Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome

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From the earliest days of Rome, the Forum was the most important part of the city. It was here the politicians met to decide on the future of the Roman Empire, where judges and lawyers administered the law, and where traders sold their goods in the large market. The Forum was also the place where emperors ordered the large, elaborate temples to be built.

The area became so busy that a law was passed that banned wheeled vehicles in the Forum between sunrise and four in the afternoon. Later, the market was moved from the Forum in an attempt to reduce the congestion in the area. Martial complained about the growth in shops: "Shopkeepers had swallowed the whole of Rome... (now) people are no longer forced to walk in the mud... The barber, the cook and the butcher have to keep behind their thresholds. We have Rome again, where yesterday there was nothing but one great filthy shop."

Juvenal was more concerned about the noise and traffic: "The movement of heavy wagons through narrow streets, the oaths of cattle-drovers would break the sleep of a deaf man... we are pressed by a huge mob shoving... now we are smashed by a beam, now biffed by a barrel. Our legs are thick with mud, our feet are crushed by a soldier's hobnail boot... Newly mended shirts are torn again... a wagon carries a long pine; they swing and threaten you."

By the 1st century AD the population of Rome had grown to a million people. Short of space, the Romans were forced to build upwards. The vast majority of Romans now had to live in blocks of flats called insulas. At first these buildings could only be 20 metres high but, as the demand for housing increased, the government allowed them to go even higher (six or seven floors high).

Streets were also kept very narrow to save space. They were often crowded and several Roman writers complained about the constant pushing and shoving that went on. It was also very noisy. Traders shouting out details of the goods they had for sale were responsible for a lot of this noise.

People came to Rome from all over the empire in an attempt to make their fortune. The streets were packed with people trying to sell their goods. There were also snake-charmers, sword-swallowers, and men performing tricks with dangerous animals, all begging from the crowds who stopped to watch them.

Some of the people who came to Rome turned to crime. Gangs of robbers were a constant problem and few people would go into certain areas after dark. Those who did have to leave their homes at night would take slaves with them to carry torches and to guard them against attacks from criminals.

Groups of soldiers wandering the streets could also be a problem. They developed a game called sagatio. After getting hold of an innocent passer-by they would put him into a large blanket and throw him in the air. The police who patrolled the streets and who were supposed to protect the local citizens tended to ignore the actions of soldiers.

As with most big cities, the rich and the poor lived in different areas. Most of the wealthy people lived on the Aventine or the Saepta. To serve their needs, shops selling luxury goods were opened there. On the other hand, areas by the banks of the River Tiber and by the outside walls were mainly inhabited by the poor.

After the great fire of AD 64, large parts of Rome were rebuilt. Emperor Nero, in an effort to stop fires spreading so fast, ordered that in future the streets should not be so narrow. However, the people argued that the wider streets exposed them to the glare of the sun.

By the 5th century Rome had grown to a circumference of twelve miles. People complained about the loss of greenery in Rome. Several politicians, starting with Julius Caesar, left their large gardens to the people of Rome.

Although the Romans had a sewage system the vast amount of their waste went into the River Tiber. This was not only unhealthy but created unpleasant smells, especially in the summer. Some Romans wore a garland of roses round their necks to cover up these smells. Wealthy women carried a small ball of amber. When rubbed it gave off a pleasant fragrance.

So many merchant men arrive here (Rome) with cargoes from every where... and the city seems like a common warehouse of the world. Cargoes come from Egypt, Sicily, Africa, India, Arabia, clothing from Babylonia and luxuries from the barbarian lands beyond... The arrival and departure of ships never ceases.

Let no one be found to have had a dog, pig, hog, boar, wolf, bear, panther or lion in any place where the public normally walk... If this law is broken and a free man has died in consequence let the guilty one be condemned to pay 200 solidi.

Shopkeepers had swallowed the whole of Rome... We have Rome again, where yesterday there was nothing but one great filthy shop.

The movement of heavy wagons through narrow streets, the oaths of cattle-drovers would break the sleep of a deaf man... a wagon carries a long pine; they swing and threaten you... If you can tear yourself away from the games in the Circus you can buy an excellent house at Sora for what you now pay in rent for a dingy garret in Rome in one year.

1. How do these sources help to explain why Rome was overcrowded?

2. Were the changes to the size of Rome rapid or gradual? Do you think all Romans would have welcomed this increase in size?

3. What problems would a historian have in finding sources that opposed the law (source 2) passed by Domitian? How might this influence .a historian's interpretation of the way Romans responded to this law?

6. Ancient Rome

To the ancient Romans, Venus wasn't a planet but a celestial body: she was the goddess of love and beauty.

The Romans built an empire of gigantic proportions. At its height, it encompassed nearly the entire European continent as well as parts of the Middle East and Africa.

The Roman Empire's tentacles stretched from England to Egypt, from Spain to Iraq, and from southern Russia to Morocco. More significantly, ancient Roman civilization thrived for nearly one thousand years. The influence of the Romans over all of those peoples over that span of time defies measure.

After adopting Christianity in the 4th century C.E., the Romans spread it to every corner of their empire. They also brought their brand of law and order to all of the territories that they conquered. Latin, the language of the Romans, became the basis for several modern European languages, including Italian, French, and Spanish.

At the height of its expansion (around 120 C.E.), the Roman Empire comprised nearly all of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

The Romans were particularly skilled in administration, organization, and engineering. They had a highly trained and disciplined military and an efficient bureaucracy. Without these qualities, the Romans would never have been able to manage their sprawling empire. They were not, however, as driven or original when it came to other intellectual pursuits.

In fact, the Romans basically adopted and copied much of Greek art, literature, philosophy, and even religion. The Romans had the same set of gods as the Greeks, but with different names. In Roman mythology, Zeus became Jupiter, Hera became Juno, Ares changed to Mars, and Athena was Minerva, to name a few examples. The Romans did, however, spread these borrowed ideas everywhere they went.

Romulus and Remus

According to Roman mythology, twin brothers played an important part in the founding of Rome. These brothers, named Romulus and Remus, were the sons of Mars, the Roman god of war. Abandoned at birth, the twins were raised by a wolf.

When they became older, they decided to found a city along the Tiber River near the spot where they had been abandoned. Each chose a hill upon which to begin a settlement.

As often happens among brothers, disputes led to quarreling and fighting. Angered by Remus's taunting, Romulus killed his brother in a fit of rage. Romulus went on to build the city that eventually became Rome &mdash named, of course, after Romulus.

As it turned out, Romulus chose a very good spot for his city. Rome was located on the Tiber River about 15 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans had easy access to the sea, and were somewhat protected from seaborne invasion. Also, Rome lay in the middle of the Italian peninsula, the boot-shaped landmass to the west of Greece. From this central position, the Romans could easily access and control all of what is today the modern country of Italy.

Finally, the Italian peninsula's central location within the Mediterranean Sea made it possible for the Romans to trade and communicate with every part of the Mediterranean world.

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Ancient Rome 101

Spanning over a thousand years, ancient Rome was a civilization of constant evolution. This great empire flourished through innovation and incorporation of the diverse cultures they conquered, such as the adoption of Latin and gladiatorial combat. Learn about the rise and fall of this ancient civilization and how its influence still endures today.

Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History

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Ancient Civilizations: Rome

Test your knowledge of ancient Rome with this fun Kahoot!

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Students investigate how the geographic spread of an impactful human system&mdashlanguage&mdashinfluenced power in ancient Rome.

Related Resources

Ancient Civilizations: Rome

Test your knowledge of ancient Rome with this fun Kahoot!

Teaching Idea: Ancient Rome

Use this idea and suggested resources to help you build a lesson or activity on ancient Rome.

The Power of Latin in Ancient Rome

Students investigate how the geographic spread of an impactful human system&mdashlanguage&mdashinfluenced power in ancient Rome.

Introduction to ancient Rome

Legend has it that Rome was founded in 753 B.C.E. by Romulus, its first king. In 509 B.C.E. Rome became a republic ruled by the Senate (wealthy landowners and elders) and the Roman people. During the 450 years of the republic Rome conquered the rest of Italy and then expanded into France, Spain, Turkey, North Africa and Greece.

Rome became very Greek influenced or “Hellenized,” and the city was filled with Greek architecture, literature, statues, wall-paintings, mosaics, pottery and glass. But with Greek culture came Greek gold, and generals and senators fought over this new wealth. The Republic collapsed in civil war and the Roman empire began.

In 31 B.C.E. Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony at Actium. This brought the last civil war of the republic to an end. Although it was hoped by many that the republic could be restored, it soon became clear that a new political system was forming: the emperor became the focus of the empire and its people. Although, in theory, Augustus (as Octavian became known) was only the first citizen and ruled by consent of the Senate, he was in fact the empire’s supreme authority. As emperor he could pass his powers to the heir he decreed and was a king in all but name.

The empire, as it could now be called, enjoyed unparalleled prosperity as the network of cities boomed, and goods, people and ideas moved freely by land and sea. Many of the masterpieces associated with Roman art, such as the mosaics and wall paintings of Pompeii, gold and silver tableware, and glass, including the Portland Vase, were created in this period. The empire ushered in an economic and social revolution that changed the face of the Roman world: service to the empire and the emperor, not just birth and social status, became the key to advancement.

20 Interesting Facts About Ancient Rome

1. The emperor/empress, as well as with senators, wore clothing dyed in purple, made from murex seashells. It was a status symbol for the highest royalty and was treasonous for anyone else to wear it.

2. Infamous Roman emperor Gaius Caligula made his own horse a senator, among other things, during his reign.

3. Salt was considered a valuable resource in ancient times. It was often used as currency if one did not have coins, and it was often used to purchase slaves.

4. Often portrayed as brutal and sadistic toward their slaves, the Romans avoided cruel treatment of their servants. They used them as representatives for themselves, giving them bonuses if they earned it.

5. Gladiators in ancient Rome were celebrities. Although they were degraded and treated as sub-humans who fought to the death at first, they were strictly performers and entertainers later on.

6. The Romans were not the first to establish an intertwining network of roads, but they improved upon the previously trekked roads so much, they were considered the creators.

7. Many technologies and advances in science, literature, politics etc. were lost after the fall of Rome, among them was concrete.

8. As ancient Rome and the Romans is ancient to modern day people, when we study about their history, so too were the pyramids of Giza and the Egyptians to the Romans.

9. Wealthier ancient Romans had pipes in their walls and floors, that ran cold water from the aqueducts, as an early form of air conditioning.

10. Many royal Romans were bisexual, indulging in both the opposite and same sex, and it was considered rude and strange for one to be heterosexual.

11. The Romans had such a historical significance and impact, they are considered one of the pillars of modern western society.

12. Rejecting it at first, and prosecuting those who practiced it, the Romans were the catalysts for the spread of Christianity to become one of the largest religions in the world.

13. Pliny the Elder, who had advised numerous emperors and who was the author of at least 75 books, wrote the very first encyclopedia: Natural History.

14. The origins of the word and function dictator come from ancient Rome. Having no negative connotations like its modern equivalent, it was given to magistrates to rule with sole power during a short period of time.

15. Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates whom he befriended and even demanded a higher ransom for himself. When he was released from “captivity,” Julius raised an army of marines, hunted pirates around Italy to near non-existence.

16. Admiring, and borrowing a lot in every form from the ancient Greeks, the Romans were ridiculed by them. As Rome became an unstoppable juggernaut, the ancient Greek city states were conquered and butchered so completely, they never recovered.

17. Romans that aspired and ran for office wore a distinctive toga called “toga candida”, hence the origin of the word candidate.

18. Roman clothing was popular for two reasons, ease of wear and simplicity. Although it allowed its wearer to look modest the fabric, dye and decoration of the tunic and toga were the indicators of status and symbol.

19. Marketplaces were common throughout the ancient world even before the Romans came to power. Yet shopping malls as we know them today stem from the one constructed during emperor Trajan’s reign that, at its peak, housed 150 shops and offices in its complex.

20. A pillar for western society, the ancient Romans achieved the testament of time by their brilliant architecture that stands tall even today.

Entertainment in Ancient Rome

Roman entertainment was a bustling, busy atmosphere for people of all wealth and statuses. The most well known pastimes for the Ancient Romans included gladiator battles, chariot racing, and more.

One of the most famous and recognisable buildings in Rome is the Colosseum - now a major tourist attraction. The Ancient Romans also saw it as an attraction for viewing various events. The building could hold over 50,000 people, all who were well looked after by the authorities. During summer when the temperature rose, the audience were protected from the sun’s heat by a huge canopy that covered the top of the stadium.

The Colosseum provided many popular sports and activities like re-enactments of famous battles, mythological dramas, mock sea battles, and much more brutal events including the feeding of Christians to lions and animal fights. Wild cats, buffaloes, bears and elephants would all be kept in cages and made to fight each other - some animals even died out because they were so in demand by entertainment organisers.


More exciting to the Romans than animals were the gladiator fights that regularly took place in the Colosseum. Many gladiators were slaves or prisoners of war and were seen as entertainment made to be killed, and at least 50% were not expected to survive. However gladiators who had survived a fight and fought well, could be given the choice of life or death by the audience whilst the emperor was also present. Thumbs up meant life, and thumbs down meant death. The Roman writer Seneca wrote that “the only exit (for a gladiator) is death.”

Shows were usually free to the public as the emperors believed it was a good way to keep people happy with the city’s governing. Free entertainment and free bread was a combination used to keep the unemployed content.

Gladiator fights may have also occurred in smaller amphitheatres. Chariot racing took place at the Circus Maximus which was a popular family event within Ancient Rome.

Gladiator in the form of Jean-Léon Gérôme

To today’s society, Rome’s entertainment seems very cruel. However it did not all involve violence - many Romans who were well educated felt appalled at the cruel events, and went to the theatre instead for comedies and poetry readings.

"Don't forget, there's a big gladiator show coming up the day after tomorrow. Not the same old fighters either. They've got a fresh shipment in. There's not a slave in that batch. Just wait. There'll be cold steel for the crowd, no quarter and the amphitheatre will end up looking like a slaughterhouse. There's even a girl who fights from a chariot."

"The wild beast hunts, two a day for five days, are magnificent. There is no denying it. But what pleasure is there in seeing a puny human mangled by a powerful beast or a splendid animal killed with a hunting spear."

Education in Ancient Rome

Education was seen as very important within Ancient Rome. Rich people especially put a lot of faith into education and schooling. The poor did not have the opportunity to receive a formal education though they often still learnt to read and write. Children within rich families were well schooled and taught by a private tutor or went out to school. Schools equivalent to today were usually only for boys.

Learning in public schools was heavily disciplined, with caning for the slightest mistake. This was to encourage the belief that boys would learn more quickly and accurately if they were in constant fear of making mistakes. For pupils who continually got things wrong, they were held down by two slaves and beaten by the tutor with a leather whip.

"The teacher must decide how to deal with his pupil. Some boys are lazy, unless forced to work others do not like being controlled some will respond to fear but others are paralysed by it. Give me a boy who is encouraged by praise, delighted by success and ready to weep over failure. Such a boy must be encouraged by appeals to his ambitions."

Quintilian, a teacher in the 1st Century AD.

There were not many subject choices in Rome, so children probably became bored quite quickly. The days were also much longer than modern day schools, beginning from sunrise with a short lunch break during the day, then arriving home by sunset. Lessons were learned off by heart and without question - the children only needed to know facts to escape beatings. Books were too expensive so lessons were generally dictated to the class.

Ancient Rome had two types of schools - one for children up to 11 or 12 who learned reading, writing and basic mathematics using an abacus. Older children would attend more advanced schools, studying specific topics such as public speaking and writings of the great Roman intellects. Girls did not usually attend these schools as they were able to get married from age 12, where boys waited until 14.

Girls were only allowed to learn reading and writing while boys received lessons in honourability and physical training to prepare them for a man’s role in society. Girls from rich families received a home education to learn how to be a good wife and run a good household, with tasks such as music, sewing and the running of a kitchen.

A school week was seven days instead of five, with no weekend. However there were many school religious holidays, along with market days which meant school closure, and even a summer holiday.

Imperial Rome and the Roman Empire

The end of Republican Rome & beginning of Imperial Rome, on the one hand, and the fall of Rome & dominance of the Roman court at Byzantium, on the other, have few clear lines of demarcation. It is customary, however, to divide the roughly half a millennium-long period of the Roman Empire into an earlier period known as the Principate and a later period known as the Dominate. The division of the empire into the four-man rule known as the 'tetrarchy' and the dominance of Christianity are characteristic of the latter period. In the former period, there was an attempt to pretend the Republic was still in existence.

During the late Republican period, generations of class conflict led to changes in the way Rome was governed and the way the people looked at their elected representatives. By the time of Julius Caesar or his successor Octavian (Augustus), the Republic had been replaced by a principate. This is the beginning of the period of Imperial Rome. Augustus was the first princeps. Many consider Julius Caesar the start of the Principate. Since Suetonius wrote a collection of biographies known as The Twelve Caesars and since Julius rather than Augustus comes first in his series, it is reasonable to think that, but Julius Caesar was a dictator, not an emperor.

For almost 500 years, emperors passed on the mantle to their chosen successors, except when the army or the praetorian guards staged one of their frequent coups. Originally, Romans or Italians ruled, but as time and the Empire spread, as barbarian settlers supplied more and more manpower for the legions, men from throughout the Empire came to be named emperor.

At its most powerful, the Roman Empire controlled the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Turkey, the modern areas of the Netherlands, southern Germany, France, Switzerland, and England. The Empire traded as far as Finland going north, to the Sahara to the south in Africa, and to the east to India and China, via the Silk Roads.

Emperor Diocletian divided the Empire into 4 sections controlled by 4 individuals, with two overlord emperors and two subordinate ones. One of the top emperors was stationed in Italy the other, in Byzantium. Although the borders of their areas changed, the two-headed empire gradually took hold, being firmly established by 395. By the time Rome "fell", in A.D. 476, to the so-called barbarian Odoacer, the Roman Empire was still going strong in its eastern capital, which had been created by Emperor Constantine and renamed Constantinople.


Roman Calendar

The Roman calendar changed many times over the years and between the foundation of Rome and when Rome fell as an empire

The Twelve Tables

The Twelve Tables was a time in the Roman history where Rome stopped being a kingdom.

Roman Science

One of the greatest scientific feats of Ancient Rome is the concrete road. Nearly 30 military highways, all made of stone, exited the great city. At one point, 372 roads connected 113 provinces..

Watch the video: Revolution. Ancient Rome: The Rise And Fall Of An Empire. BBC Documentary (August 2022).