*** ancient civilizations -- Rome Roman Empire

Ancient Civilizations -- Roman Empire

Figure 1.--While this Roman sculpture in the Greek form does not tell us much about boys' clothing, it does show a boy's hair style. The sculpture has been dated to the mid-2nd century. It is in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

Rome has been described a the greatest of the ancient civilizations. Roman civilization had an incalcualble impact on Western civilization. As such this is a topic we plan to develop in some detail, although we have not yet seriously addressed it. The Roman legacy in art and sculpture, architecture, literature, philosophy, political organization and law, and religious is extensive. Rome was the conduit through which many aspects of Greek culture were passed on to our modern age. Today the power of media has obscured the great legacy of Rome to that of gladitorial spectacle. Many scholars are convinced that perhaps with the exception of Jesus, the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero is the most important single voice in Western civiliztion. It was Cicero that was a key influence in British political thought and the American and French Revolutions and thus all modern democracies. It was an idealized Roman Republic that inspired the founding fathers. The history of ancient Rome spanned a millenium and included three eras (kingdom. republic, and empire. The wars fought during these eras include some of the epic struggles in human history. Of all the great inheritances of Roman civilization, none were more important to Western Civilization that the heritage of Roman law. Of all the great inheritances of Roman civilization, none were more important to Western Civilization that the heritage of Roman law. And today the imprint of law is one of the primary forces that mark the Western world. A vibrant united Europe is a development that has come about in our post-World War II. Many remember the Cold War which divided Europe after World War II. In fact, there have been many political and cultural fissures that have divide Europe for millenia. Perhaps the most significant is the cultural divide between the Latin West and the Germanic East. That division came about as a result of a battle little-known outside Germany, but arguably is one of the most significant in all of European history.


Rome has been described a the greatest of the ancient civilizations. Rome has been described a the greatest of the ancient civilizations. The impact of Rome on western civilization is incaluable. All the fundamental traditions of Western civilizations have clear threads running back to the Roman Republic and Empire. Of course many gave origins in Greece, but they were amplified and passed on by Rome. The Roman legacy in art and sculpture, architecture, literature, philosophy, political organization and law, and religious is extensive. Rome was the conduit through which many aspects of Greek culture were passed on to our modern age. Today the power of media has obscured the great legacy of Rome to that of gladitorial spectacle. Many scholars are convinced that perhaps with the exception of Jesus, the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero is the most important single voice in Western civiliztion. It was Cicero that was a key influence in British political thought and the American and French Revolutions and thus all modern democracies. It was an idealized Roman Republic that inspired the founding fathers. Roman legends like Cicinatus who volutarikly gave up power inspired thge founding fathers. Many of the key Revolutionary leaders had read Cicero's works like De Officius. Even Washington, who unlike many of the other founding fathers had not studied classuical history, acted out a scene in a play about Cato that he had seen to defuse a mutiny of the Continental Army. The American Republic is in large measure a Ciceronian Republic. The legacy of Rome can be found throughout the American Republic. A Senate was created to limit the passions of the majority. Executive authority is limited by checks and ballances. It was Cicero's heroic, but ultimately failed effort to save the Roman Republic that enspired political thinkers of the 18th century to device a system that could prevent despotism. This effort motivated many of the debates over the American Constitution.


Another aspect of the heritage of Rome is the Latin language. This was the standard language of most of the Empire, except in the Greek east. The Lain taught in schools today is that of Caesar and Cisero. The lanuguage survived the fall of the Empire in several ways. For centuries it was the language of educated discussion throughout the Christian West. It was adopted as the offical language of the Roman Catholic Church. For nearly two millenia the mass was given in Latin. And the Church attempted to prevent the translation of the Bible into the popular European languages. Latin also became the foundatioin for the Romance languages (French, Italian. Portuguese, and Spanish). It also played an important role in the devclopment of English.


One of the great gifts of Rome was that of law. Roman law played a major role in the eventual emergence of the West. Of all the great inheritances of Roman civilization, none were more important to Western Civilization that the heritage of Roman law. And today the imprint of law is one of the primary forces that mark the Western world. Roman law developed for about a milenia. The earliest Roman law was secretly administered as the law of the privileged classes. Over time it became the destinctive basis of civilized life throughout te Empire. Roman jurisprudence evolved into a legal system based on natural-law theory as the fundamental test of the reasonableness of positive law. The first major step toward a sophisticated legal system was the law of the Twelve Tables (449 BC). The cilmination of Roman lrgal development was Emperor Justinian I's Corpus Juris Civilis of (about 530 AD). Roman law, as preserved in Justinian's codes continued to be practiced in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire until its fall (1453). The classical tradition was lost for centuries after the fall of Rome to the Germanic invaders and Huns. The Eastern Empire did not fall to the Barbarians. Thus it was largely through the Eastern or Byzantine Empire that Roman legal practice was passed to continental Europe during the medieval era.


Architecture is another of the gret inheritances of Rome. Architecture is a major testament to the grandeur of ancient civilizations. In many cses it is one of the few artifact thst syrvived. In the case of Rime we have many other artifacrs such as law, Latin, art, and much else. But given the emene scale on which the Romans built. Roman architecture eclipsed that of all ther ancient civiliztions. Greek and Roman architecture are an important part of the classical building blocs of Western civilization. The Romans built on their Etruscan foundation. The Etrucans privided a wealth of knowledge essential for architectue which Rome in its early years did not possess. The Roman mastery of hydraulics (aquaducts) and the arch was fiunded on on an Etruscan base. Later the Romand absorbed Greek and Phoenician styles which can be seen in both public and domestic buildings. Roman roads abd bridges are legendary. The roads radiating out from Rome played a major role in creating the modern map of Europe and helped connect Chester in northern Britain to Alexandria in the eastt. . Many of the modern cities of Europe developed a settlements along these roads. Many Roman bridges were so architecturaly sound that they are still in use. Very little is known about architecture in the Reublican era becuse much of it was either destroyed by fire or replaced by more substantial construction during the imperial period beginning with Augustus. Rome was the largest city in the world at the time and was the location of masive construction projects including not only the famous public buildings (temples, theaters, amphitheaters, baths, and markets), but also extensive blocs of apartments for the huge population. Roman architecture was not, however, confined to Rome. Architecture flourished throughout the Empire. Some of the best surviving examples of Roman architecture are today found outsude Rome in the former provinces.


The Romans and the Empire they created are an important part of the cultural lexicon of the Western world. What a cast of chracters Rome has. They are important not only for their role in history, but because the founders of the American Republic had not only British history in mind, but Rome and its leaders in mind when they crafted the Constitution. Roman emperors are a fascinting study in power, including Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Trajin, Hadrian, Constantine took decissions that laid the foundation of modern Europe. Rome also provided us great military commanders, of which Caesar was probably the greatest, but only one. Rome also laid the foundation for Western literature with Vergil. Cicero was a central figure in influencing British and American legal and political thought.

Emperors (1st-15th cenuries AD)

The Roman Reublic built a substatuial empire, but for several centuries there was no emperor. This began to change with Caesar who building on popular acclaim was on the way to establishing a dictatorship when he was killed (44 BC). Historians still debate Caesar's motives and goals. The identity ofthe first emperor would be determined by a Roman civil war in which Caesar's closest ally (Mark Anthony) and Cleopatra would at the end be pitted against his great nephew (Octavian). Octavian was adopted adopted posthumously by Caesar. The issue was settled after more than a decade of fighting at the Battle of Actium (31 BC). Anthony and Cleopatra subsequently commited suicide. Octavian tracked down and killed Caesar's son Cesarion. Octavia who begame known as Augustus began his rule with the title Princeps Civitatis, but gradually took on additional titles and the powers of emperor and laid the foundation for imperial rule that would last for a millenium and a half until the Ottomans seized Constatinople. He proved to be an effective ruler, launching the Pax Romana. Following Augustus were the Julian emperors (Caesar's family) who proved to be case studies in corruption and the impact of unrestrained power--Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. They are some of the most famous of all the Roman emperors because of their debauchery and abuse of power. There was some hope, apparently misplaced, that Augustus would restore the Republic, but he made no effort to do so and constntly expandedhis powers. Tiberius and his successors gave no thought to doing so and no one even imagined that they would do so. The assasiatin of Caligula ushered in an era in which the Praetorian Guard played a huge role in selecting the emperior. The only reasonably effective Julian was the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). They were followed by the Flavians, especially Vespasian (69-79) and Domitian (81-96). Next came the Nervan-Antonian dynasty which included several talented emperors: Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Marcus Aurelius (161-180), and Comodus (177-192). The leading emperor of the Severan dynasty was Caracalla who ruled jointly with colleagues (198-217). The crisis of the Third Century was punctuated with the stabilizing reigns of Valerian (253-260) and Gallienus (253-268). Civil wars and foreign crisis engulfed the Empire. This was only ended with the Tetrarchy and the Constatine dynasty. Diocletian (285-305) ruled as part of the Tetrarchy (rule of the four). One of the four was Constantine's father. Constatine (306-337) became one of the greatest of all emperors and began the rise of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. Constantine may be the last of the great emperors, at least in the west. He also founded founded Constantiople which became the capital of the Eastern Empire or Byzantium. Theodosius reigned fior 48 years (402-450). The greatest Eastern emperor surely was Justinian (527-565) who struggled to recover the lost western empire. The last Roman Emperor was the Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, who was killed defending Constantinople from the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (1453).

Military Forces

The standard fighting force of the Roman state in both republican and imprtial times was the legions. This was a infantry force, supported by cavalry. Roman history spanned a millennium and the military varied substantially over this time. The early military force was more like a Greek phalanx bedore adopting heavy infantry tactics--heavily armored and disciplined infantry. The Legionaries armed with the gladius fought in closely formed rankse. The legions were initially composed of Roman citizens, but in imperial times this began to change. he number of legions in existence at any given time varied, but averageed less than 30. The legions were not the only force, but by far were the most important.

The Legions

The most obvious important military force in history and the longest lasting is the Roman Legions which is today seen by many as the prototype for modern militaries. Any list of important hitorical fighting forces has to include the Roman Legions. The Legions was the force that secured the territoy of the Roman Empire and mintained it for more than half a millenium. One author writes, "The Legions of Rome shine in the annals of military history." Today we refer to the legions which is actually a term for a unit. ThecRomans had no term for their army as a whole. The Romans instead spoke only of 'the soldiers'. 【James】 The Legions were for centuries the foundation of the Pax Romana and the Roman Empire. Rome's legions were the most effective military mchine of the ancient world. The Legions were composed of soldiers who fought fiercely abnd were well armed. The Legioins under first the Republic and then the Emperor were the tip of the spear that spread Roman power and in its wake Roman civilization around the known world. The central force of a Roman legion was heavily armored and disciplined infantry. The Legionaries armed with the gladius fought in closely formed ranks against many disperate forces. The most dangerous opponent was Carthage. Many other opponents were less disciplined warrior-based military forces. The discipline, tatics, and tenacity of the Legions were able to defeat often much larger armies. In the end the key to the Legions' success was its ability to come to grips with an opposing force and bring steel forward in a highly efficent killing machine. Is is perhaps ironic that perhaps the single greates aspect of Roman culture that arived in the wake of the Legioins was Roman law. And here the Legions were effective not only because of raw military power, but because the conquered were integrated into the Empire through effective diplomscy and the rule of law. Large numbers of subgegated people became Roman citizens, often through military service in the Lefions that had conquered them. 【James】 After conquest, violence was largely restricted to the frontiers, except for occassional revolts, most notably the Jewish Revolt.

Praetorian Guard

The Praetorian Guard was Rome's elite warriors. Thecare the best known protection and counter-insurgency squadron in history. They were a creation oftheEmpire and the first emperor--Augustus. Augustis created the Praetorian Guard (27 BC). It was intended as a personal body guard intensely loyal to the Emperor and charged with his potection. The Guard assumed a far greater role in imperial history. The assumed a major role in the running of Rome. The Guard became an inseparal part of the machinery of the Roman state. And insted of protecting emperors, it was also responsible for dispatching emperors, such as Caligula. The Guard was disbanded by Constantine (312 AD). 【Bingham】


Foederati were peoples and cities bound by a treaty to Rome, more or less federated. It is the origin of the modern term federal. During the Republican era, times the term Foederati referred to the socii (other Italians with varying legal status). By the Imperial period, the term referred to foreign, client kingdoms, including barbarian tribes to which the Empire provided arange of benefits in exchange for military assistance. The term also referred to barbarian mercenaries who were permitted to settle within the Empire. The last Roman emperor was a boy, Flavius Romulus Augustus (475-76). He was deposed by Odacer, a Germanic Foederati.

Roman Wars

The history of ancient Rome spanned a millenium and included three eras (kingdom. republic, and empire. The wars fought during these eras include some of the epic struggles in human history. One of the great struggles of the clasical world was the Puinc Wars, the epic struggles between Rome and Cathage led by the military genius Hanibal. Many military struggles followed as the chillingly efficent Roman legions carved out the entire Mediterranranen world as an empire. Rome fought the Servile Wars during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The Third Servile War was the Spartacus Revolt (73-71 BC) which posed a real danger to the Roman state. One of the best chronicled Roman campaign was Ceasar's campaign to conquer the Gauls. Crassus attempted to move the Roman empire east when he launched the Parthian Wars, but his army was destroyed in te desert at Carrhae. The Roman Republic was essentially finished when Ceasar crossed the Rubicon. The Western orientaion of Rome was settled at Actium when Ceasar's nephew Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, defeated the forces of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. The Roman disaster at the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD helped to create the cultural and political divide between the civilized Roman west and the barbarous Germanic east that affected Europe into the 20th century.


Surely Rome is the best known of all the ancient civilization, proding a grand heritage of architecture, art, law, literature, and much else. However rich Rome was, its economy was fairly simple. Rome was a largely agrarian, slave-based economy. Slavery was fundamental to the Roman economy became umportant to the Roman economy beginning as early as the Punic Wars (264-146 BC). Because Rome is the best known and best studied ancient civilization this has resulted in a misunderstanding about slavery and it role it human civiliization. Almost all ancint civilizations did not have large slave populations. The primary way of ordering society not only in ancient civiizations and even modern society, until the creatiion of the United States was the creation of a landless peasantry. Rome's major economic objective was feeding the vast number of Roman citizens and Legionaries which expanded and maintained the Empire. The Legions were also needed to obtain silver to finance the Empire and mines in Dacia ahd Spain were particularly important. Agriculture and trade were at the center of the Romn economy along with some small scale industrial production. Given the importance of agriculture, agricultural technology affected the productivity of this vital sector. Romans to a degree used a two crop rottion. Yields were, however, relatively low and necesitated vast number of slaves to gain substantial quantities. Farmers had a choice of donating surplus crops to the government or pay a monetary tax. Thus both Republican and Imperial rulers had grain which could be used to curry the favor of the population. The grain could be used for both free grain distribution and to feed the legions. The slave system did not, however incentevize farmers to improve productivity or expand output. A higher harvests meant greater taxes. Roman citizens grew dependent on the free grain. It also meant that large numbers of Romans fed on the state, but did nothing to support or to create economic value. The need to secure grain providing provinces was one important, of many factors that would lead to the expansion and conquests of the Roman State. Rome after gaining control of southern Italy, imposed their system of large estates worked by slave labor to produce grain. 【Zamagn】 Other important provinces included: Egypt, Sicily and Tunisia in North Africa. A very large quantity volume of trade ensued. These areas were of vital importance in the production of grain to fed Rome. Grain was shipped directly to Ostia, the principal port of Rome. The staple crops grown by Roman republican farmers and on the great estates were the standard crops of the Mediterranean world. There were different grains, olives, and grapes. Olive oil and wine were not only important food stuffs were among the most important trade products. The wine industry was especially imprtant. Olive oil and wine were an important part of Rome's exports. As the Roman population grew, grain had to be imported from outside Italy, but grain producing areas like Egypt and North Africa were eventully conquered and became part of the Empire. Deforestation and soil defradation in the Mediterranean area occured with the expansion of the Roman Empire and increased population. Large-scale agriculture and unprecedented economic development increase pressure on the land. Many modern historians believe this was an imprtant factor in the decline of the Empire.


In our modern world there are few human practices that inspire such profound outrage as the practice of one human being enslaving another. This is, however, a very modern sentiment. The institution of slavery probably predates civilization itself. Slavery was an accepted institution and central to the economies of most major world civilization. This was certainly the case of ancient Rome. Slaves were were often war captives, both captured wariors and the women and children of conquered populations. The offspring of these enslaved people provided a vast slave work force. The victors in battle might enslave the losers rather than killing them. Slavery in Rome were major components of the work force. Slaves were drawn from widly differing peoples and there was no association with race. Slaves might be blond, blue eyed Anglo-Saxons from Britania or blacks from Sahara as well as evry other racial type. Slavery in Rome had no racial basis. Even those of Italian stock were enslaved. It was thus impossible to tell from one's physical appearance if one was a slave. This complicated control. The Romn Senate debated establishiung a destinctive dress for slaves. In the end, the Senate decided against a slave attire, partly because they decided it was dangerous because it would show the slaves just how numerous they were. As in the Americn South, slavery was justified on the basis of the natural inferiority of certain individuals. There were three Servile Wars or slave rvolts in the 2nd and 1st century BC.


Roman history can be divided ijnto three important historical periods: monarchial, republican, and imperial. This is a little complicated as Rome built its empire primarily during the republican era.


The history of Rome spans about a milenia, the impact of Rome of course is of course still felt today. Migrating Indo-European peoples cross the Alps and enter the Italian peninsula beginning about the 20th century. Rome in the 6th century the dominant the area around the city. The Roman state is a monarchy, but the powers are no absolute. There is an assembly made up of all male citizens of military age. A Senate is composed elders representing important community sects. The Romans led by Brutus expel Tarquinius Superbus and found the Republic (509 BC). Beginning with the founding of the Republic about two centuries of war commnce with the Etruscans, Greeks, and other inhabitants of the Peninsula. Two major construction projects, the Via Appia and Aqua Appia are begun (312 BC). Stoicism begins to become important among Roman intelectuals and influence the governing class in the mid-2nd century. The Third Punic War with Charthage occurs (149-146 BC). The war results in the complete defeat of Carthage. The Carthaginians are sold into slavery. The city is torn down and burned. Greece in 146 BC also fell to the Romans. Large numbers of Greeks were enslaved. Many wealthy Greeks used learned Greek slaves to teach their children. Rome as a result of the wars with Charthage and expansion ito Greece acquired an extensive empire consisting of virtually the entire western Mediterranean as well as Greece, Asia Minor and a dominant position in Egypt, the granery of the Meiterrean. Rome's transition into a imperial state had many domestic consequences. Class conflicts intensify, power struggles and assassinations occur and slave rebellions. These divisions lead to bitter internal splits leading to bloody civil wars and brutal military rule. Marcius was followed by Sula. Ceasar seizes control and his assasinatiin brings civil war. He is followed by Augustus who brings disrder and the ax Romana. Even the tragic rule of the tyrants who fillow him cn not destroy the Roman state. Competent emperors rule in the 2nd century. Constantne legitimizes Christianity. Saint Augustine (354-430 AD) was one of the great leaders of the early Christian Church and perhaps the most important theologian of the medieval Church. Augustine as of Bishop of Hippo defended Church doctrines against the Manichean and the Pelagian sects. Rome unified Europe as never before or since. The end of classical antiquity is generally seen as the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the sacking of Rome. Rome had been in decline for some time, but in 410 AD the culminating event, that shattered the Rome's imperial pretentions was the pillaging of Rome by the Visigothic chief, Alaric. Other barbarians inckuding the Alans, Huns, Goths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Visagoths swept Imperial armies aside. Roman culture and learning as well as Roman fashion did not disappear at once, but this mark the beginning of Europe's descent to what some have termed the Dark Ages.The process of decline is not simple to follow, nor is it well recorded in the limited available written texts. Walpole complained of getting bogged down in Gibbon's account of the 5th and 6th centuries. Much of the process of a declining Rome can only be surmised from the expanding archeolgical evidence. What was shattered in the 5th century was the Pax Romana and the writ of Roman law only to be gradually replaced by the common Christain values of the developing medieval Europe.


When we think of Rome, we are often thinking of the great city or the modern Italian peninsula. The Roman Empire, however, came to include the entire Mediterannean basin as wll as areas of notherm Europe including modern France, Belgium and Britain as well as for a short time Mesopotamia. Thus to understand the Roman Empire, one must look at developments in each of the various Roman provinces which to varying degrees became Romanized. Rome suceeded in thourgly romanizing some of the privinces. Other privinces had only a minor exposure to Rome. This was largely a questio of time, thelength over which Romn rule was maintained. The European provinces of Rome became the core of Western civilization. We hope to assess each of the major Roman provinces. Available evidence varies greatly from province to province. A major factor is the period of time the Romans controlled the province. Some provinces were controlled for centuruies. Others for only brief periods. The Roman established a protectorate over Egypt (3rd century BC). The Romans for a long toime refrained from mloving east into Greece, in part because they were focusing their energies on the Punic wars withbCarthage. One of the most interesting provinces was Britannia which the Romans conquered (1st century AD). Rome incorporated Phoenicia into their Empire (64 AD).

Europe: Germanic-Latin Cultural Divide

A youthful German tribal leader, Arminius, smashed three entire Roman Legions trying to subdue Germanic tribes east of the Rhine in the Teutonburg Forest. While Arminius failed afterwards to successfully unite the German tribes, his brilliant military victory established the Rhine as the border between the civilized Roman Empire and the barberous Germanic tribes. The Rhine, a geographic barrier of emense proprtions, came to be a major cultural divide which played out in our modern age as the clash between France and Germany.

European Union

Ceasar's conquest of Gaul in the 1st century BC gave Rome control of an emense swath of Western Europe. After the fall of Rome in the 5th century, many Christian kings and emperors as well as popes have tried to unite the continent by conquest. The most successful was Charlemegne in the 9th century. Others amazed great power, but never achieved control over such a huge territory. Napoleon in the 19th century and Hitler in the 20th century dominated the continent, but for relatively brief periods. The Europeans today are uniting economically within the European Union. The possibility of political union is a still unanswered question.


Religion: Paganism

Rome's religion is today classified as paganism. It was a kind of mix of religion, morality, and patriotism. As Roman develooed from a small farming village to a great power, the Romans cane to worshipped thousands of gods. Just about everythiung, including living and inanimarte onjects (trees, rocks, streams, bridges, virtually everything) was seen as having a guardian spirit or what might be called a god watching over it. Each of these many spirits or gods had at least one task job to do. Some had very important tasks vital to society. This included watching over the crops, or bringing out the sun daily. Something no one wanted to mess with and thus these gids were vital to society. But all Roman gods were of some importance to someone. The Romans dutifully prayed to their gods daily, sometimes more. As Rome expanded they came in contact with other people who worshiped and adored other gods. In many ways the Romans were tolerant of these additional gods. This was especially true if the conquered people had fought valiantly, the Romans seem to have concluded that their gods must have power to be reconned with. So the Romans adopted many of these gods and added them to their pantheon. They commonly gave those new gods Roman names and commonly changed some of their attributes and behavior to better accomoidate Roman society. Thus is why the Greek gods have Roman names. There was one big exception--the Catheginian god Baal Hammon. Both Carthage and Baal were utterly destroyed as a result of the Punic Wars. Now while foreign gods were ofren added to the Roman pantheon and tolerared, Roman law required that all people in the Empire must if not worship, at keast honor the Roman gods ehich came to include the Emperor. One group that had troube with this were the Jews. In the early years of the Republic, Romans took all this very seriously. By the time of the Empire, many Romans dud theur civic duty, but were much less serious aabout the gods. This explains in part the rise of mystery cults along wiuth Chruistinity. A fundamental step in the waning years of the Empire was the conversion to Christianity. This would fundamentally affect the future of Western civilization. Some authors because of the timing attribute Christianity, at least in part, to the fall of the Empire. Most notably this was Gibbon's principal thesis. 【Gibbon】 Most modern authors provide a more complex assessment. 【Woolf】

Children and the Family

Ancient Rome was a pariarchial society. The father (pater familias) by law and custom had virtual absolute control over his family. The pater familias was the oldest living male in a household. The term is Latin for 'father of the family', but by law wasthe owner of the family estate. Married women did not have much say in private or public life although widows could own property and have some indeoendence. Roman children were under the authority of their fathers and until theboys established their own househols continued to yield considerable authority. The father decided just about everything for the children, especially after the child was beyond unfancy and todler age when he was cared for by the mother and/or her slaves. The father decided on clothing, activities, education, and basic lifestyle. The father even had the legal authority to kill a child which did not change until after the establishment of the principate (1st century AD). The Romans did have specialized clothing for boys. Very detailed information is available on Roman clothing. Information is available from paintings, statues and written documents. Rome during its early monarchy, republican, and imperial eras lasting nearly 1,000 years basically maintained the same clothing styles. Most clothes were made out of wool or linen, as was the case in Greece. Imported fabrics such as cotton and silk were very expensive. We have no detailed information informtion on Roman hair styles. As best we can tell, both men and boys wore short hair. The children of ancient Rome were the most educated and literate of all ancient socities. And considerable information is available onRoman education as it was so important to the Romans. And thanks to sculptures and survving texts, we also know about play activities and toys.



The Romans did have specialized clothing for boys. Very detailed information is available on Roman clothing. Information is available from paintings, statues and written documents. Rome during its early monarchy, republican, and imperial eras lasting nearly 1,000 years basically maintained the same clothing styles. Most clothes were made out of wool or linen, as was the case in Greece. Imported fabrics such as cotton and silk were very expensive. In cold climates fur and felt were also used. Most garments were made up of large uncut pieces of cloth and they were folded and pinned with 'fivulate' or they were tied with belts. Garments requiring elaborate sewing were rare, as most needles were made of bone and therefore intricate sewing was difficult. Clothes were mainly the natural colors of their fibers, but some clothes were bleached white or dyed various shades.

Hair Styles

We have no detailed information informtion on Roman hair styles. As best we can tell, both men and boys wore short hair. An example is seen here in the sculpture (figure 1).


Education was important in ancient Rome, but there were no free public schools for children, but most Roman boys attended the Ludi (primary) schools and apparently even some girls. The education a child received was very much deopendant on his social class and family wealth. During the early history of Rome, there were no schools. Children were educated at home by their parents or if the family could afford it by tutors. Poor children might learn their father's trade or agricultural skills. More affluent children might be taught to read if their parents were literate. A father might teach his son about Roman law, history, customs, and physical training, to prepare for military serevice. Values were an important part of the lessons and moral behavior and bravery were stressed. Girls were taught by their mother or female family member. Roman education changed dramatically in the 2nd century BC. Rome was becoming a more sophisticated city because after the deafeat of Carthage they found themselves in possession of an extensive empire. Rome also in the 2nd century acquired Greece and thus came into contact with Greek culture. It is at this time that formal schools along the line of schools in Greece appear in Rome. Younger children began school at about age 7 and studied reading, writing, and counting. They read both scrolls and books. They on boards covered with wax that could be easily resurfaced for new assignments. They used pebbles and abacusses to do math problems. Math of course was done in Roman numerals, which must have been complicated, especially division. The Romans did not have the concept of zero. Memory assignments were very important as Roman children were expected to do reciataions of the classics. Wealthy families might educate their children at home. Educated Greek slaves were in great demand. Girls who were educated were commonly educated at hime by their oparents and a household slave. Other children might be sent to tutors. Often tutors would work with a small grouop of boys. Patrician and wealthy plebian boys at about age 12-13 began "grammar" school or "schola", where they studied Latin, Greek, grammar. The curriculum was based around the study of literary classics, especually Greek classics. Many of the grammaticus or grammar school teachers were in fact Greeks. At about age 16, some talented boys from affluent families studied public speaking at the rhetoric or oratorica schools. Public speaking was very important in Rome.


Drama was also an important art form in ancient Rome. Drama was both an art form and like the gladatorial contests, a public spectacle. Thus they were performed in huge ampitheaters. Rome had a nunber of large theaters. The challenge of sound and lighting faced by the Greeks was handled in the same way--outdoor ampitheaters. Rome itself had several large ampitheaters especially designed to perform plays. The best surving example is the theatre Marcellus. Unlike Greece, drama was not an indegenous Roman art form. The Roman drama of Seneca (for tragedy) and of Plautus and Terence (for comedy) derived ultimately (with many changes of course) from the drama of Greece. Despite the design of the amphhiaters, seeing the stage and hearing the actors was a problem. Roman audiences were notorious for making noise. This led to a degree of styliazation, inluding a range of conventions. Masks and costumes helped to clue the audience into what was happening even if the actors could not be heard well. The masks were color coded, brown for men and white for women. Masks might be smiling or sad. This was determined by the type of play. Costumes were used to identify the character. A purple costume identified a rich man. Boys wore striped togas. Other conventions were: short cloak (soldier), red toga (poor man), and short tunic (slave). There were no women actors, this was considered inappropriate. Thus a male actor of small stature or a boy would play the female roles. Roman dramas hd two sets of actors. There was an actor who spoke the character's lines. A diiferent actor mimed the part on stage. The gestures used were also styilized to emphasze the lines. A way of identifying some one who was sick, for example was to take his pulse. Boys were important in Roman theater necaus so many of the femle roles were played by them.


To assess the impact of ancient Rome on our modern Western civilization, one has only to work at the degree to which the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia affected Christmas. Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival in honor of Saturn the god of Agriculture, is perhaps the most important pagan influence on Christmas, in large measure determining the selection of the date (December 25) and the nature of the celebration until Victorian times. The actual dates of Saturnalia varied during the course of Roman history. It began during early Roman history as the feast days for God Saturn (December 17) and Ops (December 19). Woth the adoption of the Julian calendar, Saturnalia became December 17 & 18; Opalia on December 19 & 20. During the Empire, it was extended to a week (December 17-23); longer with other holidays. There were a number of associated Roman holiday festivals. This in large measure explains why December was selected by the early Church to celebrate Christmas.


Some imagery is available from ancient Rome. There are of course sculptures like the one pictured here. Often they do not, however, illustrate clothing. There are also some surviving painting, mostly murals depicting affluent on the walls of surviving villas. Romans living in Egypt also had portraits painted on their mummies. There are also Byzantine ???, but the clothing depictions here areoften nit detaled. We also notice some grave stones with carvings of interest, although the depections are not very detailed. There are also many modern depictions of Ancient Rome. Here me care has to be taken. While they are often detailed, we are not always sure how accurate they are. We believe that many of these imges are relatively accurate, in part because there are many surviving written records of Rome which provide us a fairly complete record of Roman clothing.

Fall of Rome

One of the often asked questions in history is why Rome fell to the Barbarians. Perhaps the more appropriate question is why Rome endured for a millenium. No other society in history has such an enduring history of continual rule. The classic study addressing the fall of Rome was of course writton by Gibbon. The thrust of his analysis was that the demise of Rome was primarily due the advent of Christianity which he contends weakened the martial spirit of Rome. 【Gibbon】 Modern historians have developed a much more sophisticated assessment explaining the collapse of the Empire. It is an intreaging question of how the Roman Empire which was a vast political ediface which should have been able to support a powerful military. Yet the Imperial forces suffered major defeats at the hands of barbarians. One classical historian maintains that the answer was in the decline in civic values. Romans had come to expect services from the Empire and not to sacrifice themselves through military service. 【Hanson】

Idea of Rome

Even before the rump Western Empire fell (AD 476), Rome had ceased to a significant power. The idea of Rome was a different matter. The idea of a unified China in the East became a reality. The idea of a new Rome never materialized although the idea was never disappered. There were efforts to revive the Empire. An interestingly the Barbarians who destroyed it were interested in donning the imperial purple. They werereacting o the psychological power of the Empire as well as the practical power for governing of the mpire's institutions. There were three powerful leaders who mde the greatest ffrt to recrecreate the Empire--Theodoric, Justinian, and Charlemagne. They expanded their power to an extent that made it possible to at least claim to have recreated the Empire. But their realms were unstable and dd not survive's their founder's deaths in a poweful way. The medieval Holy Roman Empire used the name, but was not, holy, roman, or a true empire. But the idea of Rome actuallky did reappear in an unexpected form--the Roman Catholic Church. It was Rome that provided the foundation for the Church. 【Heather】 The Church preserved some of the learning of the Empire and most importantly one of Rome's most imporant legacies--law. While la was lost in the barabarian kingdoms. Roman law was reserved in canon law which both gerned the Church nd played a vital role in the generation of a legal trditon in the new Christian kingdoms that gradually developed.


The essential idea of empire was largely created by Rome. A case can be made for the Persian Empire that Alexander smashed, but ijn the western mind it is Rome that is most associated with empire. The idea of empire is asoociated with: 1) size, 2) many diverse peoples, 3) political control, 4) economic exploitation, and 5) military power. And the Roman Empire clearly qualified for all of these characteristics. China is another great empire, but in the case of China the empire was not as diverse, the populatioin being dominated by Han Chinese. The British Empire also clearly qualifies, although the economic exploitation was tempered by a range of mutual benefits. Many British colonies actully declined economically after independence. The political left like to refer to the 'American Empire' during the Cold War and even today. This is, however, an incorrect usage as there was no political control and contries benefitted economically by trading with America. Look at whast happened to Cuba after it could no longer trade with America as well as how countries like South Korea and Taiwan were transformed by trade with America. Interestingly left-wing authors anxious to attach empire to America, rarely use it for the political structure that the Soviet Union created in Eastern Europe after World War II eben though it clearly meets the important characteristics of empire. And the Soviets went a step further by imposing their ideology ahd culture on their imperial subjects, something Rome and Britain never attempted.


Bingham, Sandra. The Praetorian Guard: A History of Rome's Elite Special Forces (2013), 246p.

Brown, Peter. The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000 2nd edition (Blackwell paperback: 2003), 625p.

Everitt, Anthony. Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician (Random House, 2002), 359p.

Gibbon, Edward. The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776).

Hanson, Victor Davis. Book-TV C-Span 2, March 7, 2004.

Heather, Peter. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders (2014),488p.

Symons, David J. Costume of Ancient Rome, 65p.. This book surveys costure of men and women from early Italy including examples of Etruscan dress; the classical Roman dress of both men and women c. 200 BC - AD 250; the later costume, detailing changes in styles from AD 250-600, plus selected examples of the main types of military costumes.

Woolf, Greg. Rome: An Empire's Story (2012).


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Created: July 4, 2002
Last updated: 9:16 PM 11/27/2020