Roman Empire

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Overview | Ancient Roman Dining Practices and Food | Ancient Roman Warfare | Ancient Roman Political System | Ancient Roman Religions | Ancient Roman Architecture | Fall of the Ancient Roman Empire | Effects of the Roman Empire on Modern Society | References

Overview of the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire is arguably the single most dominant political and military force ever to have existed. It is characterized primarily by an autocratic form of government under Augustus. Before the empire, Rome had spent the past 500 years under a republican government, which in turn ended up leading it through many civil wars. There were several events that ended up marking the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. Among these include Julius Caesar’s appointment as dictator, the victory of Octavian at the battle of Actium, and the Roman senate’s granting Octavian the honorific Augustus.

The actual term “Roman Empire” stems from its Latin meaning relating to the many territories and parts of the world which are under Roman rule. Now, this expansion of the Roman Empire began with Augustus during the republic era, but magnified during its empirical days. It reached the peak of its territorial advances under the emperor Trajan when the Roman Empire accounted for 5.9 million square kilometers of the world. Because of the Roman Empire’s vast existence and influence all over the world, their influence on law, religion, government, culture, and language, still exists to this very day.

In the late third century, the emperor Diocletian established the practice of dividing the authority of the empire between two emperors. One would control the eastern part, and the other the western due to better manage the empire, and because the size of the empire had grown so dramatically. This practice was kept in place all throughout the next century as well, until the death of the Emperor Theodisius in 395. The Western half of the empire ended up collapsing in 476 when the Romulus Augustus was forced to abdicate by Odoacer. The Eastern half ended up enduring on for another century, until it too collapsed. Due to this split in territories, it is difficult for experts to identify the exact date when the Roman Empire crumbled.

Several states claimed to be the Roman Empire's successors after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but there truly wasn’t an established successor. The Holy Roman Empire was established in 800 when Pope Leo III crowned King Charlemagne as Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, though this empire didn’t really become recognized for a number of decades following that day. After the fall of Constantinople, Russia counted itself worthy of being the third Rome and when the Ottomans overtook Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II established his capital there and claimed to be the leader of the Roman Empire, and he even went so far as to launch an invasion of Italy with the purpose of "re-uniting the Empire".

Excluding these states claiming to be the successor to the Roman Empire, the Roman state can be said to have lasted in some way, shape, or form from 753 BC to its fall in 1461 for a total of 2,214 years of dominance. This is truly an unprecedented length of time for any governmental or military state to have lasted. The Roman impact on Western and Eastern civilizations lives even today, in many ways that we have no idea. For example, many legislative and governmental systems ended up using the Roman model as a means of setting up their governments. Advances in technology and architecture advance the human population a great deal. And the very use of their language has an effect in some way shape or form in every word and sentence that we speak. In time many of the Roman achievements were duplicated by later civilizations, but by that point their effects were already felt.

The Roman Empire contributed a great many things to the world, such as a calendar with leap years, the institutions of Christianity and many aspects of modern culture. The extensive system of roads and networks that the roman army constructed during their rule not only lasts to this day, but has also provided the blueprint for many other roads all around the world. Due to this massive network of roads, the time needed to travel between areas was not decreased until the 19th century! This network led to the phrase still in use today, “All roads lead to Rome.” And that was only due to the invention of the steam locomotive. Even the idea of constellations and modern astrology has its roots from the Romans.

The Roman Empire also contributed its form of government, which has influenced numerous constitutions including those of many European countries and many former European colonies. As was stated earlier, even the framers of the U.S. constitution used the roman model, and remarked that they wanted to create an “Augustan Age” in America. Our legal thinking which has influenced our legislative state has also come from Roman law, and due to the vast territory it governed, the Romans ended up developing the science of public administration to an all-time high. It simplified the process of civil service and tax collection and laid the foundation for hundreds of other colonies, countries, and empires to establish their governments.

In the west, the term Roman ended up meaning something completely new when it became connected with the church and the Pope of Rome. It then became referred to when speaking of the Roman-Catholic church. However, the Roman Empire has remained attached to its dominance in the early decades, and all the advancements that they have been responsible for in this world.

As you can see, the Roman Empire was responsible for some of the most major contributions to this world’s history. Without the Romans, we wouldn’t have the language we speak, the roads we travel on, or the law to protect us from tyranny. The Roman Empire dominated the world for decades and made its mark in a way that no other ruling state can lay claim to. If it weren’t for the Romans, it is very possible that the very country we live in, and our daily lives just would not be the same. The technological and philosophical advances made during the dominance of the Roman Empire has been felt all throughout our nation’s history, and will obviously be felt in the future for years to come.

Roman Banquets

Many of the delicacies were imported from the far edges of the Empire such as colonies in Africa, Byzacena and Egypt

During the Pax Romana (27 BC – AD 180), the Roman Empire flourished and expanded its boundaries to the Iberian peninsula, the British Isles, the Near East, and North Africa. Commerce and trade routes extended into the peripheries as the Empire increased. The elite in Rome demanded luxury items to be imported from the far edges: ostriches, eels, glass, amphorae, etc. To advance politically, the candidates competed by constructing opulent buildings and hosting the lavish events such as gladiatorial fights and dinner parties.

Emperors and aristocrats threw banquets where exotic foods, pearls, lampreys, oysters, eels, and dormice to name a few delicacies, were served. Regions within the Roman Empire were known for specialties and the upper class sought to obtain the finest. Thus trade spread to the far reaches of the Empire. Although trade linked Rome to her borders, Rome’s exploitation of the Empire’s resources encouraged rebellions by the victimized barbarians.

Roman social life was intertwined with her political system. To advance on the cursus honorum, politicians had to host extravagant entertainments in order to win the support of the people (Polybius 6.9.6-9). Senators attempted to discredit their peers; Pompey and Cicero pressured Lucius Licinius Lucullus, who was famous for his expensive dinners usually with live entertainment, expensive accessories, and numerous delicacies, into preparing a dinner for them the same day in hopes that Lucius would be shamed for not hosting his standard dinner party. However, Lucius’s reputation was not damaged because he successfully arranged an expensive dinner (Plutarch Life of Lucullus 41). The nephew of Scipio Aemilianus had wealth, prestige, and family connections, but he did not move beyond praetorship because he was considered too frugal (Cicero Pro Murena 75f). But the wasteful display was not limited to advancing up the political ladder.

The Roman aristocrats led luxurious lives. D’Arms points to archaeological evidence “reflecting that tendency toward conspicuous consumption which the Romans knew as luxuria: elaborate and ostentatious buildings in the cities of the Empire, vast and magnificent villas and palaces on the coasts and in the hinterland” (D’Arms 1981, 7). The lavish consumption of the inhabitants of Sybaris, a colony in southern Italy spread to Croton, a neighboring colony (Athenaeus D 269 f, 273 b-c, 518c-522c, 541a-c; Aelian Varia Historia 12, 24). Dio highlights the sumptuousness of Poppaea by mentioning her gold-shod mules (33.140) and five hundred asses to produce milk for her baths (11.238). The Emperor Claudius (AD 41- 54), described as exhibiting an “immoderate greed” by Suetonius, frequented city taverns and had a penchant for mushrooms which inspired his romanticized demise (Suetonius Claudius 8, 32-3, 44; cf Nero 33, Domitian 14). The lifestyle was so important to Romans that M. Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet during the time of Tiberius, committed suicide after calculating that his assets were below ten million sestertii, the minimum holdings to maintain his existence (Pliny, NH 9.30, 9.66, 10.133, 19.137; Aethenaeus D 294f).

The quest for these delicacies began with the conquest of Anatolia which offered many luxuries unknown to the Romans (Cicero De Lege Manila 14, Pliny NH 15.102). In the years following, more sources of delicacies were found:

As regards foodstuffs, Campania produces the best corn, the Falernian district the best wine, the districts of Casinum the best oil, of Tusculum the best figs, of Tarentum the best honey, and the river Tiber the best fish. (Varro Antiquities of Man 11, in Macrobius Saturnalia 3.16)

Regions were known for specialties. Roman aristocrats learned the geography of the vast Roman Empire from the origins of the delicacies served on the table.

The difficulty in obtaining the delicacies heightened their value. Roman merchants used Periplus Maris Erthraei, “Sailing Guide of the Erythraean Sea,” a handbook in Greek from the mid first century AD. The handbook advised on how to navigate water routes and the ports between Egypt and India (PME 1:1.1-4, 20:7.14-16, 21:7.18-19. 25:8.19) as well as other African ports (PME 57:19.7-12). The cook Apicius developed a method of preserving oysters when his master, the Emperor Trajan, desired oysters while campaigning in Mesopotamia in AD 115 (Athenaeus E 7d).

The cost of the delicacies undoubtedly increased the appeal of the food. In the competition to provide the most original dish, pearls were added to the menu by Clodius (Pliny NH 9.122). Cleopatra won a bet with Anthony that she could not host a dinner party that cost ten million sesterces by consuming a pearl assessed over that price (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.17.14-18). Apicius had sailed from Campania to Libya during a storm to sample the large shrimp. In the end, he was not impressed by the shrimp that was brought to him onboard the ship and never touched land before sailing back (Athenaeus D 294f).

Lampreys were so valued that Lucius Crassus donned mourning garbs when his pet lamprey had passed away because he felt it was part of the necessary affections (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.15.4-5; cf Pliny NH 9.81.172). Gavius Hirrius was able to sell his small country estate for four million sesterces because of the fishponds used to raise lampreys (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.15.10). Marcus Cato sold lampreys of Lucullus at forty thousand sesterces a piece (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.15.6; cf Plutarch Life of Lucullus). Fishermen transferred lampreys from the Sicilian strait to fishponds in Rome to be raised (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.15.7). Such methods raised the cost of delicacies.

The presentation of the delicacies also enhanced the reputation of the chiefs as they competed to produce original dishes. Apicius was well known for making the flavoring allec made entirely from red mullet livers (Pliny NH 31.95-6). In a banquet for the pontiffs,

There were served, for the preliminary service, sea urchins, unlimited raw oysters, scallops, cockles, thrushes on asparagus, fattened fowls, a dish of oysters and scallops, acorn fish (both black and white), then another service of cockles, mussels, sea nettles, fig peckers, haunches of venison and boar, fattened fowls cooked in pastry, more fig peckers, murex, and purple fish. For the main dishes were served sow’s udders, boar’s head, stewed fish, stewed sow’s udders, ducks, boiled teal, hares, fattened fowls roasted, cream wheat, and rolls of Picenum. (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.13.12)

The “Trojan pig,” another innovative dish, was a pig stuffed with other foods such as hare, just as the Trojan Horse was stuffed with soldiers (Macrobius Saturnalia 3.13.13-4).

Trimalchio’s dinner was one of the most extravagant meals described in literature (Petronius Satyricon). The creative presentation of the dishes was not only aesthetic but symbolic: peahen’s eggs were stuffed with sparrow meat (33), a boar with baskets filled with dried dates and fresh dates hung from the tusks surrounded by cakes in the form of piglets to indicate that the boar was female (40), and a rabbit with wings to suggest Pegasus, the winged horse (36). For the third part of gustatio, hors d'oeuvres, a round plate with the images of the twelve zodiac signs engraved was served with the corresponding foods on each sign (35). Although Trimalchio was tempted to punish his cook for serving an improperly gutted pig, he did not because of the worth of the cook. Cooks were in such demand that “the price of three horses is given for a cook,” but the delicacies were held in higher demand: “the price of three cooks for a fish” (Pliny NH 9.67). Although certain Romans took interest in the preparation of their food, cooks were of the slave profession and the first cooks were war booty from Gnaeus Manlius Vulso’s campaign in Galatia (Livy 38.27, 29.6; Athenaeus D 170e-174a).

These banquets served several purposes: social event, symposium, and political function. Roman nobles had the opportunity to demonstrate their wealth and power to their colleagues through the dishes served at social gatherings (Seutonius Life of Augustus 74, 76, 77; Plutarch Life of Lucullus 41; Plutarch Life of Mark Antony 28). A symposium is an after-dinner drinking party that revolved around social life discussion on topics such as philosophy, love, fine arts, and politics. Symposium also refers to a philosophical essay structured to imitate real conversation by framing it around food and wine. The literary symposiums often discuss the types of dishes served and their significance to Roman aristocratic society (Athenaeus D; Macrobius Saturnalia, Petornius Satyricon). Although pleasure played a role, the political aspect of the banquets pushed the connection between imperialism and food imported into Rome.

The competitive nature of the Roman sociopolitical system promoted profligate displays of excess and indulgence. The rivalry amongst the nobles to outdo one another inflated the price of gourmet delicacies and services and, thereby, supported commerce. Obtaining the specialties encouraged trade over land and sea, local and foreign. The acquisition of new provinces opened new markets for goods. The gradual absorption of Anatolia (133 BC – AD 43) introduced fine wines, spices, and aromatics from the region, cooks from Galatia (Livy 39.6), and luxuries and wealth from Pergamum (Pliny NH 15.102). Merchants established outposts in India to conduct the trade of cotton and spices (Bergy and De Puma 1991, 8). Delicacies were imported from Africa, Byzacena, Egypt, etc. (Sirks 1991, 37-217). Trade routes connected the city of Rome to the limits of her expanding Empire. Consequently, the aristocrats learned the geography of the Empire through the origins of the exotic dishes being served on their dining tables. Despite increasing awareness of the provinces and physically linking the provinces to the city of Rome, the food market may have contributed to the undoing of the Empire.

The political unification of the Mediterranean basin through the conquest by the Roman Empire surmounted the pre-existing political boundaries. The Empire joined the northwest of the Empire to the established commercial business of the east and south. Following the initial conquest of a province, a surge of trade of luxury items and slaves would occur. Syme observed the sumptuary laws restricting consumption “were an old story at Rome, held undesirable as well as ineffectual…After the War of Actium [31 BC] conspicuous expenditure spread and flourished for a century” (1986, 10; cf Dio 39.37.3). Mann commented that “Roman elite at home and in the provinces used the booty of empire to purchase luxuries and slaves, and this boosted the exchange relations of ‘civil society’” (1986, 271).

During the Pax Romana era, the Roman Empire, like other previous states, was territorially centralized at Rome and territorially-bounded. Mann summarizes that states increase their autonomous power through “compulsory cooperation”: “a permanent commissariat existing solely to supply the needs of the governmental-military structures, and having left over for itself only enough for the bare maintenance” (Spenser 1969, 121) (Mann 1986, 27). Thus Rome expanded to exploit provinces as a source of income and resources. During the decline of the Empire, Diocletian attempted economic reforms that drew its financial support from the provinces (1986, 291-2) to compensate for the urban depopulation.

The results of the exploitation of the peripheries by the core were of the cyclical nature: “Empires were conquered, broken up, were reconquered, broken up, and so on” (1986, 161). This lasting pattern persisted for three thousand years following the death of Sargon up to the collapse of the Roman Empire. The commerce occurring between the core and the peripheries was unbalanced; the core would receive material resources and labor, while the periphery benefited in respect to the development of its infrastructure. The trade between Romans and Germans “encouraged more organized slaving raids among the Germans to pay for the Roman imports. German social organization advanced considerably” (1986, 286, cf 163-4; cf Thompson 1952, 271). Other attributes contributing to the downfall of the Roman Empire, agricultural competition and lost of military technique advantage (Mann 1986, 286), resulted from the advancement of the peripheral society.

Behind the dishes served on the dining tables of the Roman aristocrats laid the story of conquest and subsequent exploitation of the peripheries. The food and the slave cook who prepared the meal arrived at Rome through the mercantile path which crisscrossed the Empire, networking it geographically. The foods originate from cities and regions that the consumer knows because of the food specialties. Despite bringing in a piece of distant lands to the dining table, the dishes brought enemies closer to the city of Rome. The peripheral civilizations improved their infrastructure through interaction with the Romans to the point at which the nomadic barbarians are capable of marching against Rome. The Roman nobles contributed to their demise through their greed for gourmet delicacies. The dishes on the dining table united an Empire, but also instigated her collapse.

Roman Warfare

A squad of Roman soldiers (Artist's rendition)

At the early stage, Rome's military consisted of an average citizen middle and upper class male citizen performing military service as part of their duty to the state for one year terms. The army was composed of male citizens who were free and owned land. The ancient Romans believed that property owners would fight more ardently to defend their homeland because their own property was at stake. During this period, the Roman army would wage seasonal campaigns against its tribal neighbors and Etruscan towns within Italy, usually completing these campaigns before winter. As the extent of the territories falling under Roman suzerainty expanded, and the size of the city's forces increased, the soldiery of ancient Rome became increasingly professional and salaried. As a consequence, military service at the lower (non-staff) levels became progressively longer-term. Roman military units of the period were largely homogeneous and highly regulated. The army consisted of units of citizen infantry known as legions as well as non-legionary allied troops known as auxiliary. The latter were most commonly called upon to provide light infantry or cavalry support. Rome Empire, most of soldiers were filled with mercenary mainly consisted of barbarians from germanic tribes who had lost their land to Hun.

Roman military personal equipment was prepared by citizens in earlier stages, but later it was backed by state and standardized. These standard patterns and uses were called the res militaris or disciplina. Its regular practice during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire led to military excellence and victory. The general word for army became exercitus, "exercise." Roman equipment (especially armor) gave them a distinct advantage over their barbarian enemies. This did not imply that every Roman soldier had better equipment than the richer men among his opponents. According to Edward Luttwak, Roman equipment was not of a better quality than that used by the majority of its adversaries. Initially they used weapons based on Greek and Etruscan types. On encountering the Celts they based new varieties on Celtic equipment. To defeat the Carthaginians they constructed an entire fleet de novo based on the Carthaginian model. Once a weapon was adopted it became standard. The standard weapons varied somewhat during Rome's long history, but the equipment and its use were never individual. Although Roman iron-working was enhanced by a process known as carburization, the Romans are not thought to have developed true steel production. From the earliest history of the Roman state to its downfall, Roman arms were therefore uniformly produced from either bronze or, later, iron. Most widely used weapons are stabbing daggers and swords, slashing swords, long thrusting spears or pikes, lances, light throwing javelins and darts, slings, and bows. Besides personal weaponry, the Roman military adopted team weaponry such as the ballista and developed a naval weapon known as the corvus, a spiked plank used for affixing and boarding enemy ships.

The Roman Army developed fighting techniques that were linked to a ferocious training regime. All new recruits to the army became very fit and disciplined. Training was harsh, as were punishments for failure. In a battle, new recruits were always placed at the front of the more experienced soldiers in the army. There were three reasons for this placement. The first was to give them confidence as behind them were experienced soldiers who had fought in battles before. Secondly, it stopped the new soldiers running away if their courage deserted them. Finally, those who were more likely to be killed in the initial phase of a battle were at the front. The hardened and experienced legionnaires were at the rear. The Roman Army could ill afford to lose experienced legionnaires whereas if a new legionnaire came through a battle alive, he would be blooded and experienced and a valuable addition to the army. If he was killed, then the loss of an inexperienced man would not be too great. The most important fighting unit of the Roman Army was the legion commanded by a legatus. This consisted of between 5000 to 6000 legionnaires. 500 to 600 legionnaires made up a cohort while between 80 to 100 soldiers were a century commanded by a centurion.

Roman battle tactic is the backbone of its great military success over thousands of years. The importance of the choice of ground is pointed out. Roman generals had battle tactic and strategic educations that includes even very details. There is an advantage of height over the enemy and if you are pitting infantry against cavalry, the rougher the ground the better. The sun should be behind you to dazzle the enemy. If there is strong wind it should blow away from you, giving advantage to your missiles and blinding the enemy with dust. In the battle line, each man should have three feet of space, while the distance between the ranks is given as six feet. Thus 10,000 men can be placed in a rectangle about 1500 yards by twelve yards, and it was advised not to extend the line beyond that. The normal arrangement was to place the infantry in the centre and the cavalry on the wings. The function of the latter was to prevent the centre from being outflanked and once the battle turned and the enemy started to retreat the cavalry moved forward and cut them down. Horsemen were always a secondary force in ancient warfare, the main fighting being done by the infantry. It was recommended that if your cavalry was weak it was to be strengthened with lightly armed foot soldiers. Vegetius also stresses the need for adequate reserves. These could prevent an enemy from trying to envelope one's own forces, or could fend off enemy cavalry attacking the rear of the infantry. Alternatively, they could themselves move to the sides and perform an enveloping maneuver against an opponent. The position to be taken up by the commander was normally on the right wing.

The Roman army had various formations for soldier deployment that could change depend on situation. The wedge and the skirmishing formations were offensive formations. The orb and the tortoise were defensive formations.

The tortoise was an essentially defensive formation by which the legionaries would hold their shields overhead, except for the front rows, thereby creating a kind of shell-like armor shielding them against missiles from the front or above.

The wedge was commonly used by attacking legionaries: legionaries formed up in a triangle, the front 'tip' being one man and pointing toward the enemy. The wedge formation enabled small groups to be thrust well into the enemy, and when these formations expanded, the enemy troops were pushed into restricted positions, making hand-to-hand combat difficult. This is where the short legionary gladius was useful. The gladius was held low and used as a thrusting weapon. Against the gladius, the longer Celtic and Germanic swords became impossible to wield.

The skirmishing formation was a widely spaced line up of troops, as opposed to the tighter packed battle ranks so typical of legionary tactics. It allowed for greater mobility and would have found many uses in the tactical handbooks of Roman generals. The order to repel cavalry brought about a following formation. The first rank would form a firm wall with their shields, with only their pila protruding, forming a vicious line of glistening spearheads ahead of the wall of shields. A horse, however well trained, could hardly be forced to break through such a barrier. The second rank of the infantry would then use its spears to drive off any attackers whose horses came to a halt. This formation would no doubt prove very effective, particularly against ill-disciplined enemy cavalry.

The orb is a defensive position in the shape of a circle taken by a unit in desperate straits. It allows for a reasonably effective defense even if parts of an army have been divided in battle and would have required a very high level discipline by the individual soldiers.

An Enduring System for Government

From 500 BC to 1500 AD, the Roman government pretty much had the same system. When the Roman Republic was first set up in 500 BC, two people held the power. They were called consuls. Women were forbidden to become consuls. The consuls controlled the army and decided on whether they wanted to start a war or not. They also decided how much tax to collect and what the laws would be. Both of the consuls had to agree on stuff together or nothing would be done.

The consuls were advised by the senate. The senate was composed of the wealthy families in Rome. Women were not allowed to be in the Senate either. Once you were in the senate you were not allowed to leave. Most of the consuls eventually would join the senate, and usually most of the people that were in the senate came from generations of fathers and grandfathers that were also in the senate. In general, a senate position was for life and was hereditary. Usually the consuls did what the senate suggested.

There were also people called “prefects”, whose job was just to run the city. Some prefects would go to court hearings and some would just run markets or the port. Tribunes were people that spoke for the poorer people in Rome to the Senate. They were elected by the assembly and could veto anything that the Senate voted for that would affect the poor. This was also only for men to join.

The assembly was composed of men who were free (not enslaved) and had Roman citizenship. They would vote on important issues if the consul asked them to. They also elected the consuls, prefects and the senators. Despite the seeming equality between all Roman citizens, the assembly was set up so that people in Rome that were richer got more votes than the people who were poorer.

Rome also had a system of provincial governors. Provincial governors took charge of a certain part of the empire, and who would go and watch the court cases. They also took charge of the army while the army was at war. This position was also reserved for men only.

The Romans did not want one man to make all of the laws for them. They decided to balance the government and power between three branches: The executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch.

The two leaders of the executive branch, the consuls, were elected for one year terms by people of the upper class. There job was to supervise the Senate and took control over the Roman army during the wars. Some others that took care of the executive branch were the tax collectors, city police, mayors, and other people that had power in the cities.

In the legislative branch, the most powerful part was the Senate. The senate was composed of three hundred land-owning male citizens. They would tell the consuls how much money they were allowed to spend and on what they were allowed to spend it on. The consuls would be the people that appointed these three hundred men into office.

In the Judicial branch, there were six judges who were elected every two years. They were in charge of punishing people and deciding what kind of punishment the wrong-doers merited.

A Polytheistc Religion

Mars, the Roman God of War (left) and Isis, Roman God of Earth (right)

The Romans had trouble picking only one religion to worship. The Romans religion was based on many things, including: fragmented rituals, superstitions, taboos, and traditions which they collected over years of different sources. They found religion to be a relationship between themselves and the forces which are believed to control their very existence rather than a spiritual sense.

The religious attitudes of the Romans were a result of two different things: a state cult, and the significant influence on politics and military events. They also had a private concern that the head of the family saw domestic rituals and prayers in the same way as the people did that were performing the ceremonies.

Most of the gods that the Romans believed in were introduced to them by the Greek colonies of south Italy. Some of the Romans got their religion from Latin tribes and from the Etruscans.

The Roman king (Servius Tullius) built a temple on Aventine Hill for the goddess Diana. Diana was an old Latin Goddess from early times. Tullius eventually moved Diana to Rome where she then became identified with the Greek Goddess Artemis.

Another goddess that was worshiped was Furrina. They held a festival for Furrina every year in her honor on July 25th. As the years went by, Furrina became non existent and forgotten. By the first century BC, nobody remembered of what Furrina had been the patron goddess.

The Ponifex maximus was the head of Roman state religion. Most of its organization was operated by four religious colleges. The members chosen for this were to be appointed for life. The highest of these colleges was the Pontifical College. This college consisted of the rex sacroroum, flaminies, ponrifices and the vestal virgins.

Rex sacrorum, the king of rites, was in charge of royal authority over any kind of religious matters. Pontifices were priests; they oversaw the organization of religious events and kept records of religious procedures. Flamines were somewhat like priests to individual gods, they specialized in the knowledge of prayers and rituals that were specific in their particular deity. The flamen dialis is the priest of Jupiter. The life of the flamen dialis was governed by very strange rules. For example, he was not allowed to ride a horse.

There were six vestal virgins. Each girl was chosen from an old patrician family when she was very young. The vestal virgins served a term of ten years as novices and then served another ten years doing their actual duties. After that they served yet another ten years teaching new vestal virgins. Their main duty was to guard the sacred fire in the temple and performing rituals. In total, the vestal virgins would serve for thirty years, which is a very long time considering the relatively shorter lifespan of the average Roman compared to the average lifespan of a modern person.

The beginning of Christianity in the Roman Empire was uncertain because of historical facts. Jesus’ crucifixion was hardly of any notice to Roman historians. Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews; this is the reason for his condemnation. Jesus denounced the priests that the Romans put into power. This was an indirect threat to the Romans power. Eventually, Christianity was taught to the Romans, but there were very little scriptures to teach from.

Architecture for Social Gatherings

Coliseum | Forum

Amphitheatrum Flavium

View of the Coliseum from the outside

View of the Coliseum today from above

Today, in Rome, the Coliseum is one of its most famous landmarks and tourist attractions. Although it survives only as a ruin, it still rates as one of the finest examples of Roman architecture and engineering. The Roman Coliseum, which is also spelled “Coloseum”, or “Colosseum” was built during the reign of Emperor Vespasian in 72 A.D. Emperor Vespasian ruled from 69 A.D. right up to his death in 79 A.D. His son Titus was then made emperor. Although the Coliseum began being built in 72 A.D., it was not completed until 80 A.D. while Titus reigned as emperor. The original name of this ancient Roman sports arena, which is the largest arena of its kind, is the “Amphitheatrum Flavium”. The popular name of Coliseum came about because the immense oval stadium sat right next to a colossal statue of Nero, which was called the “Colossus of Nero.” Nero was the emperor before Emperor Vespasian, and while Nero was emperor, he had that tall enormous statue made of gold (some people say the statue was actually made out of marble) erected of himself. The statue reached about 120 feet high. After Nero’s reign, Emperor Vespasian decided to rename the statue after the sun god Helios (Colossus Solis). He did this because of his dislike for Nero.

The Coliseum was about 114 feet high and could hold about 50,000 people. Some historians speculate that the arena had the capability to hold 70,000 spectators. The Coliseum had four floors, with each floor measuring between 32 or 42 feet high. The arena measured 79 by 45 meters. In Latin the word "arena” means sand, and the arena of the Coliseum consisted of wood and sand. The seats were inclined so that all spectators could get a perfect view from wherever they sat which is similar to modern arena seating. Entry was free for all Roman citizens, but seating was divided according to social status. The seats on the first three tiers from the top were usually reserved for the nobles, normal roman citizens, while slaves and women used the seats on the fourth tier. This is also in a way similar to modern arena seating. Usually the most expensive seats and the preferred ones are the ones close to the bottom, while the bleacher seats as we call them are less expensive as well as less desirable. In addition, this arena had 80 different entrances in total. Four of these entrances were reserved for emperors, gladiators and other important people. It is interesting to note how the Coliseum was built in such a way that the entire crowd could be dispersed in a mere five minutes. This is a very interesting architectural aspect of the coliseum. That is the reason for the multiple entrances to the Coliseum. The exterior of the Coliseum was built using travertine, while the interior was built using tufa and brick. The pedestals were made of marble blocks.

The opening of the Coliseum took place during Emperor Titus’s reign. It is said that the inaugural ceremony lasted for more than 100 days. During this extraordinary opening ceremony, people saw great fights, shows and wild animal hunts involving the killing of thousands of animals. For the opening, the arena space was filled with water for one of the most incredible events held in Roman times, naumachias – real sea battles reproducing great battles of the past. These mock naval battles were arranged by removing the heavy wooden flooring and flooding the lower cells, which usually housed the animals and prisoners. As gladiator fights proved to be more popular, the naval battles were ultimately moved to another site because with the addition of more cages and rooms to hold the gladiators, there wasn’t enough room anymore to host these mock naval battles. Therefore, the wooden floors were made permanent. Below the permanent wooden arena floor, there was a complex set of rooms and passageways for wild beasts and other provisions for staging the spectacles. Eighty walls radiate from the arena and support vaults for passageways, stairways and the tiers of seats. Something very interesting is that a secret passage was recently uncovered under the Roman Coliseum, elaborately decorated with mosaics and plaster carvings, which was built to let Emperor Commodus (180-192) run away from angry mobs.

The event the audience enjoyed most was of course, the gladiators. The term gladiator comes from gladius which is the short sword used by legionaries. Contrary to what many people may believe, gladiators were rarely people who had to fight against their will. Gladiators were slaves, prisoners or volunteers. But normally, gladiators were prisoners of war who were given the choice to be slaves or to fight for their freedom. This profession gave them great popularity, especially with the women, who even paid out large sums of money just to spend a night of passion with a gladiator. In all, there were twelve gladiator types. Gladiators were categorized by the different weapons they used. Some were armed with a net, a trident and a knife, a shield and a sickle, a crested helmet, strong armor or carried a javelin. Each of these weapons is associated with a name of gladiator type. The duelers were chosen from different categories for dramatic effect. And if the defeated gladiator was wounded, he could ask for mercy by raising an arm. Then the audience shouted to the emperor whether or not to save the gladiator. It was ultimately up to the emperor though if he were to kill the gladiator, or save his life. Thumbs up saved him, while thumbs down put him to death. Winners received golden palms and large amounts of money. The gladiator's blood was much in demand because people thought it had healing powers and could heal you from epilepsy and give you greater sexual vigor. After 404 AD gladiatorial battles were no longer held, but animals such as lions, elephants, snakes and panthers continued to be massacred in the name of sport until the 6th century. It has been estimated that about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals died in the Coliseum.

The hypogeum is still visible inside the coliseum. Hypogeum means underground. It consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath. The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Coliseum. In addition, many different types of machinery existed in the hypogeum. Elevators and pulleys raised and lowered scenery and props, as well as lifting caged animals to the surface for release. Just beside the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine. This beautiful arch was dedicated in AD 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory three years before over his co-emperor, Maxentius.

The Coliseum has had a wide range and well-documented history of flowers and plants ever since Domenico Panaroli made the first catalogue of its plants in 1643. Since then, 684 species have been identified there which is incredible. The peak was in 1855 when the coliseum had 420 different types of species growing. As of today, 242 species are growing and of those species first identified by Panaroli, 200 still remain. The variation of plants can be explained by the change of climate in Rome through the centuries.

Romanum Magnum

An artist's rendition of Rome with the Great Roman Forum highlighted in red

In early times, each city possessed one forum. The forum had many different functions. It served as the place to conduct legal, political, and business transactions. The primary forum in Rome was called the Romanum Magnum, which means the Great Roman Forum. The Great Roman Forum also served as an arena for the public. Here they conducted races, games, and theatrical performances, gladiatorial and boxing combats. As cities became larger and larger, it became necessary to establish separate forums. One forum was used for legal and administrative affairs, and the other for mercantile business transactions. The forum devoted to legal and administrative affairs was called the forum civile and the mercantile was called the fora venalia. The Mercantile forums sold a variety of things. They sold animals, vegetable, fish, grain, and even had wine markets. The shops were located around the square of the mercantile forum and often on streets leading to it.

The Great Roman Forum was built in a valley between the Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill on what was then marshy ground. Around the middle of the 500 BC there was a great flood in Rome. In response, Tarquinius, the king of Rome at the time, ordered the construction of a great drainage and sewage pipe to drain the area. The Great Roman Forum became the central area around which the rest of ancient Rome developed. It started off as a marketplace but became the economic, political, and religious town square.

Fall of Rome

The Romans brought stability, prosperity, and order to the civilized West. They built sturdy roads that could last for years, had laws that kept internal peace and they had their frontier tightly guarded by twenty to thirty Roman legions. So, what happened?

Many people believe that a combination of multiple factors led to the fall of the Roman Empire. These causes included: the rulers, Christianity, disease, military problems and the final battle to over take Rome, just to name a few.

Roman Emperors held absolute power. This system worked well with good emperors whom everyone liked. However, there were emperors who were very incompetent and did great harm to the city. They were absolute rulers who only looked at the very small picture of what could have been a great Roman Empire. If the emperors had looked at the big picture, then they would have been less selfish and enabled the Empire to survive for much longer instead of leading to its demise. The emperors were in it for themselves and for their own personal gain. When it was time for a new emperor there was never a clear heir to the throne. Due to this unclear succession order, civil wars often broke out in the city. These periods of confusion led to chaos throughout the Roman Empire, which in turn led to the demise of the Roman Empire.

Whenever the reigning emperor changed, which was often, the government officials were also changed. The changing of the bureaucracies led to much corruption in the city. This led to the dissatisfaction of the common people. When running a government officials had to be extremely careful not to upset the common people, which happened often, because of a possible uproar of the people. An uproar of the people could lead to an over-throw of the Roman government. With many peasants along the streets, it would be no problem for them all to band together and over throw the government, which was already starting to weaken.

Christianity was frowned upon in the Roman Empire. In Christianity there is one God and one God only. On the other hand, the ancient Roman religion was polytheistic, meaning that there are multiple Gods that were worshiped. As Christianity became more and more popular throughout the Empire, the Roman faith started to disperse. Christianity spread so quickly even though it was banned because it appealed to the oppressed: the slaves, the poor and those who were otherwise social outcasts. The Romans’ traditional beliefs started to erode away and were not put to use anymore. The Romans did not like this heretical faith at all and they would put Christians to death. They did not want their faith being taken over by an outside faith.

During the era of the Roman Empire plagues swept through the nation. This caused many people to become very ill and die. With the plague roaming the open streets no one was safe. Many of the aqueducts were once used to purify the water for Rome. But, once the diseases were spreading the water became contaminated. The diseases were getting spread around the city extremely fast because of the amount of people dying that were living in poverty. The dead bodies would lie along the roads spreading the diseases even more.

A major economic strain on the Roman government was the military. The military surrounded Rome so it would not be over taken. The government spent great amounts of money buying the military the newest weapons and supplies. Also, the government would pay men to join the army so Rome could have a large army. Doing this became a problem, however. Men would join just to gain an extra income and in turn patriotism was lost throughout the army. Also the loyalty among the men was not good. The money soon became scarce and the men were paid very low to join up and the weapons became of a very poor make. The men could not defend their country with the poor weapons they were given. The weakened state of the army meant that the barbarians could over take Rome much easier, which they did when the empire finally fell.

While the Roman empire had gone through many things which weakened the Empire, the last blow came when the barbarians of Germanic tribes overtook the Empire. Rome had left a side of their borders open, and while it was not being guarded the barbarians slowly over took the empire and eventually overtook it completely. The Germanic tribes were actually trying to evade the Mongul barbarians (the Huns) under the leadership of Attila the Hun. The Huns were expanding west from their territories in eastern Asia. The army, in its weakened state, could not fight back against the raging barbarians and was defeated.

The once strong and all-powerful Roman Empire crumbled after being over taken and split in two. The many struggles the Empire faced would have been no match for it in its prime, when the army was strong, diseases were not spreading, religions were unified and one and when all sides of the Empire were protected and not left open as to be over taken. If the Roman leaders were in government for the people and bettering the city the Empire would have been much stronger. Instead the leaders were in it for themselves, to gain all control. The army needed better weapons and supplies to defend their empire. Without the best equipment the Roman Empire was no match for the surrounding area. Also, diseases crept over the empire and took out everyone in sight.

The Empire collapsed because of many simple small things, which had they been handled properly and promptly would have had minimal effects on the Empire instead of contributing to its collapse. The fall of Rome took many years and yet happened so quickly. The Roman Empire was one of the strongest empires known to man, with its emperors, army and well built towns. The Emperors were extremely power hungry and did much damage themselves. The army was once a very powerful army but finance problems got in the way. The army could not afford the proper equipment to defend such a big city against some of the toughest people around. Last but not least outside forces were stronger than the empire. All this led to the fall and demise of the Roman Empire. If the Roman emperors had cared more about the city then themselves the Empire may still be standing strong today.

Lasting Effects of the Roman Empire on Modern Western Society

The Roman Empire provided a base for how much of Europe lives today. There are many simple, everyday factors of our lives that derived from the Roman Empire. The Romans developed a very advanced network of roads throughout Europe. In fact, this network of roads was so extensive that travel time was not shortened by the Europeans until steam-power was invented. This proves how well-planned these road systems were when they were built by the Roman Army. The Romans also introduced the world to the first calendar with a leap year. Modern astrology was brought to us by the Romans. There are many other concepts such as concrete, math, engineering, Christianity, forms of government, and law that were brought to Western Europe by the Romans. Without the Romans, the world would have never advanced as quickly as it has. Their technological advances seem so far ahead of their time, it is remarkable. Their effect on Western Europe is nearly untouchable.

Numerous architectural works have survived the several millennia to this day. Some include the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Theatre of Pompey, and the Circus Maximus. These are all landmarks in today’s society, but have been used as an architectural model. Many more modern buildings have been based off the architecture used in ancient Rome. Some examples include arches, arched roofs, and high ceilings. On top of the architecture, many indoor features were included as well. The Romans introduced flushing toilets and indoor plumbing to the world, which evolved into a complex aqueduct and sewer system. The sewer system greatly improved the standards of living. Waste control was especially important because the Romans were able to create more sanitary conditions for their people, which in turn helped prevent disease. The Romans had such a large influence on Western Europe that many of the bridges and aqueducts that were put into place are still in use today. It is amazing that over two millennia later, Roman structures are still being used.

Roman government was carried over into a few parts of Western Europe. The Romans had an Augustan Age, which today, resembles a presidency. Also, they had different parties that counterbalanced each other, which parallels America’s three branches of government. They showed us forms of constitutions which were carried over into Western Europe, as well as the United States. The Lex Duodecim Tabulae is known as the world’s first constitution. This is how Western Europe learned how to create their own constitution. Also, Roman Law had a large effect on today’s society.

The Romans believed many key things that are used in judicial systems today. These include innocent before proven guilty, everybody had equal treatment under the law, the person who has been accused of the crime is not the one responsible for providing truth, people are solely punished for the actions and not thoughts, and finally, laws that were deemed unfair could be set aside. These were very advanced ideas for the Romans to invent, and they were obviously successful since they are still used today. Rome also introduced the concept of a trial by jury. Modern day courtrooms use juries to decide the verdict in their cases. In addition, the Romans believed that torture should not be used in the courtroom because forced confessions were not real confessions.

Catholicism was shaped by Emperor Constantine. He adopted Christianity and formed it into a religion that he thought was best for his country. Constantine made rules about how the religion should be practiced, and forced them upon his citizens. He declared the religion the official religion of his country. Before the collapse of his empire, the Catholic Church became the new power of Rome. Rome can be considered responsible for spreading Christianity to all corners of the globe. Constantine did not invent the Catholic religion, in fact, it was already well-established. His major feat was ending the persecution of Christians, and fostering acceptance and popularity for the religion.

The Roman Empire had a profound effect on today’s society. The Romans had an innumerable amount of inventions that are still used to this day. More importantly, their philosophies regarding life, law, and government have shaped modern perspectives. The similarities between Roman Civilization and modern civilization are remarkable.


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