling the early military history of Rome. As the Republic expanded, authors began to produce poetry, comedy, history, and tragedy.

The Greeks and Romans founded history, and had great influence on the way history is written today. Cato the Elder was a Roman senator, as well as the first man to write history in Latin. Although theoretically opposed to Greek influence, Cato the Elder wrote the first Greek inspired rhetorical textbook in Latin (91), and combined strains of Greek and Roman history into a method combining both. [3] One of Cato the Elder's great historical achievements was the Origines, which chronicles the story of Rome, from Aeneas to his own day, but this document is now lost. In the second and early first centuries BC an attempt was made, led by Cato the Elder, to use the records and traditions that were preserved, in order to reconstruct the entire past of Rome. The historians engaged in this task are often referred to as the "Annalists", implying that their writings more or less followed chronological order. [3] In 123 BC and official endeavor was made to provide a record of the whole of Roman history. This work filled eighty books and was known as the Annales Maximi. The composition recorded the official events of the State, such as elections and commands, civic, provincial and cult business, set out in formal arrangements year by year. [3] During the reign of the early emperors of Rome there was a golden age of historical literature. Works such as the 'Histories' of Tacitus, the 'Gallic Wars' by Julius Caesar and 'History of Rome' by Livy have been passed down through generations. Unfortunately, in the case of Livy, much of the script has been lost and it is left with a few specific areas: the founding of the city, the war with Hannibal, and its aftermath.

In the ancient world, poetry usually played a far more important part of daily life than it does today. In general, educated Greeks and Romans thought of poetry as playing a much more fundamental part of life than in modern times. Initially in Rome poetry was not considered a suitable occupation for important citizens, but the attitude changed in the second and first centuries BC. [4] In Rome poetry considerably preceded prose writing in date. As Aristotle pointed out, poetry was the first sort of literature to arouse people's interest in questions of style. The importance of poetry in the Roman Empire was so strong that Quintilian, the greatest authority on education, wanted secondary schools to focus on the reading and teaching of poetry, leaving prose writings to what would now be referred to as the university stage. [4] Virgil represents the pinnacle of Roman epic poetry. His Aeneid was produced at the request of Maecenas and tells the story of flight of Aeneas from Troy and his settlement of the city that would become Rome. Lucretius, in his On the Nature of Things, attempted to explicate science in an epic poem. Some of his science seems remarkably modern, but other ideas, especially his theory of light, are no longer accepted. Later Ovid produced his Metamorphoses, written in dactylic hexameter verse, the meter of epic, attempting a complete mythology from the creation of the earth to his own time. He unifies his subject matter through the theme of metamorphosis. It was noted in classical times that Ovid's work lacked the gravitas possessed by traditional epic poetry.

Catullus and the associated group of neoteric poets produced poetry following the Alexandrian model, which experimented with poetic forms challenging tradition. Catullus was also the first Roman poet to produce love poetry, seemingly autobiographical, which depicts an affair with a woman called Lesbia. Under the reign of the Emperor Augustus, Horace continued the tradition of shorter poems, with his Odes and Epodes. Martial, writing under the Emperor Domitian, was a famed author of epigrams, poems which were often abusive and censured public figures.

Roman prose developed its sonority, dignity, and rhythm in persuasive speech. [5] Rhetoric had already been key to many great achievements in Athens, so after studying the Greeks the Romans ranked oratory highly as a subject and a profession. [6] Written speeches were some of the first forms of prose writing in ancient Rome, and other forms of prose writing in the future were influenced by this. Sixteen books of Cicero's letters have survived, all published by after Cicero's death by his secretary, Tito. the letters provide a look at the social life in the days of the falling republic, providing pictures of the personalities of this epoch. [7] The letters of Cicero are vast and varied, and provide pictures of the personalities of this epoch. Cicero's personality is most clearly revealed, emerging as a vain vacillating, snobbish man. Cicero's passion for the public life of the capital also emerges from his letters, most clearly when he was in exile and when he took on a provincial governorship in Asia Minor. The letters also contain much about Cicero's family life, and its political and financial complications. [7]

Roman philosophical treatises have had great influence on the world, but the original thinking came from the Greeks. Roman philosophical writings are rooted in four 'schools' from the age of the Hellenistic Greeks. [8] The four 'schools' were that of the Epicureans, Stocis, Peripatetics, and Academy. [8] Epicureans believed in the guidance of the senses, and identified the supreme goal of life to be happiness, or the absence of pain. Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium, who taught that virtue was the supreme good, creating a new sense of ethical urgency. The Perpatetics were followers of Aristotle, guided by his science and philosophy. The Academy was founded by Plato and was based on the Sceptic Pyro's idea that real knowledge could be acquired. The Academy also presented criticisms of the Epicurean and Stoic schools of philosophy. [9]

The genre of satire was traditionally regarded as a Roman innovation, and satires were written by, among others, Juvenal and Persius. Some of the most popular plays of the early Republic were comedies, especially those of Terence, a freed Roman slave captured during the First Punic War.

A great deal of the literary work produced by Roman authors in the early Republic was political or satirical in nature. The rhetorical works of Cicero, a self-distinguished linguist, translator, and philosopher, in particular, were popular. In addition, Cicero's personal letters are considered to be one of the best bodies of correspondence recorded in antiquity.

Visual art Edit

Most early Roman painting styles show Etruscan influences, particularly in the practice of political painting. In the 3rd century BCE, Greek art taken as booty from wars became popular, and many Roman homes were decorated with landscapes by Greek artists. Evidence from the remains at Pompeii shows diverse influence from cultures spanning the Roman world.

An early Roman style of note was "Incrustation", in which the interior walls of houses were painted to resemble colored marble. Another style consisted of painting interiors as open landscapes, with highly detailed scenes of plants, animals, and buildings.

Portrait sculpture during the period utilized youthful and classical proportions, evolving later into a mixture of realism and idealism. During the Antonine and Severan periods, more ornate hair and bearding became prevalent, created with deeper cutting and drilling. Advancements were also made in relief sculptures, usually depicting Roman victories.

Music Edit

Music was a major part of everyday life in ancient Rome. Many private and public events were accompanied by music, ranging from nightly dining to military parades and manoeuvres.

Some of the instruments used in Roman music are the tuba, cornu, aulos, askaules, flute, panpipes, lyre, lute, cithara, tympanum, drums, hydraulis and the sistrum.

Architecture Edit

In its initial stages, the ancient Roman architecture reflected elements of architectural styles of the Etruscans and the Greeks. Over a period of time, the style was modified in tune with their urban requirements, and civil engineering and building construction technology became developed and refined. The Roman concrete has remained a riddle, [10] and even after more than two thousand years some ancient Roman structures still stand magnificently, like the Pantheon (with one of the largest single span domes in the world) located in the business district of today's Rome.

The architectural style of the capital city of ancient Rome was emulated by other urban centers under Roman control and influence, [11] like the Verona Arena, Verona, Italy Arch of Hadrian, Athens, Greece Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus, Turkey a Theatre at Orange, France and at several other locations, for example, Lepcis Magna, located in Libya. [12] Roman cities were well planned, efficiently managed and neatly maintained. Palaces, private dwellings and villas, were elaborately designed and town planning was comprehensive with provisions for different activities by the urban resident population, and for countless migratory population of travelers, traders and visitors passing through their cities. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, a 1st-century BCE Roman architect's treatise "De architectura," with various sections, dealing with urban planning, building materials, temple construction, public and private buildings, and hydraulics, remained a classic text until the Renaissance.

The ancient city of Rome had a place called the Campus, a sort of drill ground for Roman soldiers, which was located near the Tiber. Later, the Campus became Rome's track and field playground, which even Julius Caesar and Augustus were said to have frequented. Imitating the Campus in Rome, similar grounds were developed in several other urban centers and military settlements.

In the campus, the youth assembled to play, exercise, and indulge in appropriate sports, which included jumping, wrestling, boxing and racing. Riding, throwing, and swimming were also preferred physical activities. In the countryside, pastimes also included fishing and hunting. Females did not participate in these activities. Ball playing was a popular sport and ancient Romans had several ball games, which included Handball (Expulsim Ludere), field hockey, catch, and some form of football.

Board games played in ancient Rome included dice (Tesserae or tali), Roman chess (Latrunculi), Roman Checkers (Calculi), tic-tac-toe (Terni Lapilli), and ludus duodecim scriptorum and tabula, predecessors of backgammon.

There were several other activities to keep people engaged like chariot races, musical and theatrical performances, public executions and gladiatorial combat. In the Colosseum, Rome's amphitheatre, 60,000 persons could be accommodated. There are also accounts of the Colosseum's floor being flooded to hold mock naval battles for the public to watch.

In addition to these, Romans also spent their share of time in bars and brothels, and graffiti [13] carved into the walls of these buildings was common. Based on the number of messages found on bars, brothels, and bathhouses, it's clear that they were popular places of leisure and people spent a deal of time there.

The Romans thought of themselves as highly religious, [14] and attributed their success as a world power to their collective piety (pietas) in maintaining good relations with the Gods. According to legendary history, most of Rome's religious institutions could be traced to its founders, particularly Numa Pompilius, the Sabine second King of Rome, who negotiated directly with the Gods. This archaic religion was the foundation of the mos maiorum, "the way of the ancestors" or simply "tradition", viewed as central to Roman identity.

The priesthoods of public religion were held by members of the elite classes. There was no principle analogous to "separation of church and state" in ancient Rome. During the Roman Republic (509–27 BC), the same men who were elected public officials served as augurs and pontiffs. Priests married, raised families, and led politically active lives. Julius Caesar became Pontifex Maximus before he was elected consul. The augurs read the will of the gods and supervised the marking of boundaries as a reflection of universal order, thus sanctioning Roman expansionism as a matter of divine destiny. The Roman triumph was at its core a religious procession in which the victorious general displayed his piety and his willingness to serve the public good by dedicating a portion of his spoils to the gods, especially Jupiter, who embodied just rule. As a result of the Punic Wars (264–146 BC), when Rome struggled to establish itself as a dominant power, many new temples were built by magistrates in fulfillment of a vow to a deity for assuring their military success.

Roman religion was thus mightily pragmatic and contractual, based on the principle of do ut des, "I give that you might give." Religion depended on knowledge and the correct practice of prayer, ritual, and sacrifice, not on faith or dogma, although Latin literature preserves learned speculation on the nature of the divine and its relation to human affairs. Even the most skeptical among Rome's intellectual elite such as Cicero, who was an augur, saw religion as a source of social order.

For ordinary Romans, religion was a part of daily life. [15] Each home had a household shrine at which prayers and libations to the family's domestic deities were offered. Neighborhood shrines and sacred places such as springs and groves dotted the city. The Roman calendar was structured around religious observances. In the Imperial Era, as many as 135 days of the year were devoted to religious festivals and games (ludi). [16] Women, slaves, and children all participated in a range of religious activities. Some public rituals could be conducted only by women, and women formed what is perhaps Rome's most famous priesthood, the state-supported Vestal Virgins, who tended Rome's sacred hearth for centuries, until disbanded under Christian domination.

The Romans are known for the great number of deities they honored. The presence of Greeks on the Italian peninsula from the beginning of the historical period influenced Roman culture, introducing some religious practices that became as fundamental as the cult of Apollo. The Romans looked for common ground between their major gods and those of the Greeks, adapting Greek myths and iconography for Latin literature and Roman art. Etruscan religion was also a major influence, particularly on the practice of augury, since Rome had once been ruled by Etruscan kings.

Mystery religions imported from the Near East (Ptolemaic Egypt, Persia and Mesopotamia), which offered initiates salvation through a personal God and eternal life after the death, were a matter of personal choice for an individual, practiced in addition to carrying on one's family rites and participating in public religion. The mysteries, however, involved exclusive oaths and secrecy, conditions that conservative Romans viewed with suspicion as characteristic of "magic", conspiracy (coniuratio), and subversive activity. Sporadic and sometimes brutal attempts were made to suppress religionists who seemed to threaten traditional Roman morality and unity, as with the senate's efforts to restrict the Bacchanals in 186 BC.

As the Romans extended their dominance throughout the Mediterranean world, their policy in general was to absorb the deities and cults of other peoples rather than try to eradicate them, [17] since they believed that preserving tradition promoted social stability. [18]

One way that Rome incorporated diverse peoples was by supporting their religious heritage, building temples to local deities that framed their theology within the hierarchy of Roman religion. Inscriptions throughout the Empire record the side-by-side worship of local and Roman deities, including dedications made by Romans to local Gods. [20] By the height of the Empire, numerous international deities were cultivated at Rome and had been carried to even the most remote provinces (among them Cybele, Isis, Osiris, Serapis, Epona), and Gods of solar monism such as Mithras and Sol Invictus, found as far north as Roman Britain. Because Romans had never been obligated to cultivate one deity or one cult only, religious tolerance was not an issue in the sense that it is for competing monotheistic systems. [21] The monotheistic rigor of Judaism posed difficulties for Roman policy that led at times to compromise and the granting of special exemptions, but sometimes to intractable conflict.

In the wake of the Republic's collapse, State religion had adapted to support the new regime of the Emperors. Augustus, the first Roman emperor, justified the novelty of one-man rule with a vast program of religious revivalism and reform. Public vows formerly made for the security of the Republic now were directed at the wellbeing of the Emperor. So-called "Emperor worship" expanded on a grand scale the traditional Roman veneration of the ancestral dead and of the Genius, the divine tutelary of every individual. Imperial cult became one of the major ways Rome advertised its presence in the provinces and cultivated shared cultural identity and loyalty throughout the Empire: rejection of the State religion was tantamount to treason. This was the context for Rome's conflict with Christianity, which Romans variously regarded as a form of atheism and threat to the stability of the Empire, [22] causing the prosecution of anti-Christian policies under Emperor Trajan's reign (AD 98–117), Roman intellectuals and functionaries (Lucian of Samosata, Tacitus, [23] Suetonius, [23] Pliny the Younger, [23] and Celsus) [22] gained knowledge about the Jewish roots of Early Christians, therefore many of them considered Christianity to be some sort of superstitio Iudaica. [22] [23] [24]

From the 2nd century onward, the Church Fathers began to condemn the diverse religions practiced throughout the Empire collectively as "Pagan". [25] In the early 4th century, Constantine the Great and his half-brother Licinius stipulated an agreement known as the Edict of Milan (313), which granted liberty to all religions to be freely practiced in the Roman Empire following the Edict's proclamation, the conflict between the two Emperors exacerbated, ending with the execution of both Licinius and the co-Emperor Sextus Martinianus as ordered by Constantine after Licinius' defeat in the Battle of Chrysopolis (324).

Constantine ruled the Roman Empire as sole emperor for the remainder of his reign. Some scholars allege that his main objective was to gain unanimous approval and submission to his authority from all classes, and therefore chose Christianity to conduct his political propaganda, believing that it was the most appropriate religion that could fit with the Imperial cult (see also Sol Invictus). Regardless, under Constantine's rule Christianity expanded throughout the Empire, launching the era of Christian Church's dominance under the Constantinian dynasty. [26]
However, if Constantine himself sincerely converted to Christian religion or remained loyal to Paganism is still a matter of debate between scholars (see also Constantine's Religious policy). [27] His formal conversion to Christianity in 312 is almost universally acknowledged among historians, [26] [28] despite that he was baptized only on his deathbed by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia (337) [29] the real reasons behind it remain unknown and are debated too. [27] [28] According to Hans Pohlsander, Professor Emeritus of History at the University at Albany, SUNY, Constantine's conversion was just another instrument of Realpolitik in his hands meant to serve his political interest in keeping the Empire united under his control:

The prevailing spirit of Constantine's government was one of conservatorism. His conversion to and support of Christianity produced fewer innovations than one might have expected indeed they served an entirely conservative end, the preservation and continuation of the Empire.

The Emperor and Neoplatonic philosopher Julian the Apostate made a short-lived attempt to restore traditional religion and Paganism, and to reaffirm the special status of Judaism, but in 391, under Theodosius I, Nicene Christianity became the official State church of the Roman Empire to the exclusion of all other Christian churches and Hellenistic religions, including Roman religion itself. Pleas for religious tolerance from traditionalists such as the senator Symmachus (d. 402) were rejected, and Christian monotheism became a feature of Imperial domination. Heretics as well as non-Christians were subject to exclusion from public life or persecution, but, despite the decline of Greco-Roman polytheism, Rome's original religious hierarchy and many aspects of its ritual influenced Christian religion as a whole [31] various pre-Christian beliefs and practices survived as well in Christian festivals and local traditions.

Ancient Roman philosophy was heavily influenced by the ancient Greeks and the schools of Hellenistic philosophy however, unique developments in philosophical schools of thought occurred during the Roman period as well. Interest in philosophy was first excited at Rome in 155 BCE. by an Athenian embassy consisting of the Academic Skeptic Carneades, the Stoic Diogenes, and the Peripatetic Critolaus. [32]

During this time Athens declined as an intellectual center of thought while new sites such as Alexandria and Rome hosted a variety of philosophical discussion. [33]

Mary Beard: why ancient Rome matters to the modern world

Failure in Iraq, debates about freedom, expenses scandals, sex advice … the Romans seem versions of ourselves. But then there’s the slavery and the babies on rubbish heaps. We need to understand ancient Rome, but should we take lessons from it?

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson.

Illustration by Richard Wilkinson.

Last modified on Sun 4 Mar 2018 12.51 GMT

B y the late fourth century CE the river Danube had become Rome’s Calais. What we often call the “invasions” into the Roman empire of barbarian hordes (or “swarms”, perhaps) could equally well be described as mass movements of economic migrants or political refugees from northern Europe. The Roman authorities had no better idea of how to deal with this crisis than our own authorities do, and, predictably, they were less humane. On one notorious occasion, uncomfortable even for some Roman observers, they sold dog-meat as food to the asylum-seekers who had managed to get across the river (dog was off limits for human consumption then as now). It was just one stage in a series of standoffs, compromises and military conflicts that eventually destroyed central Roman power in the western part of their empire. And it was exacerbated by the calculating policy of the Romans in the east, who by this era effectively formed a separate state. Their solution to the crisis of migration was to point the migrants firmly westwards, and try to make them someone else’s problem.

It’s tempting to imagine the ancient Romans as some version of ourselves. They launched disastrous military expeditions to those parts of the world where we too have failed. Iraq was as much a graveyard for the Romans as it has been for us. And one of their worst defeats, in 53BCE at the hands of a rival empire in the east, took place near the modern border between Syria and Turkey. In a particularly ghoulish twist, uncomfortably reminiscent of the sadistic showmanship of Islamic State, the head of the Roman commander was cut off and used by the enemy as a makeshift prop in a performance of Euripides’ play The Bacchae – in which the head of King Pentheus, horribly decapitated by his mother, takes a macabre starring role.

Back in Italy too, Roman life had a familiar side. Urban living in a capital city with a million inhabitants, the biggest conurbation in the west before the 19th century, raised all the usual questions: from traffic congestion (one law tried to keep heavy vehicles out of the city during the day, with the knock-on effect of appalling noise at night) to rudimentary planning problems (exactly how high were high-rise blocks allowed to be, and in what materials to make them safe from fire?). Meanwhile the political classes worried about everything from expenses scandals to benefits scroungers. There was endless, and largely unsuccessful, legislation aimed at preventing officials lining their own pockets out of the public purse. Even the famously upright Marcus Tullius Cicero – politician, poet, philosopher and jokester – left one overseas posting with a small fortune in his suitcase he had apparently been “economical” with his expenses allowance.

There was also endless debate over the distribution of free or subsidised grain to citizens living in the capital, one half of the infamous pair of “bread and circuses”, which, according to a hard-nosed Roman satirist, had sapped the political energy and independence of the people. Was this a proper use of the state’s resources and a precedent to be proud of – the first time any state in the west had decided to guarantee the basic subsistence of many of its citizens? Or was it an encouragement to idleness, and an extravagance that the exchequer could not afford? One rich Roman conservative was once caught standing in line to collect this allowance of which he vehemently disapproved and certainly did not need. When asked why, he replied: “If you’re sharing out the state’s property, I’ll come and take my cut, thank you.” This is not far from the logic of the elderly modern millionaire who claims his free TV licence or bus pass.

Astérix is misleading when it masquerades as the answer to questions about ancient Rome. Photograph: Allstar

But it is not so simple. To study ancient Rome from the 21st century is rather like walking on a tightrope – a careful balancing act, which demands a very particular sort of imagination. If you look down on one side, everything does look reassuringly familiar, or can be made to seem so. It is not just the military escapades or the problems of urban life and migrants. There are conversations going on that we almost join, about the nature of freedom or the problems of sex. There are jokes we still “get”, buildings and monuments we recognise and family life lived out in ways we understand, with all their quarrels, divorces and troublesome adolescents. Cicero’s disappointment in the first century BCE with his son Marcus, who, at university in Athens, preferred clubbing and drinking to attending lectures on philosophy, is one that many of us can share. So too is the dilemma revealed by a surviving Roman do-it-yourself fortune-telling kit. Among the many questions it lists for anxious consulters is: “Will I get caught in adultery?” And among the many possible responses you could receive (depending on how the dice fell) was the wise and realistic: “Yes, but not yet.”

On the other side of the tightrope, however, is completely alien territory. Some of that strangeness is well recognised. The institution of slavery disrupted any clear idea of what it was to be a human being (neither Greeks nor Romans ever worked out whether slaves were things or people). The filth of the place was, in our terms, shocking. There was hardly any reliable system of refuse collection in ancient Rome, or in any ancient city, and there were revealing stories about stray dogs walking into posh dinner parties clutching in their mouths human body parts they had picked up in the street. And that’s not to mention the slaughter in the gladiatorial arena or the death from illnesses whose cure we now take for granted. More than half of the Romans ever born would have died before they were 10 years old. Childbirth was as deadly to women as battle was to men.

Less well known are the thousands of unwanted new‑born babies who were thrown on to rubbish heaps (or “exposed” to use the modern scholarly euphemism) the boundary between contraception and infanticide was a blurred one, and disposing of children after birth was safer than getting rid of them before. Likewise overlooked are the young Roman girls, who were not uncommonly married by the age of 13 or 14, and sometimes even earlier, into what we would have little hesitation in calling child abuse. How soon these marriages were consummated is anyone’s guess, but Cicero’s response, on the eve of his second marriage, to questions about why, in his 60s, he was taking as a bride a young virgin, a child in her mid-teens, is instructive. “Don’t worry,” he said, “she’ll be a grown-up woman tomorrow” (that is, a virgin no longer). The ancient critic who quoted this answer thought that it was a brilliantly witty way of deflecting criticism, and held it up for admiration. We are likely to put it somewhere on the spectrum between uncomfortably coarse and painfully bleak – one powerful marker of the distance between the Roman world and our own.

T he truth is that Roman history offers very few direct lessons for us, and no simple list of dos and don’ts. We hardly need to read of the difficulties of the Roman legions on the Syrian borders to understand that modern military interventions in western Asia might be ill‑advised, or that feeding inedible food to refugees is likely to rebound. I am not even certain that those modern generals who boast of following the tactics of Julius Caesar or Hannibal really do so, in anything more than their own imaginations most military victories in the ancient world were achieved by massive superiority in numbers or by some variety of “going round the back” of the enemy and capturing them in a pincer movement (“tactics”, in any more sophisticated sense, just weren’t in it). Besides, “the Romans” were no less divided about how they thought the world worked, or should work, than we are. There is no simple Roman model to follow, or reject. If only things were that easy.

Ancient Rome still matters for very different reasons – mainly because Roman debates have given us a template and a language that continue to define the way we understand our own world and think about ourselves, from high theory to low comedy, while prompting laughter, awe, horror and admiration in more or less equal measure. Of course, western culture is not the heir of the classical past alone, nor would anyone wish it to be. There are, happily, many different influences woven into our cultural fabric: Judaism, Christianity and Islam only three of the most obvious. But since the Renaissance at least, many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, beauty, and even humour, have been formed, and tested, in dialogue with the Romans and their writing.

Detail from a fresco depicting the arrival of the Trojan Horse, from Pompeii. Photograph: Rex

We see that in the vocabulary of modern politics, from “senators” to “dictators”, and in our own catchphrases and cliches. “Fiddling while Rome burns” is a reference to the emperor Nero playing his lyre while the city went up in flames in the great fire of 64CE (not, as is now often assumed, “fiddling” in the modern sense of fussing aimlessly). “Fearing Greeks even when bearing gifts” is how Virgil in his Aeneid scripted the warning of one of the Trojan elders at the appearance of the great “Trojan horse”, a treacherous present from their Greek enemies. And the single Latin word “plebs” is still an insult, whether actually uttered or not, that can force a government minister to resign. We see it too in the political geography of modern Europe. The main reason that London is the capital of the United Kingdom, so inconveniently located in many respects, is that the Romans made it the capital of their province Britannia – a dangerous place lying, as they saw it, beyond the great ocean that encircled the civilised world. Britain is in many ways a Roman creation.

But even more importantly, we have inherited from Rome many of the fundamental principles and symbols with which we define and debate politics and political action. The assassination of Julius Caesar on the “Ides of March” in 44BCE was in reality a bungled and slightly seedy operation. Despite Shakespeare’s glamorising recreation of the conspiracy, it was headed by the decidedly unattractive Marcus Junius Brutus, whose previous claim to fame had been to extract an almost 50% rate of interest for loans to the unfortunate people of Cyprus (when they could not come up with the repayments he had the main council chamber on the island besieged, starving five councillors to death in the process). It caught several innocent people in what we would call “friendly fire”. And in the medium term it did more to bring about one-man rule in Rome than to eradicate it as the assassins had hoped. Yet, helped no doubt by the Shakespearean version, it has provided the model and the justification for destroying “tyrants” in the name of “liberty” ever since. It is no coincidence that John Wilkes Booth used “Ides” as the code word for the day on which he planned to kill Abraham Lincoln. Almost every assassination in western politics has been seen against the background of the Ides of March.

Twenty years before Caesar’s murder there was another event that has had an equally long afterlife in western history and thought. While he held the chief office of the Roman state, the consulship, in 63BCE, Cicero uncovered what he claimed (and probably believed) to be a terrorist plot to overthrow the government and to eliminate several of its senior politicians, himself included. The mastermind was supposedly a bankrupt aristocrat by the name of Catiline, who had turned to revolution when he had failed to reach power by legitimate means. Cicero had been tipped off by his undercover agents, intelligence reports and intercept evidence, and so – displaying a breastplate under his toga (more or less the equivalent of turning up at the House of Commons with a bulletproof vest and pistol) – he denounced Catiline who quickly fled, and he rounded up the other conspirators. These he executed without trial, in the interests of homeland security. “Vixere,” he announced, in a chilling understatement, as he emerged from the prison where he had overseen their punishment: “They have lived.” That is: “They are dead.”

Detail from Ara Pacis Augustae, an altar in Rome dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of peace. Photograph: Tristan Lafranchis/akg-images

We know about this incident almost wholly from Cicero’s side in fact, four speeches that he delivered accusing Catiline of treason and revealing what he knew of the plot went on to the Roman school curriculum almost immediately, as models of persuasive oratory, and have been read and studied ever since. The speeches still have their foothold in the modern western school curriculum, albeit a considerably more tenuous one. But we also know that there was another side to the debate. Whatever Catiline was really up to (and there is still disagreement about how far the “reds under the bed” were a figment of Cicero’s conservative imagination or paranoia), every Roman citizen had the fundamental right to due process and fair trial summary execution contravened the most basic of civil liberties, then as now. Cicero did not escape scot-free. He was shortly sent into exile, his house in Rome was demolished, and a shrine to the goddess Liberty was pointedly constructed on its site.

The exile was unpleasant for Cicero, and copies of his unattractively self-pitying letters, sent back to his family and friends, still survive. Roman men did not often have the stiff upper lips of popular imagination, and Cicero wallowed in his tears. But the crying did not last long, for in a year he was recalled – in his account again – to a hero’s welcome and to the rebuilding of his house. His career, however, never fully recovered and the basic clash between, on the one hand, the obligation on the elected officials of the state to ensure its security and, on the other, the civil liberties of every citizen, no matter how criminal, continued to be debated – as it still is, whether in relation to detention without trial, Guantánamo Bay or British drone strikes against British citizens in Syria.

Over the centuries Cicero and Catiline have hovered in the background of these and other political debates, and have sometimes provided an explicit template for them. Writing a play on the subject in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, Ben Jonson turned Catiline into a sadistic anti-hero (though his Cicero was an almost equally unattractive droning bore), while from the other side of the political spectrum Henrik Ibsen, in the fallout of the European revolutions of the 1840s, imagined a highly principled Catiline pitted against the corruption of the world in which he lived. Even now, the very words that Cicero used in his speeches against Catiline – and especially the first line of the first speech “Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?” (“How long, Catiline, will you go on abusing our patience”) – get replayed as a signal of fundamental and principled political opposition. That goes from the hard-line Republican senator for Texas, Ted Cruz, who just last year started his attack on Barack Obama’s immigration plans with the words, “When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience?”, to protesters against the government in Hungary a couple of years before who emblazoned banners with just the words Quousque tandem. No more needed to be said.

‘How long yet?’ … a banner bears a phrase from Cicero’s speech at a protest denouncing Hungary’s new constitution, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

W hat is important here is the debate, not the resolution. Ancient Rome is not a simple lesson for us, nor is it a civilisation that we should gratefully admire. There is much in the classical world – both Roman and Greek – to engage our interest and demand our attention. But admiration is a different thing. After 50 years of working on, and with, the Romans, I bridle when I hear people talking, as they so often do, of “great” Roman conquerors, or even of Rome’s “great” empire. That certainly wasn’t what it looked liked from the other end of Roman swords. But admiration apart, Roman debates are embedded in our own, and they are embedded in those of our predecessors who have in turn bequeathed their own problems, solutions and interpretations to us. I am not only referring to debates on Catiline and civil liberties, but also to the lurid, largely fictional, anecdotes of Roman emperors that have framed our own views of political corruption and excess (where does autocratic excess end and a reign of terror begin?), or the justifications, bad and good, for imperial expansion and military intervention.

Our own world would be immeasurably the poorer, and immeasurably less comprehensible to us, if we did not continue to interact with the Roman past. If we want, for example, to understand why John F Kennedy, like Lord Palmerston before him, chose to adopt the slogan Civis Romanus sum (“I am a Roman citizen”) – in Kennedy’s case as a defence of the freedom of West Berlin, in Palmerston’s in defence of some gunboat diplomacy – we need to keep engaged with the history of ancient Rome itself, with Roman approaches to citizenship and nationhood, and why they might underpin our own. Cynically, we should probably also wonder whether Kennedy (or Palmerston) actually knew that their cherished slogan had first become a Roman commonplace after being uttered as a desperate plea from a tragic Sicilian as he was pinned to a cross and illegally crucified by a rogue Roman provincial governor in the first century BCE – a plea that had no effect whatsoever.

Inevitably, the Rome with which we engage is a moving target. Roman history has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, and even more so over the last 250 years since Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, his idiosyncratic historical experiment that began the modern study of Roman history in the English-speaking world (and which certainly would have been on Palmerston’s desk). That is partly because of the new ways of looking at the old evidence, and the different questions we choose to put it. It is a dangerous myth that we are better historians than our predecessors. We are not. But we come to Roman history with different priorities – from gender identity to food supply – that makes the ancient past speak to us in a new, as well as an old, idiom. Whereas once the empress Livia, wife of the first emperor Augustus, was presented as a scheming manipulator and poisoner, we are now much more sensitive to the way male traditions tend to project villainy and self-interest on to women who have the fortune, or misfortune, to be married to the man in charge (think Cherie Blair). Livia may not have been a shy retiring lady innocent of all machinations, but we now realise that we would be the dupes of a tendentiously patriarchal vision to think of her simply as the wicked witch behind the throne.

There have also been an extraordinary array of new discoveries – in the ground, under water, even lost in libraries – presenting novelties from antiquity that tell us more about ancient Rome than any modern historian before us could ever have known. We now have a manuscript of a touching essay by Galen, a Roman doctor whose prize possessions, kept in a lock-up store in the centre of Rome, had just gone up in flames this resurfaced in the library of a Greek monastery only in 2005. We have discovered wrecks of Mediterranean cargo ships that never made it to Rome, with their foreign sculpture, furniture and glass destined for the houses of the rich, and the wine and olive oil that were the staples of everyone. Soundings off the coast of Sicily have even located on the sea bed the detritus of the last great naval battle in the first Punic war between Rome and Carthage in the mid-third-century BCE – including the metal rams from the prows of the ships inscribed with appropriate messages (one Carthaginian specimen has words to the effect of “Up yours, Rome”), helmets of the fighters and their day-to‑day supplies. Surprising as it may seem, the best-preserved ancient battlefield turns out be under the sea.

And, as I write, archaeological scientists are carefully examining samples drilled from the ice cap of Greenland to find the traces, even there, of the pollution produced by Roman industry – the mines in Roman Spain, for example, where thousands of people, children included, worked in appalling industrial conditions to produce the silver that ended up as Roman small change. Others are putting under the microscope the human excrement found in a cess-pit in Herculaneum, in south Italy, to itemise the diet of ordinary Romans, and to ask what went into – and out of – their digestive tracts, 2,000 years ago. A lot of eggs and sea urchins are part of the answer.

R oman history is always being rewritten, and always has been. It is a work in progress, and the myths and half-truths of our predecessors always demand correction – as our own myths will no doubt be corrected by our successors in due course. For me, it is the one-sided thuggish image of the Romans that we especially need to re-examine. It has a harmless and humorous form, perhaps, in the tales of plucky Astérix and his struggles with the Roman legions (and that is where most of us come across it first). But it is much more misleading when it masquerades as the answer to some of the biggest questions about ancient Rome. Why did a small and very ordinary little town by the Tiber, with no obvious advantages, come to dominate first the peninsula of Italy and then most of the known world? Were they simply, as is often claimed, a community committed to aggression and conquest, built on the values of military success and little else?

The Roman empire in 117CE.

The fact is that Romans did not start out with a grand plan of world conquest. They did eventually parade their empire in terms of some manifest destiny, and Virgil in his national epic, the Aeneid, could in retrospect make the god Jupiter prophesy for Rome “an empire without limit”. But the motivations that originally lay behind their conquests through the Mediterranean world are far harder to pin down. One thing is certain: in acquiring their empire, the Romans did not viciously trample over innocent peoples who were minding their own business in peaceable harmony until the legions appeared on the horizon.

Roman conquest undoubtedly was vicious. Caesar’s conquest of Gaul has not unfairly been compared to genocide, and was criticised by some Romans at the time in those terms. One of Caesar’s political rivals even suggested that he should be put on trial for war crimes, with the jury made up of the tribesmen he had conquered. But Rome expanded into a world not of communities living at peace with one another, but one of endemic violence, rival power bases backed up by military force (there was not really any alternative backing) and mini empires. Most of Rome’s enemies were as militaristic as the Romans, and, in our terms, as sadistic. This is where the “Astérix image” is part of the problem, with its suggestion that Caesar’s adversaries in Gaul relied on little more than wit, ingenuity and magic potion. One Greek visitor to Gaul a few decades before Caesar’s invasion reported seeing enemy heads regularly strung up as trophies outside Gallic huts – an alarming sight, he confessed, though in time one did get used to it.

What cries out for explanation is not the Romans’ militaristic character or psychic aggression, but why in a world that was universally violent the Romans were so consistently more successful than their enemies and rivals. The basic answer to that has little to do with superior tactics or even with better military hardware it has much more to do with boots on the ground. In its early centuries at least, standard Roman practice, unique in the ancient world and most of the modern, was to turn those it had defeated into Roman citizens and to convert erstwhile enemies into allies and future manpower. It was an empire built – as those desperate refugees on the Danube must have hoped, long after the policy had ceased to be feasible – on the extension of citizenship and the incorporation of outsiders.

It was also an empire of which some Romans themselves were the most powerful critics. Rome was not simply the unsophisticated and badly behaved younger sibling of classical Greece, committed to engineering, military efficiency and absolutism, whereas the Greeks preferred intellectual inquiry, theatre and democracy. It suited some Romans to pretend that was the case, and it has suited many modern historians to present the classical world in terms of a simple dichotomy between two very different cultures. That is misleading, on both sides. The Greek city states were as keen on winning battles as the Romans were, and most had very little to do with the brief Athenian democratic experiment. And far from being the unthinking advocates of imperial might, several Roman writers sharply analysed the origins and effects of their interventions in the world. “They create desolation and call it peace,” is a slogan that has often summed up the consequences of military conquest. It was written in the second century CE by the Roman historian Tacitus, referring to the Roman conquest of Britain.

The history of Rome lasted for well over 1,000 years (and well over 2,000 if we count the centuries of the Byzantine Romans in the east). For better or worse, Rome is ingrained in our political, cultural and literary traditions, and ways of thinking. It is a fair bet that there has not been a single day since 19BCE when someone somewhere has not been reading Virgil’s Aeneid, and it is hard to think of many other books, apart from the Hebrew Bible, of which one could say that. I am making no plea for a fan club for ancient Rome. We do the Romans a disservice if we heroise them, as much as if we demonise them. But we do ourselves a disservice if we fail to take them seriously – and if we close our long and complicated conversation with them.

Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome is published by Profile on 20 October.


Octavian, the grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, had made himself a central military figure during the chaotic period following Caesar's assassination. In 43 BC at the age of twenty he became one of the three members of the Second Triumvirate, a political alliance with Marcus Lepidus and Mark Antony. [17] Octavian and Antony defeated the last of Caesar's assassins in 42 BC at the Battle of Philippi, although after this point, tensions began to rise between the two. The triumvirate ended in 32 BC, torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members: Lepidus was forced into exile and Antony, who had allied himself with his lover Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, committed suicide in 30 BC following his defeat at the Battle of Actium (31 BC) by the fleet of Octavian. Octavian subsequently annexed Egypt to the empire. [18]

Now sole ruler of Rome, Octavian began a full-scale reformation of military, fiscal and political matters. The Senate granted him power over appointing its membership and several successive consulships, allowing Augustus to operate within the existing constitutional machinery and thus reject titles that Romans associated with monarchy, such as rex ("king"). The dictatorship, a military office in the early Republic typically lasting only for the six-month military campaigning season, had been resurrected first by Sulla in the late 80s BC and then by Julius Caesar in the mid-40s the title dictator was never again used. As the adopted heir of Julius Caesar, Augustus had taken Caesar as a component of his name, and handed down the name to his heirs of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. With Vespasian, one of the first emperors outside the dynasty, Caesar evolved from a family name to the imperial title caesar.

Augustus created his novel and historically unique position by consolidating the constitutional powers of several Republican offices. He renounced his consulship in 23 BC, but retained his consular imperium, leading to a second compromise between Augustus and the Senate known as the Second Settlement. Augustus was granted the authority of a tribune (tribunicia potestas), though not the title, which allowed him to call together the Senate and people at will and lay business before it, veto the actions of either the Assembly or the Senate, preside over elections, and it gave him the right to speak first at any meeting. Also included in Augustus's tribunician authority were powers usually reserved for the Roman censor these included the right to supervise public morals and scrutinize laws to ensure they were in the public interest, as well as the ability to hold a census and determine the membership of the Senate. No tribune of Rome ever had these powers, and there was no precedent within the Roman system for consolidating the powers of the tribune and the censor into a single position, nor was Augustus ever elected to the office of Censor. Whether censorial powers were granted to Augustus as part of his tribunician authority, or he simply assumed those, is a matter of debate.

In addition to those powers, Augustus was granted sole imperium within the city of Rome itself all armed forces in the city, formerly under the control of the prefects, were now under the sole authority of Augustus. Additionally, Augustus was granted imperium proconsulare maius (power over all proconsuls), the right to interfere in any province and override the decisions of any governor. With imperium maius, Augustus was the only individual able to grant a triumph to a successful general as he was ostensibly the leader of the entire Roman army.

The Senate re-classified the provinces at the frontiers (where the vast majority of the legions were stationed) as imperial provinces, and gave control of those to Augustus. The peaceful provinces were re-classified as senatorial provinces, governed as they had been during the Republic by members of the Senate sent out annually by the central government. [19] Senators were prohibited from so much as visiting Roman Egypt, given its great wealth and history as a base of power for opposition to the new emperor. Taxes from the Imperial provinces went into the fiscus, the fund administrated by persons chosen by and answerable to Augustus. The revenue from senatorial provinces continued to be sent to the state treasury (aerarium), under the supervision of the Senate.

The Roman legions, which had reached an unprecedented 50 in number because of the civil wars, were reduced to 28. Several legions, particularly those with members of doubtful loyalties, were simply disbanded. Other legions were united, a fact hinted by the title Gemina (Twin). [20] Augustus also created nine special cohorts to maintain peace in Italia, with three, the Praetorian Guard, kept in Rome. Control of the fiscus enabled Augustus to ensure the loyalty of the legions through their pay.

Augustus completed the conquest of Hispania, while subordinate generals expanded Roman possessions in Africa and Asia Minor. Augustus' final task was to ensure an orderly succession of his powers. His stepson Tiberius had conquered Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and temporarily Germania for the Empire, and was thus a prime candidate. In 6 BC, Augustus granted some of his powers to his stepson, [21] and soon after he recognized Tiberius as his heir. In AD 13, a law was passed which extended Augustus' powers over the provinces to Tiberius, [22] so that Tiberius' legal powers were equivalent to, and independent from, those of Augustus. [22]

Attempting to secure the borders of the empire upon the rivers Danube and Elbe, Augustus ordered the invasions of Illyria, Moesia, and Pannonia (south of the Danube), and Germania (west of the Elbe). At first everything went as planned, but then disaster struck. The Illyrian tribes revolted and had to be crushed, and three full legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus were ambushed and destroyed at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9 by Germanic tribes led by Arminius. Being cautious, Augustus secured all territories west of Rhine and contented himself with retaliatory raids. The rivers Rhine and Danube became the permanent borders of the Roman empire in the North.

In AD 14 Augustus died at the age of seventy-five, having ruled the empire for forty years, and was succeeded as emperor by Tiberius.

An introduction to ancient Roman architecture

Roman architecture was unlike anything that had come before. The Persians, Egyptians, Greeks and Etruscans all had monumental architecture. The grandeur of their buildings, though, was largely external. Buildings were designed to be impressive when viewed from outside because their architects all had to rely on building in a post-and-lintel system, which means that they used two upright posts, like columns, with a horizontal block, known as a lintel, laid flat across the top. A good example is this ancient Greek Temple in Paestum, Italy.

An example of post and lintel architecture: Hera II, Paestum, c. 460 B.C.E. (Classical period), tufa, 24.26 x 59.98 m

Since lintels are heavy, the interior spaces of buildings could only be limited in size. Much of the interior space had to be devoted to supporting heavy loads.

Giovanni Paolo Panini, Interior of the Pantheon, c. 1734, oil on canvas, 128 x 99 cm (National Gallery of Art)

Roman architecture differed fundamentally from this tradition because of the discovery, experimentation and exploitation of concrete, arches and vaulting (a good example of this is the Pantheon, c. 125 C.E.). Thanks to these innovations, from the first century C.E. Romans were able to create interior spaces that had previously been unheard of. Romans became increasingly concerned with shaping interior space rather than filling it with structural supports. As a result, the inside of Roman buildings were as impressive as their exteriors.

Materials, methods and innovations

Long before concrete made its appearance on the building scene in Rome, the Romans utilized a volcanic stone native to Italy called tufa to construct their buildings. Although tufa never went out of use, travertine began to be utilized in the late 2nd century B.C.E. because it was more durable. Also, its off-white color made it an acceptable substitute for marble.

Temple of Portunus (formerly known as, Fortuna Virilis), c. 120-80 B.C.E., structure is travertine and tufa, stuccoed to look like Greek marble, Rome

Marble was slow to catch on in Rome during the Republican period since it was seen as an extravagance, but after the reign of Augustus (31 B.C.E. – 14 C.E.), marble became quite fashionable. Augustus had famously claimed in his funerary inscription, known as the Res Gestae, that he “found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble” referring to his ambitious building campaigns.

Roman concrete (opus caementicium), was developed early in the 2nd c. BCE. The use of mortar as a bonding agent in ashlar masonry wasn’t new in the ancient world mortar was a combination of sand, lime and water in proper proportions. The major contribution the Romans made to the mortar recipe was the introduction of volcanic Italian sand (also known as “pozzolana”). The Roman builders who used pozzolana rather than ordinary sand noticed that their mortar was incredibly strong and durable. It also had the ability to set underwater. Brick and tile were commonly plastered over the concrete since it was not considered very pretty on its own, but concrete’s structural possibilities were far more important. The invention of opus caementicium initiated the Roman architectural revolution, allowing for builders to be much more creative with their designs. Since concrete takes the shape of the mold or frame it is poured into, buildings began to take on ever more fluid and creative shapes.

True arch (left) and corbeled arch (right) (image, CC BY-SA 2.5)

The Romans also exploited the opportunities afforded to architects by the innovation of the true arch (as opposed to a corbeled arch where stones are laid so that they move slightly in toward the center as they move higher). A true arch is composed of wedge-shaped blocks (typically of a durable stone), called voussoirs, with a key stone in the center holding them into place. In a true arch, weight is transferred from one voussoir down to the next, from the top of the arch to ground level, creating a sturdy building tool. True arches can span greater distances than a simple post-and-lintel. The use of concrete, combined with the employment of true arches allowed for vaults and domes to be built, creating expansive and breathtaking interior spaces.

Roman architects

We don’t know much about Roman architects. Few individual architects are known to us because the dedicatory inscriptions, which appear on finished buildings, usually commemorated the person who commissioned and paid for the structure. We do know that architects came from all walks of life, from freedmen all the way up to the Emperor Hadrian, and they were responsible for all aspects of building on a project. The architect would design the building and act as engineer he would serve as contractor and supervisor and would attempt to keep the project within budget.

Building types

Forum, Pompeii, looking toward Mt. Vesuvius (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Roman cities were typically focused on the forum (a large open plaza, surrounded by important buildings), which was the civic, religious and economic heart of the city. It was in the city’s forum that major temples (such as a Capitoline temple, dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) were located, as well as other important shrines. Also useful in the forum plan were the basilica (a law court), and other official meeting places for the town council, such as a curia building. Quite often the city’s meat, fish and vegetable markets sprang up around the bustling forum. Surrounding the forum, lining the city’s streets, framing gateways, and marking crossings stood the connective architecture of the city: the porticoes, colonnades, arches and fountains that beautified a Roman city and welcomed weary travelers to town. Pompeii, Italy is an excellent example of a city with a well preserved forum.

House of Diana, Ostia, late 2nd century C.E. (photo: Sebastià Giralt, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Romans had a wide range of housing. The wealthy could own a house (domus) in the city as well as a country farmhouse (villa), while the less fortunate lived in multi-story apartment buildings called insulae. The House of Diana in Ostia, Rome’s port city, from the late 2nd c. C.E. is a great example of an insula. Even in death, the Romans found the need to construct grand buildings to commemorate and house their remains, like Eurysaces the Baker, whose elaborate tomb still stands near the Porta Maggiore in Rome.

The tomb of Eurysaces the baker, Rome, c. 50-20 B.C.E. (photo: Jeremy Cherfas, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Romans built aqueducts throughout their domain and introduced water into the cities they built and occupied, increasing sanitary conditions. A ready supply of water also allowed bath houses to become standard features of Roman cities, from Timgad, Algeria to Bath, England. A healthy Roman lifestyle also included trips to the gymnasium. Quite often, in the Imperial period, grand gymnasium-bath complexes were built and funded by the state, such as the Baths of Caracalla which included running tracks, gardens and libraries.

Aqueduct (reconstruction). Aqueducts supplied Rome with clean water brought from sources far from the city. In this view, we see an aqueduct carried on piers passing through a built-up neighborhood. Elements of the model © 2008 The Regents of the University of California, © 2011 Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, © 2012 Frischer Consulting. All rights reserved. Image © 2012 Bernard Frischer

Entertainment varied greatly to suit all tastes in Rome, necessitating the erection of many types of structures. There were Greek style theaters for plays as well as smaller, more intimate odeon buildings, like the one in Pompeii, which were specifically designed for musical performances. The Romans also built amphitheaters—elliptical, enclosed spaces such as the Colloseum—which were used for gladiatorial combats or battles between men and animals. The Romans also built a circus in many of their cities. The circuses, such as the one in Lepcis Magna, Libya, were venues for residents to watch chariot racing.

Arch of Titus (foreground) with the Colloseum in the background (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Romans continued to perfect their bridge building and road laying skills as well, allowing them to cross rivers and gullies and traverse great distances in order to expand their empire and better supervise it. From the bridge in Alcántara, Spain to the paved roads in Petra, Jordan, the Romans moved messages, money and troops efficiently.

Republican period

Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Capitoline Hill, Rome (reconstruction courtesy Dr. Bernard Frischer)

Republican Roman architecture was influenced by the Etruscans who were the early kings of Rome the Etruscans were in turn influenced by Greek architecture. The Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, begun in the late 6th century B.C.E., bears all the hallmarks of Etruscan architecture. The temple was erected from local tufa on a high podium and what is most characteristic is its frontality. The porch is very deep and the visitor is meant to approach from only one access point, rather than walk all the way around, as was common in Greek temples. Also, the presence of three cellas, or cult rooms, was also unique. The Temple of Jupiter would remain influential in temple design for much of the Republican period.

Drawing on such deep and rich traditions didn’t mean that Roman architects were unwilling to try new things. In the late Republican period, architects began to experiment with concrete, testing its capability to see how the material might allow them to build on a grand scale.

Model of the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, from the archeological museum, Palestrina (image, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in modern day Palestrina is comprised of two complexes, an upper and a lower one. The upper complex is built into a hillside and terraced, much like a Hellenistic sanctuary, with ramps and stairs leading from the terraces to the small theater and tholos temple at the pinnacle. The entire compound is intricately woven together to manipulate the visitor’s experience of sight, daylight and the approach to the sanctuary itself. No longer dependent on post-and-lintel architecture, the builders utilized concrete to make a vast system of covered ramps, large terraces, shops and barrel vaults.

Imperial period

Severus and Celer, octagon room, Domus Aurea, Rome, c. 64-68 C.E. (photo source)

The Emperor Nero began building his infamous Domus Aurea, or Golden House, after a great fire swept through Rome in 64 C.E. and destroyed much of the downtown area. The destruction allowed Nero to take over valuable real estate for his own building project a vast new villa. Although the choice was not in the public interest, Nero’s desire to live in grand fashion did spur on the architectural revolution in Rome. The architects, Severus and Celer, are known (thanks to the Roman historian Tacitus), and they built a grand palace, complete with courtyards, dining rooms, colonnades and fountains. They also used concrete extensively, including barrel vaults and domes throughout the complex. What makes the Golden House unique in Roman architecture is that Severus and Celer were using concrete in new and exciting ways rather than utilizing the material for just its structural purposes, the architects began to experiment with concrete in aesthetic modes, for instance, to make expansive domed spaces.

Apollodorus of Damascus, Markets of Trajan, Rome, c. 106-12 C.E. (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Nero may have started a new trend for bigger and better concrete architecture, but Roman architects, and the emperors who supported them, took that trend and pushed it to its greatest potential. Vespasian’s Colosseum, the Markets of Trajan, the Baths of Caracalla and the Basilica of Maxentius are just a few of the most impressive structures to come out of the architectural revolution in Rome. Roman architecture was not entirely comprised of concrete, however. Some buildings, which were made from marble, hearkened back to the sober, Classical beauty of Greek architecture, like the Forum of Trajan. Concrete structures and marble buildings stood side by side in Rome, demonstrating that the Romans appreciated the architectural history of the Mediterranean just as much as they did their own innovation. Ultimately, Roman architecture is overwhelmingly a success story of experimentation and the desire to achieve something new.

Additional resources:

James C. Anderson Jr., Roman Architecture and Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

Diana Kleiner, Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide (Kindle) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).

William J. MacDonald, The Architecture of the Roman Empire, vol. I: An Introductory Study (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982).

Frank Sear, Roman Architecture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983).

Favorite Living History Books on Ancient Rome

Today we’re wrapping up our favorite history books series. We’ve covered five history time periods so far: Middle Ages and Renaissance, Early Modern, Modern Times, Ancient Egypt, and Ancient Greece. Today we’ll share our top living books for studying Ancient Rome. I hope these posts have been helpful to you. Leave a comment and let me know if you would like more favorite book reviews. We could cover geography books, books for teaching Bible, family read-aloud literature books—we have a lot of favorite titles! Let me know if you would like me to cover some of those in the future.

The 13 Ancient Rome titles that I’m going to share with you today are all scheduled in our lesson plan guide called Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome. I love to pair our study of Ancient Rome with a study of the life of Christ and the early church. Too often those Bible accounts are taught separately, and our children miss out on the context of the world history in which those events happened. An understanding of Ancient Roman culture and history adds so much to a study of the New Testament. So that lesson plan guide combines Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome. Let me give you a look at the history titles that are recommended in those plans.

For the Family

The Story of the Romans by H. A. Guerber, edited by Christine Miller

This is a living narrative that weaves the story of Ancient Rome in short chapters. I like to use this as the spine of our study, the main family read-aloud. Now, some of you may recall that this is the second Guerber title that we recommend we recommend The Story of the Greeks for the Ancient Greece time period. But remember, for both of them, we use the Nothing New Press version. Those edited versions remove evolutionary comments, delineate between myth and truth, and honor the biblical accounts.

So that is your main family book, but you can use a few more family books to dig deeper into Ancient Roman life.

City by David Macaulay

This should be another familiar author to many of you. We recommend several of his books because of the living writing style coupled with fascinating details and illustrations. In this particular title, Macaulay presents the story of planning and constructing a fictional Roman city, showing how it began as a military camp, the ceremonies and superstitions that were followed, as well as how the roads were built and the aqueducts were built, the forum, the market, what the residential houses were like, the baths, the amphitheater—every kind of building and structure that went into constructing a Roman city. Take it in small chunks, because there is a lot to enjoy. It’s a fascinating book for all ages.

Similar in fashion to City, this one is also great for the whole family. It spends a couple of pages focused on how the Colosseum was built, but most of the book is focused on what happened inside that stadium. This book has color pictures, but they aren’t as detailed as Macaulay’s illustrations. It’s an interesting introduction to the Colosseum and appropriate for all ages to read together.

Peril and Peace by Mandy and Brandon Withrow

This book contains short biographies, living stories that introduce important men in church history. Now, I said you could use it with the whole family, but let me clarify. I don’t use every biography in the book with the younger students some of them can be a bit intense, depending on the age and sensitivity-factor of your children. In the lesson plan guide, you will find some of the biographies assigned to the whole family and the rest assigned to older students as independent reading. You decide what will work best with your children. This book helps fill in the gap between the end of the book of Acts and the church in the Middle Ages. That history is not covered in the Bible, so these biographies help your students bridge that gap.

Now let’s talk about some great titles that are more grade specific.

Elementary Grades

These are both historical fiction favorites set in Ancient Rome. You can assign these for independent reading in grades 4–6, or open it up for all your students in grades 1–6 and read these books aloud. I remember reading them aloud when a cousin came to visit us for a few days. We ended up staying up late the night before she left to finish one of them, because she had to know what happened and how the mystery was solved before she went home. They’re that good. Your children will be introduced to daily life in that era even as they seek to solve the not-too-simple mysteries. One note: both books contain what I guess would be described as casual Roman-style “swearing” almost, such as “The gods be praised” and “By Jupiter”—things like that. It’s an interesting way to include the multitude of gods that the Ancient Romans worshiped, but I found it to be distracting and unnecessary. It can easily be omitted as you read aloud.

We mentioned a couple of other biographies by Jeanne Bendick in our post about Ancient Greece. This one is about a scientist of Ancient Rome born in the year 129 A.D. It’s a wonderful introduction to a medical researcher and the ideas that were considered the authoritative standard for the next 1300 years.

Middle and High School

Henty was a master storyteller who wrote wonderful historical fiction across many time periods. Beric the Briton focuses on life in Britain before Rome conquered it. For the Temple is set in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 when Titus desecrated and destroyed the Temple. You can find both free online or grab Jim Hodges’s audiobooks of these two great titles.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Spear (grades 7-9)

This is a classic that centers around life during the time of Christ and how one boy meets Jesus. It brings to life the idea that I mentioned before, that to get a fuller understanding of the events in the life of Christ, you need to study Ancient Rome alongside it. This title does a fabulous job of bringing those parallel worlds together.

Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster (grades 7-12)

This is another great book for your older students. The author does a wonderful job of weaving the narrative and giving a sense of all that was happening in the world during Augustus Caesar’s lifetime—not just in Rome, but in Palestine and Egypt and Gaul and Britain and Greece and South America, China, Japan, India—and she shows how what happens in one part of the world can spread to and affect other parts of the world. However, as she weaves this fantastic horizontal-history narrative, she presents all of the religious beliefs as equal. If your student is able to discern as he or she reads, this book should prove valuable and provide good discussion material. If your student is not as grounded in truth, I recommend you read it together so you can talk through those parts.

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace (grades 10-12)

A great historical fiction for your high schoolers, this book traces the life of a young Jewish prince who is enslaved by the Romans and becomes a chariot driver. In a parallel narrative, it unfolds the story of another young Jewish man about the same age and from the same region: Jesus. How their paths cross creates a compelling tale that became a best-selling American novel.

Then last, let me recommend two biographies by Plutarch for this time period. In Plutarch’s Roman Lives, I like to assign high school students the biographies of Julius Caesar and of Marc Antony. Plutarch focused on the character of the men whose lives he chronicled, and his biographies are doubly valuable because he lived during Roman times himself.

There you have it, my favorite living history books for Ancient Rome. If you would like an open-and-go reading schedule that combines these books with a study of the life of Christ and the book of Acts, you’ll find that in the lesson plan guide Matthew through Acts and Ancient Rome. And if you would like to read about my favorite books for other time periods, be sure to check out the other living history posts as well.

Don’t forget, leave a comment and let me know if you would like to read about favorite books on other school subjects.