Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome
The Roman Forum, the political, economic, cultural, and religious center of the city during the Republic and later Empire, now lies in ruins in modern-day Rome.
Ancient Rome

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Politics and government of
Ancient Rome

Roman Kingdom
753 BC – 509 BC

Roman Republic
508 BC – 27 BC
Roman Empire
27 BCAD 1453

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Roman Constitution

Constitution of the Kingdom
Constitution of the Republic
Constitution of the Empire
Constitution of the Late Empire
History of the Constitution
Legislative Assemblies
Executive Magistrates

Ordinary Magistrates



Extraordinary Magistrates

Magister Equitum
Consular tribune


Titles and Honours


Magister militum
Princeps senatus
Pontifex Maximus

Precedent and Law
Roman Law

Mos maiorum

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Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world.[1]

In its centuries of existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy to an aristocratic republic to an increasingly autocratic empire. It came to dominate Southern Europe, Western Europe, Balkans, Asia Minor, North Africa and parts of Eastern Europe through conquest and assimilation. Rome was preponderant throughout the Mediterranean region, and was the sole superpower of Antiquity. Even today its influence survives.

Rome was undoubtedly the central power of Antiquity. The Romans are still remembered today, as Julius Caesar (a military and political genius, symbol of Roman power), Cicero (a master of oratory) and Horace (the greatest poet of Latin language). Roman culture and history was also praised by great thinkers and philosophers like Machiavelli, Rousseau and Nietzsche.

A society highly developed in military and politics, Rome professionalized the military and created a system of government called res publica, the inspiration for most of modern republics like the United States and France.

By the end of the Republic, Rome had conquered the land arounds the Mediterraean and beyond: its domain extending from the Atlantic to Judaea and from the mouth of the Rhine to North Africa.

In the Empire, Rome entered in its golden times at the hands of Augustus Caesar. Under Trajan, the Empire reached its territorial peak, but showing signs of fatigue. The republican values started to fall in the imperial times, and civil wars became the common ritual for a new emperor's rise.

Plagued by internal instability and attacked by various migrating peoples, the western part of the empire broke up into independent kingdoms in the 5th century AD. This splintering is the landmark historians use to divide the ancient period from the medieval era and the "Dark Ages".

The Eastern Roman Empire survived this crisis and was governed from Constantinople after the division of the Empire. It comprised Greece, the Balkans, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. Despite the later loss of Syria and Egypt to the Arab-Islamic Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire continued for another millennium, until its remains were finally annexed by the emerging Turkish Ottoman Empire. This eastern, Christian, medieval stage of the Empire is usually called the Byzantine Empire by historians.

Roman civilization is often grouped into "classical antiquity" together with ancient Greece. Ancient Rome contributed greatly to government, law, war, art, literature, architecture, technology, religion, and language in the Western world, and its history continues to have a major influence on the world today.



Founding myth

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf.

According to the founding myth of Rome, the city was founded on April 21, 753 BC by twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who descended from the Trojan prince Aeneas[2] and who were grandsons of the Latin King, Numitor of Alba Longa. King Numitor was deposed from his throne by his brother, Amulius, while Numitor's daughter, Rhea Silvia, gave birth to the twins.[3][4] Because Rhea Silvia was raped and impregnated by Mars, the Roman god of war, the twins were considered half-divine.

The new king feared Romulus and Remus would take back the throne, so he ordered them to be drowned.[4] A she-wolf (or a shepherd's wife in some accounts) saved and raised them, and when they were old enough, they returned the throne of Alba Longa to Numitor.[5][6]

The twins then founded their own city, but Romulus killed Remus in a quarrel over the location of the Roman Kingdom, though some sources state the quarrel was about who was going to rule or give his name to the city.[7] Romulus became the source of the city's name.[8] In order to attract people to the city, Rome became a sanctuary for the indigent, exiled, and unwanted. This caused a problem for Rome, which had a large workforce but was bereft of women. Romulus traveled to the neighboring towns and tribes and attempted to secure marriage rights but as Rome was so full of undesirables they all refused. Legend says that the Latins invited the Sabines to a festival and stole their unmarried maidens, leading to the integration of the Latins and the Sabines.[9]

Another legend, recorded by Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, says that Prince Aeneas led a group of Trojans on a sea voyage to found a new Troy, since the original was destroyed in the outcome of the Trojan War. After a long time in rough seas, they landed at the banks of the Tiber River. Not long after they landed, the men wanted to take to the sea again, but the women who were traveling with them did not want to leave. One woman, named Roma, suggested that the women burn the ships out at sea to prevent them from leaving. At first, the men were angry with Roma, but they soon realized that they were in the ideal place to settle. They named the settlement after the woman who torched their ships.[10]

The roman poet Vergil recounted this legend on his classical epic poem Aeneid. In the Aeneid, the Trojan prince Aeneas is destined by the gods in his enterprise of founding a new Troy. In the epic, the women also refused to go back to the sea, but they were not left on the Tiber. After reaching Italy, Aeneas, who wanted to marry Lavinia, was forced to wage war with her former suitor, Turnus. According to the poem, the alban kings were descended from Aeneas, and thus, Romulus, the founder of Rome, was his descendant.


The city of Rome grew from settlements around a ford on the river Tiber, a crossroads of traffic and trade.[11] According to archaeological evidence, the village of Rome was probably founded sometime in the 8th century BC, though it may go back as far as the 10th century BC, by members of the Latin tribe of Italy, on the top of the Palatine Hill.[12][13]

The Etruscans, who had previously settled to the north in Etruria, seem to have established political control in the region by the late 7th century BC, forming the aristocratic and monarchical elite. The Etruscans apparently lost power in the area by the late 6th century BC, and at this point, the original Latin and Sabine tribes reinvented their government by creating a republic, with much greater restraints on the ability of rulers to exercise power.[14]

Roman tradition and archaeological evidence point to a complex within the Forum Romanum as the seat of power for the king and the beginnings of the religious center there as well. Numa Pompilius was the second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus. He began Rome's great building projects with his royal palace the Regia and the complex of the Vestal virgins.


This bust from the Capitoline Museums is traditionally identified as a portrait of Lucius Junius Brutus.

According to tradition and later writers such as Livy, the Roman Republic was established around 509 BC,[15] when the last of the seven kings of Rome, Tarquin the Proud, was deposed by Lucius Junius Brutus, and a system based on annually elected magistrates and various representative assemblies was established.[16] A constitution set a series of checks and balances, and a separation of powers. The most important magistrates were the two consuls, who together exercised executive authority as imperium, or military command.[17] The consuls had to work with the senate, which was initially an advisory council of the ranking nobility, or patricians, but grew in size and power.[18]

Other magistracies in the Republic include tribunes, quaestors, aediles, praetors and censors.[19] The magistracies were originally restricted to patricians, but were later opened to common people, or plebeians.[20] Republican voting assemblies included the comitia centuriata (centuriate assembly), which voted on matters of war and peace and elected men to the most important offices, and the comitia tributa (tribal assembly), which elected less important offices.[21]

In the 4th century BC Rome had come under attack by the Gauls, who until that time, lived in the Po Valley. The Gauls had been penetrating deep into Etruria, so the Romans decided to join in on the melee. With Etruria completely gone, the Gauls continued their advance south which led them into a fight with the Romans. On July 16, 390 BC, a Gallic army, under the leadership of a tribal chieftain named Brennus, met the Romans on the Banks of the small Allia River, just ten miles north of Rome. Brennus defeated the Romans. Afterwards, the Gauls marched directly to Rome. Most Romans had fled the city, those who were capable of fighting barricaded themselves upon the Capitoline Hill for a last stand. The Gauls looted and burned the city, then laid siege to the Capitoline Hill. The siege lasted seven months, the Gauls then agreed to a compromise peace. The Romans were forced to pay the Gauls 1,000 pounds of gold. According to legend, the Roman General supervising the weighing noticed that the Gauls were using false scales. The Romans then took up arms and drove the Gauls back, and then an army led by Camillus defeated the Gauls and said, "With iron, not with gold, Rome buys her freedom."[citation needed]

The Romans gradually subdued the other peoples on the Italian peninsula, including the Etruscans.[22] The last threat to Roman hegemony in Italy came when Tarentum, a major Greek colony, enlisted the aid of Pyrrhus of Epirus in 281 BC, but this effort failed as well.[23][24] The Romans secured their conquests by founding Roman colonies in strategic areas, establishing stable control over the region of Italy.[25]

Punic Wars

In the 3rd century BC Rome had to face a new and formidable opponent: Carthage. Carthage was a rich, flourishing Phoenician city-state that intended to dominate the Mediterranean area. The two cities were allies in the times of Pyrrhus - who was a menace for both cities -, but with Rome's hegemony in mainland Italy and the Carthaginian thalassocracy, these cities were the two major powers in the Western Mediterranean - a signal of the imminent war.

The First Punic War war begun in 264 BC, when the city of Messana asked for Carthage's help in dealing with Hiero II of Syracuse. After the Carthaginian intercession, Messana asked Rome for expelling the Carthaginians. Rome entered this war because Syracuse and Messana were too close of the newly conquered Greek cities of Southern Italy and Carthage was now able to make an offensive through Roman territory; along with this, Rome could extend its domain over Sicily.

Although the Romans had experience in land battles, to defeat this new enemy, naval battles were necessary. Carthage was a maritime power, and Roman the lack of ships and naval experience would make the path to the victory harsh for the Roman Republic. Despite this, after more than 20 years of war, Rome finally defeated Carthage and a peace treaty was signed. The subsequent war reparations contributed to the reasons for the Second Punic War.

The Second Punic War is famous for its brilliant generals: on the Punic side Hannibal and Hasdrubal, and the Romans Marcellus, Fabius Maximus and Scipio Africanus. Rome faced this war simultaneously with the First Macedonian War.

The outbreak of the war was the audacious invasion of Italy led by Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca the Carthaginian general who was in charge of Sicily the First Punic War. Hannibal rapidly marched through Hispania and the Alps. This invasion caused panic in the cities and the only way to deflect Hannibal's intentions was to delay him in small battles. This strategy was led by Fabius Maximus, who would be nicknamed cuntactor ("delayer" in Latin), and until this day is called Fabian strategy. Due to this, Hannibal's goal was unachieved: he couldn't bring Italian cities to revolt against Rome and as his army diminished after every battle, he lacked machines and manpower to besiege Rome.

Hannibal's invasion lasted over 16 years, by ravaging the supplies of the Italian cities and fields. When the Romans perceived that his supplies were running out, they invaded the unprotected Carthage and forced Hannibal to go back to the city. On his return he faced Scipio, who had defeated his brother Hasdrubal. The result of this confrontation was the end of the Second Punic War in the famous Battle of Zama in October 202 BC, which gave to Scipio his agnomen Africanus. Rome's final debt was of many deaths, but also of resounding gains: the conquest of Hispania by Scipio and of Syracuse, the last Greek realm in Sicily, by Marcellus.

More than a half century after these events, Carthage was humiliated and Rome was no more concerned about the African menaces. The Republic's focus now was only to the Hellenistic kingdoms of Greece and revolts in Hispania. However, Carthage after having paid the war indemnity, felt that its commitments and submission to Rome had ceased - a vision not shared by the Roman Senate. In 151 BC Numidia invaded Carthage, and after asking for Roman help, ambassadors were sent to Carthage, among them was Marcus Porcius Cato, who after seeing that Carthage could make a comeback and regain its importance ended all his speeches, no matter what the subject was, by saying: "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" ("Moreover, I think that Carthage must be destroyed").

As Carthage fought with Numidia without Roman consent, Rome declared war against Carthage in 149 BC. Carthage resisted well at the first strike, with the participation of all the inhabitants of the city. However, Carthage could not withstand the attack of Scipio Aemilianus, who entirely destroyed the city and its walls, enslaved and sold all the citizens and gained control of that region, which became the province of Africa and thus, ending the Punic War period.

All these wars resulted in Rome's first overseas conquests, of Sicily, Hispania and Africa and the rise of Rome as a significant imperial power.[26][27]

Late Republic

After defeating the Macedonian and Seleucid Empires in the 2nd century BC, the Romans became the dominant people of the Mediterranean Sea.[28][29] The conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms provoked a fusion between Roman and Greek cultures and the Roman elite, once rural, became a luxurious and cosmopolitan one. By this time Rome was a consolidated empire - in the military view - and had no major enemies.

Gaius Marius, a Roman general and politician who dramatically reformed the Roman military

Foreign dominance led to internal strife. Senators became rich at the provinces' expense, but soldiers, who were mostly small-scale farmers, were away from home longer and could not maintain their land, and the increased reliance on foreign slaves and the growth of latifundia reduced the availability of paid work.[30][31]

Income from war booty, mercantilism in the new provinces, and tax farming created new economic opportunities for the wealthy, forming a new class of merchants, the equestrians.[32] The lex Claudia forbade members of the Senate from engaging in commerce, so while the equestrians could theoretically join the Senate, they were severely restricted in political power.[11][33] The Senate squabbled perpetually, repeatedly blocking important land reforms and refusing to give the equestrian class a larger say in the government.

Violent gangs of the urban unemployed, controlled by rival Senators, intimidated the electorate through violence. The situation came to a head in the late 2nd century BC under the Gracchi brothers, a pair of tribunes who attempted to pass land reform legislation that would redistribute the major patrician landholdings among the plebeians. Both brothers were killed, but the Senate passed some of their reforms in trying to placate the growing unrest of the plebeian and equestrian classes.

Marius and Sulla

Gaius Marius, a novus homo, started his political career with the help of the powerful Metelli and soon become a leader on the Republic, holding the first of his seven consulships (a unprecedented experience) in 107 BC by arguing that his former patron Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus was not able to defeat and capture the Numidian king Jugurtha. Marius then started his military reform: in his recruitment to fight Jugurtha, he levied very poor men (an innovation), and many displaced men entered the army - this was the seed of the future establishment of the army as a haven for the poor.[citation needed]

At this time, Marius began his quarrel with Lucius Cornelius Sulla: Marius, who wanted to capture Jugurtha, asked Bocchus, son-in-law of Jugurtha, to hand him over to the Romans. As Marius failed, Sulla - a legate of Marius at that time - went himself to Bocchus in a dangerous enterprise and convinced Bocchus to hand Jugurtha over to him. This was very provocative to Marius, since many of his enemies were encouraging Sulla to oppose Marius. Despite this, Marius was elected for five consecutive consulships from 104-100 BC, because Rome needed a military leader to defeat the Cimbri and the Teutones, that were threatening Rome.

After Marius's retirement, Rome had a brief peace, which was broken due to the assassination of the reformist Marcus Livius Drusus, and this triggered the Social War. This war was caused when the Italian socii ("allies" in Latin) revolted against the Romans, as they were not entitled to Roman citizenship and voting rights. This brought Marius back to the military and political fore, because after the deaths of the consuls he was appointed to command the army together with Lucius Julius Caesar and Sulla.

By the ending of the Social War, the partisans of Marius and Sulla were in conflict, both sides jostling for power. In 88 BC, Sulla was elected for his first consulship and his first assignment was to defeat Mithridates of Pontus, whose intentions were to conquer the Eastern part of the Roman territories. However, Marius's partisans managed his installation to the military command, defying Sulla and the Senate, and this caused Sulla's wrath. To consolidate his own power, Sulla conducted a surprising and illegal action: he marched to Rome with his legions, killing all those who showed support to Marius's cause and impaling their heads in the Roman Forum. In the following year, 87 BC, Marius, who had fled at Sulla's march, came back to Rome while Sulla was campaigning in Greece. He seized power along with the consul Lucius Cornelius Cinna and killed the other consul, Gnaeus Octavius, achieving to his seventh consulship. In an attempt to raise Sulla's anger, Marius and Cinna revenged their partisans by killing and having impaled the heads of Sulla's supporters.

Marius died in 86 BC, due to his age and poor health, just a few months after seizing power. Cinna exercised absolute power until his death in 84 BC. Sulla after returning from his Eastern campaigns had a free path to reestablish his own power. In 83 BC he made his second march in Rome and started a more sanguinary time of terror: thousands of nobles, knights and senators were executed. Sulla also held two dictatorships and one more consulship that had established the crisis and decline of Roman Republic.

Caesar and the First Triumvirate
Bust of Caesar from the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

In the mid-1st century BC, the city of Rome was in a restless period. After Marius's fall, the populace was lacking populist leaders and the men who were enriched at Sulla's time, urged for a new absolute leader who would delegate power and opportunities to them. The latter group supported the Catilinarian conspiracy - a resounding failure, since the consul Marcus Tullius Cicero quickly arrested and executed the main leaders of the conspiracy.

At this time the strife between populares and optimates increased, and the both wanted a strong new man to lead the Roman Republic - with some internal oppositions to this in the optimates party, namely Cicero and Cato the Younger.

Into this turbulent scenario emerged the figure of the very popular politician, Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar became the symbol of Ancient Rome, and his name became synonymous with glory, geniality, boldness, and power. Caesar, having a familial bond with Marius (his aunt Julia was Marius' wife),[34] rebuilt the Marian party, which was humiliated and drastically reduced after Sulla's terms in office, and was able to count upon its support. To achieve power, Caesar reconciled the two more powerful men in Rome: Marcus Licinius Crassus, his sponsor, and Crassus' rival, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (often anglicized as Pompey). This new alliance, the First Triumvirate ("three men"), had satisfied the interests of these three men: Crassus, the richest man in Rome, became richer; Pompey exerted more influence in the Senate; and Caesar held consulship and military command in Gaul.[35]

In 53 BC, the Triumvirate disintegrated at Crassus' death. Crassus had acted as mediator between Caesar and Pompey, and, without him, the two generals began to fight for power. After being victorious in several battles in the Gallic Wars and earning respect and praise from the legions, Caesar was a clear menace to Pompey. Confident that Caesar could be stopped by legal means, Pompey tried to remove Caesar's legions. Caesar resisted because Pompey would gain absolute power. To avoid this, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and invaded Rome in 49 BC.

Caesar pursued Pompey and destroyed all of the optimates leaders: Metellus Scipio, Cato the Younger, and Pompey's son, Gnaeus Pompeius. Pompey was murdered in Egypt in 48 BC, after his escape from Rome during the Battle of Pharsalus, which was a brilliant victory for Caesar. With his sole preeminence over Rome, in the years between the crossing of the Rubicon and his assassination, Caesar was granted many offices. Before a term had ended, Caesar was granted another one. In just five years, he held four consulships, two ordinary dictatorships, and two special dictatorships: one for ten years and another for perpetuity. He was murdered in 44 BC, in the Ides of March by the Liberatores.[36]

Octavian and the Second Triumvirate
The Battle of Actium, by Lorenzo Castro, painted 1672, National Maritime Museum, London

Caesar's assassination caused political and social turmoil in Rome; without the dictator's leadership, the city was ruled by his friend and colleague, Mark Antony. Soon afterward, Octavius, whom Caesar adopted through his will, arrived in Rome. Octavian (historians regard Octavius as Octavian due to the Roman naming conventions) tried to align himself with the Caesarian faction. In 43 BC, along with Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Caesar's best friend,[37] he legally established the Second Triumvirate. This alliance would last for five years. Upon its formation, 130-300 senators were executed, and their property was confiscated, due to their supposed support for the Liberatores.[38]

In 42 BC, the Senate deified Caesar as Divus Iulius, (remind that Divus means "deified", and not "god". The Latin word for god is Deus; this word is used for real deities as Jupiter and Apollo. However, a Divus is not a deity, but a remarkable person who was as important to Rome as Romulus was.) Octavian thus became Divi filius, the son of the deified. In the same year, Octavian and Antony defeated both Caesar's assassins and the leaders of the Liberatores, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, in the Battle of Philippi.

The Second Triumvirate was marked by the proscriptions of many senators and equites: after a revolt led by Antony's brother Lucius Antonius more than 300 senators and equites involved were executed in the anniversary of the Ides of March, although Lucius was spared. The Triumvirate proscribed several important men, including Cicero, whom Antony hated;[39] Quintus Tullius Cicero, the younger brother of the orator; and, more shocking, Lucius Julius Caesar, cousin and friend of the acclaimed general, for his support of Cicero. However, Lucius was pardoned, perhaps after his sister Julia had intervened for him.[40]

The Triumvirate divided the Empire among the triumvirs: Lepidus was left in charge of Africa, Antony, the eastern provinces, and Octavian remained in Italy and controlled Hispania and Gaul.

The Second Triumvirate expired in 38 BC but was renewed for more five years. However, the relationship between Octavian and Antony had deteriorated, and Lepidus was forced to retire in 36 BC after betraying Octavian in Sicily. By the end of the Triumvirate, Antony was living in Egypt, a independent and rich kingdom ruled by Antony's lover, Cleopatra VII. Antony's affair with Cleopatra was seen as an act of treason, since she was queen of a rich and independent kingdom and Antony was adopting an extravagant and Hellenistic lifestyle that were considered inappropriate for a Roman statesman.

Following Antony's Donations of Alexandria, which gave to Cleopatra the title of "Queen of Kings", and to Antony's and Cleopatra's children the regal titles to the newly conquered Eastern territories, the war between Octavian and Antony broke out. Octavian annihilated Egyptian forces in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Now Egypt was conquered by the Roman Empire, and for the Romans, a new era has begun.


With his enemies defeated, Octavian took the name Augustus and assumed almost absolute power, retaining only a pretense of the Republican form of government.[41][42] The Empire was safer, happier and more glorious than the Roman Republic.[42] His designated successor, Tiberius, took power without serious opposition, establishing the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which lasted until the death of Nero in 68.[43] The territorial expansion of what was now the Roman Empire continued, and the state remained secure,[44] despite a series of emperors widely viewed as depraved and corrupt (for example, Caligula is argued by some to have been insane and Nero had a reputation for cruelty and being more interested in his private concerns than the affairs of the state[45]).

Their rule was followed by the Flavian dynasty.[46] During the reign of the "Five Good Emperors" (96–180), the Empire reached its territorial, economic, and cultural zenith.[47] The state was secure from both internal and external threats, and the Empire prospered during the Pax Romana ("Roman Peace").[48][49] With the conquest of Dacia during the reign of Trajan, the Empire reached the peak of its territorial expansion; Rome's dominion now spanned 2.5 million square miles (6.5 million km²).[50] The Antonine Plague that swept through the Empire in 165–180 AD killed an estimated five million people.[51]

The Roman Empire at its greatest extent under Trajan in AD 117

The period between 193 and 235 was dominated by the Severan dynasty, and saw several incompetent rulers, such as Elagabalus.[52] This and the increasing influence of the army on imperial succession led to a long period of imperial collapse and external invasions known as the Crisis of the Third Century.[53][54] The crisis was ended by the more competent rule of Diocletian, who in 293 divided the Empire into an eastern and western half ruled by a tetrarchy of two co-emperors and their two junior colleagues.[55]

The various co-rulers of the Empire competed and fought for supremacy for more than half a century. On May 11, 330, Emperor Constantine I firmly established Byzantium as the capital of the Roman Empire and renamed it Constantinople.[56] The Empire was permanently divided into the Eastern Roman Empire (later known as the Byzantine Empire) and the Western Roman Empire in 395.[57]

The Western Empire was constantly harassed by barbarian invasions, and the gradual decline of the western Empire continued over the centuries.[58] In the 4th century, the westward migration of the Huns caused the Visigoths to seek refuge within the borders of the Roman Empire.[59] In 410, the Visigoths, under the leadership of Alaric I, sacked Rome.[60]

The Vandals invaded Roman provinces in Gaul, Hispania, and northern Africa, and in 455 sacked Rome.[61] On September 4, 476, the Germanic chief Odoacer forced the last Roman Emperor in the west, Romulus Augustus (nicknamed Romulus Augustulus or "Little Augustus"), to abdicate.[62] Having lasted for about 1200 years, the rule of Rome in the West ended.[63]

The Eastern Empire had a different fate. It survived for almost 900 years (until 1204) and became the most stable Christian kingdom during the Middle Ages. During the 6th century, Justinian briefly reconquered Northern Africa and Italy, but Byzantine possessions in the West were reduced to southern Italy and Sicily within a few years after Justinian's death.[64] In the east, partially resulting from the destructive Plague of Justinian, the Byzantines were threatened by the rise of Islam, whose followers rapidly conquered the territories of Syria, Armenia and Egypt during the Byzantine-Arab Wars, and soon presented a direct threat to Constantinople.[65][66] In the following century, the Arabs also captured southern Italy and Sicily.[67]

The Byzantines, however, managed to stop further Islamic expansion into their lands during the 8th century and, beginning in the 9th century, reclaimed parts of the conquered lands.[11][68] In 1000 AD, the Eastern Empire was at its height: Basileios II reconquered Bulgaria and Armenia, culture and trade flourished.[69] However, soon after the expansion was abruptly stopped in 1071 with their defeat in the Battle of Manzikert. The aftermath of this important battle sent the empire into a protracted period of decline. Two decades of internal strife and Turkic invasions ultimately paved the way for Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to send a call for help to the West in 1095.[65]

The West responded with the Crusades, eventually resulting in the Sack of Constantinople by participants in the Fourth Crusade. The conquest of Constantinople in 1204 fragmented what remained of the Empire into successor states, the ultimate victor being that of Nicaea.[70] After the recapture of Constantinople by Imperial forces, the Empire was little more than a Greek state confined to the Aegean coast. The Eastern Empire collapsed when Mehmed II conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453.[71]


Rome has a very rich history, which was explored by many authors, both ancient and modern. The first history works were written after the First Punic War. Many of these works were made for propaganda of the Roman culture and customs, and also as moral essays. Although the diversity of works, many of them are lost and due to this, there are large gaps in Roman history, which are filled by unreliable works, as the Historia Augusta and books from obscure authors. However, there remain a number of accounts of Roman History.

In Roman Times

There is a huge variety of historians who lived in Roman times and wrote on Rome. The first historians used their works for lauding of Roman culture and customs. By the end of Republic, some historians distorted their histories to flatter their patrons - this happened on the time of Marius' and Sulla's clash.[citation needed] Caesar wrote his own histories to make a complete account of his military campaigns in Gaul and in the Civil War.

In the Empire, the biographies of famous men and early emperors flourished, examples being The Twelve Caesars of Suetonius, and Plutarch's Parallel Lives. Other major works of Imperial times were that of Livy and Tacitus.

In Modern times

After the Renaissance, Roman history occupied a central place in Western culture. A new multitude of historians decided to revisit ancient history, making analysis of what meant to be Ancient Rome, and having different views of those of the ancient historians.


The imperial city of Rome was the largest urban center of its time, with a population of about one million people (about the size of London in the early 19th century, when London was the largest city in the world), with some high-end estimates of 14 million and low-end estimates of 450,000.[77][78][79] The public spaces in Rome resounded with such a din of hooves and clatter of iron chariot wheels that Julius Caesar had once proposed a ban on chariot traffic during the day. Historical estimates show that around 20 percent of the population under jurisdiction of ancient Rome (25–40%, depending on the standards used, in Roman Italy)[80] lived in innumerable urban centers, with population of 10,000 and more and several military settlements, a very high rate of urbanization by pre-industrial standards. Most of these centers had a forum, temples, and other buildings similar to those in Rome.

Class structure

Animated map showing the area under Roman control throughout history

Roman society is largely viewed as hierarchical, with slaves (servi) at the bottom, freedmen (liberti) above them, and free-born citizens (cives) at the top. Free citizens were also divided by class. The broadest, and earliest, division was between the patricians, who could trace their ancestry to one of the 100 Patriarchs at the founding of the city, and the plebeians, who could not. This became less important in the later Republic, as some plebeian families became wealthy and entered politics, and some patrician families fell on hard times. Anyone, patrician or plebeian, who could count a consul as his ancestor was a noble (nobilis); a man who was the first of his family to hold the consulship, such as Marius or Cicero, was known as a novus homo ("new man") and ennobled his descendants. Patrician ancestry, however, still conferred considerable prestige, and many religious offices remained restricted to patricians.

A class division originally based on military service became more important. Membership of these classes was determined periodically by the Censors, according to property. The wealthiest were the Senatorial class, who dominated politics and command of the army. Next came the equestrians (equites, sometimes translated "knights"), originally those who could afford a warhorse, who formed a powerful mercantile class. Several further classes, originally based on what military equipment their members could afford, followed, with the proletarii, citizens who had no property at all, at the bottom. Before the reforms of Marius they were ineligible for military service and are often described as being just above freed slaves in wealth and prestige.

Voting power in the Republic was dependent on class. Citizens were enrolled in voting "tribes", but the tribes of the richer classes had fewer members than the poorer ones, all the proletarii being enrolled in a single tribe. Voting was done in class order and stopped as soon as most of the tribes had been reached, so the poorer classes were often unable even to cast their votes.

Women shared some basic rights with their male counterparts, but were not fully regarded as citizens and were thus not allowed to vote or take part in politics. At the same time the limited rights of women gradually were expanded (due to emancipation) and women reached freedom from paterfamilias, gained property rights and even had more juridical rights than their husbands, but still they had no voting rights and were absent from politics.[81]

Allied foreign cities were often given the Latin Right, an intermediary level between full citizens and foreigners (peregrini), which gave their citizens rights under Roman law and allowed their leading magistrates to become full Roman citizens. While there were varying degrees of Latin rights, the main division was between those cum suffragio ("with vote"; enrolled in a Roman tribe and able to take part in the comitia tributa) and sine suffragio ("without vote"; could not take part in Roman politics). Some of Rome's Italian allies were given full citizenship after the Social War of 91–88 BC, and full Roman citizenship was extended to all free-born men in the Empire by Caracalla in 212.


A group portrait depicted on glass, dating from c. 250 AD, showing a mother, son and daughter. It was once considered a depiction of the family of Valentinian III.

The basic units of Roman society were households and families.[82] Households included the head (usually the father) of the household, pater familias (father of the family), his wife, children, and other relatives. In the upper classes, slaves and servants were also part of the household.[82] The head of the household had great power (patria potestas, "father's power") over those living with him: He could force marriage (usually for money) and divorce, sell his children into slavery, claim his dependents' property as his own, and even had the right to punish or kill family members (though this last right apparently ceased to be exercised after the 1st century BC).[83]

Patria potestas even extended over adult sons with their own households: A man was not considered a paterfamilias, nor could he truly hold property, while his own father lived.[83][84] During the early period of Rome's history, a daughter, when she married, fell under the control (manus) of the paterfamilias of her husband's household, although by the late Republic this fell out of fashion, as a woman could choose to continue recognizing her father's family as her true family.[85] However, as Romans reckoned descent through the male line, any children she had belonged to her husband's family.[86]

Little affection was shown for the children of Rome. The mother or an elderly relative often raised both boys and girls, and unwanted children were often sold as slaves. Children might have waited on tables for the family, but they could not have participated in the conversation. A Greek nurse usually taught the children Latin and Greek; the father, the boys how to swim and ride, although he sometimes hired a slave to teach them instead. At seven, a boy began his education. Having no school building, classes were held on a rooftop (if dark, the boy had to carry a lantern to school). Wax-covered boards were used because paper, papyrus, and parchment were too expensive—or he could just write in the sand. A loaf of bread to be eaten was also carried. Of course, rich boys had their materials carried by a slave.[87]

Groups of related households formed a family (gens). Families were based on blood ties or adoption, but were also political and economic alliances. Especially during the Roman Republic, some powerful families, or Gentes Maiores, came to dominate political life.

In ancient Rome, marriage was often regarded more as a financial and political alliance than as a romantic association, especially in the upper classes (see marriage in ancient Rome). Fathers usually began seeking husbands for their daughters when these reached an age between twelve and fourteen. The husband was usually older than the bride was. While upper class girls married very young, there is evidence that lower class women often married in their late teens or early twenties.


In the early Republic, there were no public schools, so boys were taught to read and write by their parents, or by educated slaves, called paedagogi, usually of Greek origin.[88][89][90] The primary aim of education during this period was to train young men in agriculture, warfare, Roman traditions, and public affairs.[11] Young boys learned much about civic life by accompanying their fathers to religious and political functions, including the Senate for the sons of nobles.[11] The sons of nobles were apprenticed to a prominent political figure at the age of 16, and campaigned with the army from the age of 17 (this system was still in use among some noble families into the imperial era).[11]

Educational practices were modified after the conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the 3rd century BC and the resulting Greek influence, although it should be noted that Roman educational practices were still much different from Greek ones.[11][91] If their parents could afford it, boys and some girls at the age of 7 were sent to a private school outside the home called a ludus, where a teacher (called a litterator or a magister ludi, and often of Greek origin) taught them basic reading, writing, arithmetic, and sometimes Greek, until the age of 11.[11][90][92]

Beginning at age 12, students went to secondary schools, where the teacher (now called a grammaticus) taught them about Greek and Roman literature.[11][11] At the age of 16, some students went on to rhetoric school (where the teacher, usually Greek, was called a rhetor).[11][11] Education at this level prepared students for legal careers, and required that the students memorize the laws of Rome.[11] Pupils went to school every day, except religious festivals and market days. There were also summer holidays.


Initially, Rome was ruled by kings, who were elected from each of Rome's major tribes in turn.[93] The exact nature of the king's power is uncertain. He may have held near-absolute power, or may also have merely been the chief executive of the Senate and the people. At least in military matters, the king's authority (Imperium) was likely absolute. He was also the head of the state religion. In addition to the authority of the King, there were three administrative assemblies: the Senate, which acted as an advisory body for the King; the Comitia Curiata, which could endorse and ratify laws suggested by the King; and the Comitia Calata, which was an assembly of the priestly college that could assemble the people to bear witness to certain acts, hear proclamations, and declare the feast and holiday schedule for the next month.

Representation of a sitting of the Roman Senate: Cicero attacks Catilina, from a 19th century fresco.

The class struggles of the Roman Republic resulted in an unusual mixture of democracy and oligarchy. The word republic comes from the Latin res publica, which literally translates to "public business". Roman laws traditionally could only be passed by a vote of the Popular assembly (Comitia Tributa). Likewise, candidates for public positions had to run for election by the people. However, the Roman Senate represented an oligarchic institution, which acted as an advisory body.

In the Republic, the Senate held great authority (auctoritas), but no real legislative power; it was technically only an advisory council. However, as the Senators were individually very influential, it was difficult to accomplish anything against the collective will of the Senate. New Senators were chosen from among the most accomplished patricians by Censors (Censura), who could also remove a Senator from his office if he was found "morally corrupt"; a charge that could include bribery or, as under Cato the Elder, embracing one's wife in public. Later, under the reforms of the dictator Sulla, Quaestors were made automatic members of the Senate, though most of his reforms did not survive.

The Republic had no fixed bureaucracy, and collected taxes through the practice of tax farming. Government positions such as quaestor, aedile, or praefect were funded from the office-holder's private finances. To prevent any citizen from gaining too much power, new magistrates were elected annually and had to share power with a colleague. For example, under normal conditions, the highest authority was held by two consuls. In an emergency, a temporary dictator could be appointed. Throughout the Republic, the administrative system was revised several times to comply with new demands. In the end, it proved inefficient for controlling the ever-expanding dominion of Rome, contributing to the establishment of the Roman Empire.

In the early Empire, the pretense of a republican form of government was maintained. The Roman Emperor was portrayed as only a princeps, or "first citizen", and the Senate gained legislative power and all legal authority previously held by the popular assemblies. However, the rule of the Emperors became increasingly autocratic, and the Senate was reduced to an advisory body appointed by the Emperor. The Empire did not inherit a set bureaucracy from the Republic, since the Republic did not have any permanent governmental structures apart from the Senate. The Emperor appointed assistants and advisers, but the state lacked many institutions, such as a centrally planned budget. Some historians have cited this as a significant reason for the decline of the Roman Empire.


The roots of the legal principles and practices of the ancient Romans may be traced to the Law of the Twelve Tables promulgated in 449 BC and to the codification of law issued by order of Emperor Justinian I around 530 AD (see Corpus Juris Civilis). Roman law as preserved in Justinian's codes continued into the Byzantine Empire, and formed the basis of similar codifications in continental Western Europe. Roman law continued, in a broader sense, to be applied throughout most of Europe until the end of the 17th century.

The major divisions of the law of ancient Rome, as contained within the Justinian and Theodosian law codes, consisted of Ius Civile, Ius Gentium, and Ius Naturale. The Ius Civile ("Citizen Law") was the body of common laws that applied to Roman citizens.[94] The Praetores Urbani (sg. Praetor Urbanus) were the people who had jurisdiction over cases involving citizens. The Ius Gentium ("Law of nations") was the body of common laws that applied to foreigners, and their dealings with Roman citizens.[82] The Praetores Peregrini (sg. Praetor Peregrinus) were the people who had jurisdiction over cases involving citizens and foreigners. Ius Naturale encompassed natural law, the body of laws that were considered common to all being.


Night view of the Trajan's Market, built by Apollodorus of Damascus

Ancient Rome commanded a vast area of land, with tremendous natural and human resources. As such, Rome's economy remained focused on farming and trade. Agricultural free trade changed the Italian landscape, and by the 1st century BC, vast grape and olive estates had supplanted the yeoman farmers, who were unable to match the imported grain price. The annexation of Egypt, Sicily and Tunisia in North Africa provided a continuous supply of grains. In turn, olive oil and wine were Italy's main exports. Two-tier crop rotation was practiced, but farm productivity was low, around 1 ton per hectare.

Industrial and manufacturing activities were smaller. The largest such activities were the mining and quarrying of stones, which provided basic construction materials for the buildings of that period. In manufacturing, production was on a relatively small scale, and generally consisted of workshops and small factories that employed at most dozens of workers. However, some brick factories employed hundreds of workers.

The economy of the early Republic was largely based on smallholding and paid labor. However, foreign wars and conquests made slaves increasingly cheap and plentiful, and by the late Republic, the economy was largely dependent on slave labor for both skilled and unskilled work. Slaves are estimated to have constituted around 20% of the Roman Empire's population at this time and 40% in the city of Rome. Only in the Roman Empire, when the conquests stopped and the prices of slaves increased, did hired labor become more economical than slave ownership.

Although barter was used in ancient Rome, and often used in tax collection, Rome had a very developed coinage system, with brass, bronze, and precious metal coins in circulation throughout the Empire and beyond—some have even been discovered in India. Before the 3rd century BC, copper was traded by weight, measured in unmarked lumps, across central Italy. The original copper coins (as) had a face value of one Roman pound of copper, but weighed less. Thus, Roman money's utility as a unit of exchange consistently exceeded its intrinsic value as metal. After Nero began debasing the silver denarius, its legal value was an estimated one-third greater than its intrinsic value.

Horses were too expensive and other pack animals too slow. Mass trade on the Roman roads connected military posts, not markets, and were rarely designed for wheels. As a result, there was little transport of commodities between Roman regions until the rise of Roman maritime trade in the 2nd century BC. During that period, a trading vessel took less than a month to complete a trip from Gades to Alexandria via Ostia, spanning the entire length of the Mediterranean.[50] Transport by sea was around 60 times cheaper than by land, so the volume for such trips was much larger.

Some economists like Peter Temin consider the Roman Empire a market economy, similar in its degree of capitalistic practices to 17th century Netherlands and 18th century England.[95]


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Modern replica of lorica segmentata type armor, used in conjunction with the popular chainmail after the 1st century AD

The early Roman army (c. 500 BC) was, like those of other contemporary city-states influenced by Greek civilization, a citizen militia that practiced hoplite tactics. It was small (the population of free men of military age was then about 9,000) and organized in five classes (in parallel to the comitia centuriata, the body of citizens organized politically), with three providing hoplites and two providing light infantry. The early Roman army was tactically limited and its stance during this period was essentially defensive.[96]

By the 3rd century BC, the Romans abandoned the hoplite formation in favor of a more flexible system in which smaller groups of 120 (or sometimes 60) men called maniples could maneuver more independently on the battlefield. Thirty maniples arranged in three lines with supporting troops constituted a legion, totaling between 4,000 and 5,000 men.[97]

The early Republican legion consisted of five sections, each of which was equipped differently and had different places in formation: the three lines of manipular heavy infantry (hastati, principes and triarii), a force of light infantry (velites), and the cavalry (equites). With the new organization came a new orientation toward the offensive and a much more aggressive posture toward adjoining city-states.[97]

At nominal full strength, an early Republican legion included 4,000 to 5,000 men: 3,600 to 4,800 heavy infantry, several hundred light infantry, and several hundred cavalrymen.[98] Legions were often significantly understrength from recruitment failures or following periods of active service due to accidents, battle casualties, disease and desertion. During the Civil War, Pompey's legions in the east were at full strength because they were recently recruited, while Caesar's legions were often well below nominal strength after long active service in Gaul. This pattern also held true for auxiliary forces.[99]

Until the late Republican period, the typical legionary was a property-owning citizen farmer from a rural area (an adsiduus) who served for particular (often annual) campaigns,[100] and who supplied his own equipment and, in the case of equites, his own mount. Harris suggests that down to 200 BC, the average rural farmer (who survived) might participate in six or seven campaigns. Freedmen and slaves (wherever resident) and urban citizens did not serve except in rare emergencies.[101]

After 200 BC, economic conditions in rural areas deteriorated as manpower needs increased, so that the property qualifications for service were gradually reduced. Beginning with Gaius Marius in 107 BC, citizens without property and some urban-dwelling citizens (proletarii) were enlisted and provided with equipment, although most legionaries continued to come from rural areas. Terms of service became continuous and long—up to twenty years if emergencies required it although Brunt argues that six- or seven-year terms were more typical.[102]

Beginning in the 3rd century BC, legionaries were paid stipendium (amounts are disputed but Caesar famously "doubled" payments to his troops to 225 denarii a year), could anticipate booty and donatives (distributions of plunder by commanders) from successful campaigns and, beginning at the time of Marius, often were granted allotments of land upon retirement.[103] Cavalry and light infantry attached to a legion (the auxilia) were often recruited in the areas where the legion served. Caesar formed a legion, the Fifth Alaudae, from non-citizens in Transalpine Gaul to serve in his campaigns in Gaul.[104] By the time of Caesar Augustus, the ideal of the citizen-soldier had been abandoned and the legions had become fully professional. Legionaries received 900 sesterces a year and could expect 12,000 sesterces on retirement.[105]

At the end of the Civil War, Augustus reorganized Roman military forces, discharging soldiers and disbanding legions. He retained 28 legions, distributed through the provinces of the Empire.[106] During the Principate, the tactical organization of the Army continued to evolve. The auxilia remained independent cohorts, and legionary troops often operated as groups of cohorts rather than as full legions. A new versatile type of unit  - the cohortes equitatae - combined cavalry and legionaries in a single formation. They could be stationed at garrisons or outposts and could fight on their own as balanced small forces or combine with other similar units as a larger legion-sized force. This increase in organizational flexibility helped ensure the long-term success of Roman military forces.[107]

The Emperor Gallienus (253–268 AD) began a reorganization that created the last military structure of the late Empire. Withdrawing some legionaries from the fixed bases on the border, Gallienus created mobile forces (the Comitatenses or field armies) and stationed them behind and at some distance from the borders as a strategic reserve. The border troops (limitanei) stationed at fixed bases continued to be the first line of defense. The basic unit of the field army was the "regiment", legiones or auxilia for infantry and vexellationes for cavalry. Evidence suggests that nominal strengths may have been 1,200 men for infantry regiments and 600 for cavalry, although many records show lower actual troop levels (800 and 400).[108]

Many infantry and cavalry regiments operated in pairs under the command of a comes. In addition to Roman troops, the field armies included regiments of "barbarians" recruited from allied tribes and known as foederati. By 400 AD, foederati regiments had become permanently established units of the Roman army, paid and equipped by the Empire, led by a Roman tribune and used just as Roman units were used. In addition to the foederati, the Empire also used groups of barbarians to fight along with the legions as "allies" without integration into the field armies. Under the command of the senior Roman general present, they were led at lower levels by their own officers.[108]

Drawing of a Roman ballista

Military leadership evolved greatly over the course of the history of Rome. Under the monarchy, the hoplite armies were led by the kings of Rome. During the early and middle Roman Republic, military forces were under the command of one of the two elected consuls for the year. During the later Republic, members of the Roman Senatorial elite, as part of the normal sequence of elected public offices known as the cursus honorum, would have served first as quaestor (often posted as deputies to field commanders), then as praetor.[109]

Following the end of a term as praetor or consul, a Senator might be appointed by the Senate as a propraetor or proconsul (depending on the highest office held before) to govern a foreign province. More junior officers (down to but not including the level of centurion) were selected by their commanders from their own clientelae or those recommended by political allies among the Senatorial elite.[109]

Under Augustus, whose most important political priority was to place the military under a permanent and unitary command, the Emperor was the legal commander of each legion but exercised that command through a legatus (legate) he appointed from the Senatorial elite. In a province with a single legion, the legate commanded the legion (legatus legionis) and also served as provincial governor, while in a province with more than one legion, each legion was commanded by a legate and the legates were commanded by the provincial governor (also a legate but of higher rank).[110]

During the later stages of the Imperial period (beginning perhaps with Diocletian), the Augustan model was abandoned. Provincial governors were stripped of military authority, and command of the armies in a group of provinces was given to generals (duces) appointed by the Emperor. These were no longer members of the Roman elite but men who came up through the ranks and had seen much practical soldiering. With increasing frequency, these men attempted (sometimes successfully) to usurp the positions of the Emperors who had appointed them. Decreased resources, increasing political chaos and civil war eventually left the Western Empire vulnerable to attack and takeover by neighboring barbarian peoples.[111]

Less is known about the Roman navy than the Roman army. Prior to the middle of the 3rd century BC, officials known as duumviri navales commanded a fleet of twenty ships used mainly to control piracy. This fleet was given up in 278 AD and replaced by allied forces. The First Punic War required that Rome build large fleets, and it did so largely with the assistance of and financing from allies. This reliance on allies continued to the end of the Roman Republic. The quinquereme was the main warship on both sides of the Punic Wars and remained the mainstay of Roman naval forces until replaced by the time of Caesar Augustus by lighter and more maneuverable vessels.[112]

As compared with a trireme, the quinquereme permitted the use of a mix of experienced and inexperienced crewmen (an advantage for a primarily land-based power), and its lesser maneuverability permitted the Romans to adopt and perfect boarding tactics using a troop of about 40 marines in lieu of the ram. Ships were commanded by a navarch, a rank equal to a centurion, who was usually not a citizen. Potter suggests that because the fleet was dominated by non-Romans, the navy was considered non-Roman and allowed to atrophy in times of peace.[112]

Information suggests that by the time of the late Empire (350 AD), the Roman navy comprised several fleets including warships and merchant vessels for transportation and supply. Warships were oared sailing galleys with three to five banks of oarsmen. Fleet bases included such ports as Ravenna, Arles, Aquilea, Misenum and the mouth of the Somme River in the West and Alexandria and Rhodes in the East. Flotillas of small river craft (classes) were part of the limitanei (border troops) during this period, based at fortified river harbors along the Rhine and the Danube. That prominent generals commanded both armies and fleets suggests that naval forces were treated as auxiliaries to the army and not as an independent service. The details of command structure and fleet strengths during this period are not well known, although fleets were commanded by prefects.[113]


Life in ancient Rome revolved around the city of Rome, located on seven hills. The city had a vast number of monumental structures like the Colosseum, the Forum of Trajan and the Pantheon. It had theatres, gymnasiums, marketplaces, functional sewers, bath complexes complete with libraries and shops, and fountains with fresh drinking water supplied by hundreds of miles of aqueducts. Throughout the territory under the control of ancient Rome, residential architecture ranged from modest houses to country villas.

In the capital city of Rome, there were imperial residences on the elegant Palatine Hill, from which the word palace derives. The low Plebian and middle Equestrian classes lived in the city center, packed into apartments, or Insulae, which were almost like modern ghettos. These areas, often built by upper class property owners to rent, were often centred upon collegia or taberna. These people, provided by a free supply of grain, and entertained by gladatorial games, were enrolled as clients of patrons among the upper class Patricians, whose assistance they sought and whose interests they upheld.



The native language of the Romans was Latin, an Italic language the grammar of which relies little on word order, conveying meaning through a system of affixes attached to word stems.[114] Its alphabet was based on the Etruscan alphabet, which was in turn based on the Greek alphabet.[115] Although surviving Latin literature consists almost entirely of Classical Latin, an artificial and highly stylized and polished literary language from the 1st century BC, the spoken language of the Roman Empire was Vulgar Latin, which significantly differed from Classical Latin in grammar and vocabulary, and eventually in pronunciation.[116]

While Latin remained the main written language of the Roman Empire, Greek came to be the language spoken by the well-educated elite, as most of the literature studied by Romans was written in Greek. In the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which later became the Byzantine Empire, Latin was never able to replace Greek, and after the death of Justinian, Greek became the official language of the Byzantine government.[117] The expansion of the Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe, and Vulgar Latin evolved into dialects in different locations, gradually shifting into many distinct Romance languages.


Archaic Roman religion, at least concerning the gods, was made up not of written narratives, but rather of complex interrelations between gods and humans.[118] Unlike in Greek mythology, the gods were not personified, but were vaguely defined sacred spirits called numina. Romans also believed that every person, place or thing had its own genius, or divine soul. During the Roman Republic, Roman religion was organized under a strict system of priestly offices, which were held by men of senatorial rank. The College of Pontifices was uppermost body in this hierarchy, and its chief priest, the Pontifex Maximus, was the head of the state religion. Flamens took care of the cults of various gods, while augurs were trusted with taking the auspices. The sacred king took on the religious responsibilities of the deposed kings. In the Roman Empire, emperors were held to be gods,[citation needed] and the formalized imperial cult became increasingly prominent.

As contact with the Greeks increased, the old Roman gods became increasingly associated with Greek gods.[119] Thus, Jupiter was perceived to be the same deity as Zeus, Mars became associated with Ares, and Neptune with Poseidon. The Roman gods also assumed the attributes and mythologies of these Greek gods. Under the Empire, the Romans absorbed the mythologies of their conquered subjects, often leading to situations in which the temples and priests of traditional Italian deities existed side by side with those of foreign gods.[120]

Beginning with Emperor Nero in the 1st century AD, Roman official policy towards Christianity was negative, and at some points, simply being a Christian could be punishable by death. Under Emperor Diocletian, the persecution of Christians reached its peak. However, it became an officially supported religion in the Roman state under Diocletian's successor, Constantine I, with the signing of the Edict of Milan in 313, and quickly became dominant. All religions except Christianity were prohibited in 391 AD by an edict of Emperor Theodosius I.[121]

Art, music and literature

Woman playing a kithara.

Roman painting styles show Greek influences, and surviving examples are primarily frescoes used to adorn the walls and ceilings of country villas, though Roman literature includes mentions of paintings on wood, ivory, and other materials.[122][123] Several examples of Roman painting have been found at Pompeii, and from these art historians divide the history of Roman painting into four periods. The first style of Roman painting was practiced from the early 2nd century BC to the early- or mid-1st century BC. It was mainly composed of imitations of marble and masonry, though sometimes including depictions of mythological characters.[122][123]

The second style of Roman painting began during the early 1st century BC, and attempted to depict realistically three-dimensional architectural features and landscapes. The third style occurred during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), and rejected the realism of the second style in favor of simple ornamentation. A small architectural scene, landscape, or abstract design was placed in the center with a monochrome background. The fourth style, which began in the 1st century AD, depicted scenes from mythology, while retaining architectural details and abstract patterns.[122][123]

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, ornate hair and bearding, with deep cutting and drilling, became popular. Advancements were also made in relief sculptures, usually depicting Roman victories.

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

Roman music was largely based on Greek music, and played an important part in many aspects of Roman life.[124] In the Roman military, musical instruments such as the tuba (a long trumpet) or the cornu (similar to a French horn) were used to give various commands, while the bucina (possibly a trumpet or horn) and the lituus (probably an elongated J-shaped instrument), were used in ceremonial capacities.[125] Music was used in the amphitheaters between fights and in the odea, and in these settings is known to have featured the cornu and the hydraulis (a type of water organ).[126]

Most religious rituals featured musical performances, with tibiae (double pipes) at sacrifices, cymbals and Tambourines at orgiastic cults, and rattles and hymns across the spectrum.[127] Some music historians believe that music was used at almost all public ceremonies.[128] Music historians are not certain if Roman musicians made a significant contribution to the theory or practice of music.[124]

The graffiti, brothels, paintings, and sculptures found in Pompeii and Herculaneum suggest that the Romans had a sex-saturated culture.[129]

Scholarly studies

Interest in studying ancient Rome arose during the Age of Enlightenment in France. Charles Montesquieu wrote a work Reflections on the Causes of the Grandeur and Declension of the Romans. The first major work was The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, which encompassed the period from the end of 2nd century to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. Like Montesquieu, Gibbon paid high tribute to the virtue of Roman citizens. Barthold Georg Niebuhr was a founder of the examination of ancient Roman history and wrote The Roman History, tracing the period until the First Punic war. Niebuhr tried to determine the way the Roman tradition evolved. According to him, Romans, like other people, had an historical ethos preserved mainly in the noble families.

During the Napoleonic period a work titled The History of Romans by Victor Duruy appeared. It highlighted the Caesarean period popular at the time. History of Rome, Roman constitutional law and Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, all by Theodor Mommsen, became very important milestones. Later the work Greatness and Decline of Rome by Guglielmo Ferrero was published. The Russian work Очерки по истории римского землевладения, преимущественно в эпоху Империи (The Outlines on Roman Landownership History, Mainly During the Empire) by Ivan Grevs contained information on the economy of Pomponius Atticus, one of the greatest landowners during the end of the Republic.

Games and activities

The youth of Rome had several forms of play and exercise, such as jumping, wrestling, boxing, and racing.[130] In the countryside, pastimes for the wealthy also included fishing and hunting.[131] The Romans also had several forms of ball playing, including one resembling handball.[130] Dice games, board games, and gamble games were popular pastimes.[130] Women did not take part in these activities. For the wealthy, dinner parties presented an opportunity for entertainment, sometimes featuring music, dancing, and poetry readings.[132] Plebeians sometimes enjoyed similar parties through clubs or associations, although recreational dining usually meant patronizing taverns.[132] Children entertained themselves with toys and such games as leapfrog.[131][132]

A popular form of entertainment was gladiatorial combats. Gladiators fought either to the death or to "first blood" with a variety of weapons in different scenarios. These fights achieved their height of popularity under the emperor Claudius, who placed the outcome of the combat firmly in the hands of the Emperor with a hand gesture. Contrary to popular representations in film, several experts believe the gesture for death was not "thumbs down". Although no one is certain about what the gestures were, some experts conclude that the emperor signaled "death" by holding a raised fist to the winning combatant and then extending his thumb upwards, while "mercy" was indicated by a raised fist with no extended thumb.[133] Animal shows were also popular with the Romans, where foreign animals were either displayed for the public or combined with gladiatorial combat. A prisoner or gladiator, armed or unarmed, was thrown into the arena and an animal was released.

The Circus Maximus, another popular site in Rome, was primarily used for horse and chariot racing, and when the Circus was flooded, there could be sea battles. It was also used for many other events.[134] The Circus could hold up to 385,000 people;[135] people all over Rome would visit it. Two temples, one with seven large eggs and one with seven dolphins, lay in the middle of the track of Circus Maximus, and when the racers made a lap, one of each would be removed. This was done to keep the spectators and the racers informed of the race statistics.

Other than for sports, the Circus Maximus was also an area of marketing and gambling. Higher authorities, such as the Emperor, also attended games in the Circus Maximus, as it was considered rude to avoid attendance. The higher authorities, knights, and many other people who were involved with the race, sat in reserved seats located above everyone else. It was also considered inappropriate for emperors to favour a team. The Circus Maximus was created in 600 BC and hosted the last horse-racing game in 549 AD, after a custom enduring over a millennium.


Pont du Gard in France is a Roman aqueduct built in c. 19 BC. It is a World Heritage Site.

Ancient Rome boasted impressive technological feats, using many advancements that were lost in the Middle Ages and not rivaled again until the 19th and 20th centuries. Many practical Roman innovations were adopted from earlier Greek designs. Advancements were often divided and based on craft. Groups of artisans jealously guarded new technologies as trade secrets.[citation needed]

Roman civil engineering and military engineering constituted a large part of Rome's technological superiority and legacy, and contributed to the construction of hundreds of roads, bridges, aqueducts, baths, theaters and arenas. Many monuments, such as the Colosseum, Pont du Gard, and Pantheon, remain as testaments to Roman engineering and culture.

The Romans were renowned for their architecture, which is grouped with Greek traditions into "Classical architecture". Although there were many differences from Greek architecture, Rome borrowed heavily from Greece in adhering to strict, formulaic building designs and proportions. Aside from two new orders of columns, composite and Tuscan, and from the dome, which was derived from the Etruscan arch, Rome had relatively few architectural innovations until the end of the Republic.

The Appian Way (Via Appia), a road connecting the city of Rome to the southern parts of Italy, remains usable even today.

In the 1st century BC, Romans started to use concrete, widely. Concrete was invented in the late 3rd century BC. It was a powerful cement derived from pozzolana, and soon supplanted marble as the chief Roman building material and allowed many daring architectural schemata.[136] Also in the 1st century BC, Vitruvius wrote De architectura, possibly the first complete treatise on architecture in history. In late 1st century BC, Rome also began to use glassblowing soon after its invention in Syria about 50 BC. Mosaics took the Empire by storm after samples were retrieved during Lucius Cornelius Sulla's campaigns in Greece.

Concrete made possible the paved, durable Roman roads, many of which were still in use a thousand years after the fall of Rome. The construction of a vast and efficient travel network throughout the Empire dramatically increased Rome's power and influence. It was originally constructed to allow Roman legions to be rapidly deployed. But these highways also had enormous economic significance, solidifying Rome's role as a trading crossroads—the origin of the saying "all roads lead to Rome". The Roman government maintained way stations that provided refreshments to travelers at regular intervals along the roads, constructed bridges where necessary, and established a system of horse relays for couriers that allowed a dispatch to travel up to 800 kilometers (500 mi) in 24 hours.

The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts to supply water to cities and industrial sites and to aid in their agriculture. The city of Rome was supplied by 11 aqueducts with a combined length of 350 kilometres (220 mi).[137] Most aqueducts were constructed below the surface, with only small portions above ground supported by arches. Sometimes, where valleys deeper than 50 metres (165 ft) had to be crossed, inverted siphons were used to convey water across a valley.[6]

The Romans also made major advancements in sanitation. Romans were particularly famous for their public baths, called thermae, which were used for both hygienic and social purposes. Many Roman houses came to have flush toilets and indoor plumbing, and a complex sewer system, the Cloaca Maxima, was used to drain the local marshes and carry waste into the Tiber river.

Some historians have speculated that lead pipes in the sewer and plumbing systems led to widespread lead poisoning, which contributed to the decline in birth rate and general decay of Roman society leading up to the fall of Rome. However, lead content would have been minimized because the flow of water from aqueducts could not be shut off; it ran continuously through public and private outlets into the drains, and only a few taps were in use.[138] Other authors have raised similar objections to this theory, also pointing out that Roman water pipes were thickly coated with deposits that would have prevented lead from leaching into the water.[139]

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  • Adkins, Lesley; Roy Adkins (1998). Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512332-8. 
  • Casson, Lionel (1998). Everyday Life in Ancient Rome. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5992-1. 
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  • Duiker, William; Jackson Spielvogel (2001). World History (Third edition ed.). Wadsworth. ISBN 0-534-57168-9. 
  • Durant, Will (1944). The Story of Civilization, Volume III: Caesar and Christ. Simon and Schuster, Inc.. 
  • Elton, Hugh (1996). Warfare in Roman Europe AD350-425. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815241-8. 
  • Flower (editor), Harriet I. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00390-3. 
  • Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian Keith (2008). Caesar: Life of a Colossus. Yale University Press
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian Keith (1996). The Roman Army at War 100BC-AD200. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815057-1. 
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian Keith (2003). The Complete Roman Army. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd.. ISBN 0-500-05124-0. 
  • Grant, Michael (2005). Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum. London: Phoenix Press. ISBN 1-89880-045-6. 
  • Haywood, Richard (1971). The Ancient World. David McKay Company, Inc.. 
  • Keegan, John (1993). A History of Warfare. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-58801-0. 
  • Livy. The Rise of Rome, Books 1-5, translated from Latin by T.J. Luce, 1998. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-282296-9.
  • Mackay, Christopher S. (2004). Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80918-5. 
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  • O'Connell, Robert (1989). Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505359-1. 
  • Scarre, Chris (September 1995). The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-051329-9. 
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Further reading

  • Cowell, Frank Richard. Life in Ancient Rome. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1961 (paperback, ISBN 0-399-50328-5).
  • Gabucci, Ada. Rome (Dictionaries of Civilizations; 2). Berkekely: University of California Press, 2007 (paperback, ISBN 0-520-25265-9).
  • Scheidel, Walter, Ian Morris, and Richard P. Saller, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World (2008) 958pp
  • Wyke, Maria. Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema, and History. New York; London: Routledge, 1997 (hardcover, ISBN 0-415-90613-X, paperback, ISBN 0-415-91614-8).

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