Ancient Roman History: Themes, Sources, Major Events

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Roman Republic flag

Rome was the West's first true superpower. It began as a small village, grew into a kingdom, flourished as a republic and eventually expanded and matured into a kingdom. At its height, the Roman Empire was a 3,000-mile-wide territory that included parts of more than 40 different currents nations and ruled over 50 million people. [Sources: T.R. Reid, National Geographic, July and August 1997]

The scale of the Roman Empire, especially when compared to that of the Greeks, was huge. When it was at its height the city of Rome was home to around 1 million people. Many of the Greek city states where home to only a few tens of thousands if that much.

If you say that the Roman Empire ended with the sacking of Rome in A.D. 410 by the Visigoths, then Rome endured for 1,162, years. If you say it lasted until the defeat of the last Roman emperor at Constantinople in 1453, then it endured for 2,206 years.

Rome in many ways was more advanced than Europe in the Middle Ages. Among the things the ancient Romans had that medieval Europeans didn't have were plumbing, sewers, trash collection, parliamentary procedure, elected governments, political campaigns, art galleries and birth control. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Some people regard the Roman Empire as the Golden Age of Europe. The Romans created a legal and political system that endures to this day, and not only conquered a lot of territory but established an administration system to run it. They were also great innovators in bathing, blood sports and entertainment. Imperial Rome was also the precursor of the European Union. It established a single currency, a single code of laws, a single army for much of Europe as well as large chunks of the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Importance of Roman History

The study ancient Rome is important because the Roman Empire existed for so long, and so much of our own Western society was derived from it. Rome was one of the greatest powers of the ancient world, and has also exercised a great influence upon many modern nations. A few great peoples — such as the Babylonians, Hebrews, ancient Chinese, ancient Indians, Greeks, and Romans — have done much to make the world what it is. If these peoples had never existed, our lives and customs would no doubt be very different from what they are now. In order, then, to understand the world in which we live in today — and its languages, literature, religions, art, governments and laws — it is important to study these ancient peoples and their worlds, languages, literature, religions, art, governments and laws. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Roman Senate

We often think of the Romans as the people who conquered the world. But Rome not only conquered some of the most important countries of the old world; she also made of these different countries one united people, so that the ancient world became at last the Roman world. The old countries which bordered. upon the Mediterranean Sea - Carthage and Egypt, Palestine and Syria, Greece and Macedonia—all became parts of the Roman Empire. The ideas and customs, the art and institutions, of these countries were taken up and welded together into what we call Roman civilization. We may, therefore, say that Rome was the highest product of the ancient world. \~\

It is useful to look at the way in which Rome ruled her subjects, the way in which she built up, from the various lands and peoples that she conquered, a great state, with its wonderful system of government and law. We shall then see the work of her statesmen and lawgivers, her magistrates, her senate, and her assemblies. We can also look at the way in which the Romans were themselves improved in their manners and customs, as they came into contact with other peoples—how they learned lessons even from those whom they conquered, and were gradually changed from a relatively uncivilized people to a highly civilized and cultivated nation, with straw-thatched huts of early times giving way to magnificent temples and theaters and other splendid buildings, with rudimentary speech growing into a noble language, capable of expressing fine, poetic feeling and lofty sentiments.

“As we approach the study of Roman history, we shall find that we can look at it from different points of view; and it will present to us different phases. In the first place, we may look at the external growth of Rome. We shall then see her territory gradually expanding from a small spot on the Tiber, until it takes in the whole peninsula of Italy, and finally all the countries on the Mediterranean Sea. Our attention will then be directed to her generals, her armies, her battles, her conquests. We may trace on the map the new lands and new peoples which she gradually brought under her sway. Looked at from this point of view, Rome will appear to us as the great conquering nation of the world. \~\

Strengths of the Roman System

Edward Gibbon wrote in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”: “The Greeks, after their country had been reduced into a province, imputed the triumphs of Rome, not to the merit, but to the fortune, of the republic. The inconstant goddess, who so blindly distributes and resumes her favours, had now consented (such was the language of envious flattery) to resign her wings, to descend from her globe, and to fix her firm and immutable throne on the banks of the Tiber. A wiser Greek, who has composed, with a philosophic spirit, the memorable history of his own times, deprived his countrymen of this vain and delusive comfort by opening to their view the deep foundations of the greatness of Rome. [Source: Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West from “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Chapter 38, published 1776]

Roman aqueduct in Pont du Gard

“The fidelity of the citizens to each other, and to the state, was confirmed by the habits of education and the prejudices of religion. Honour, as well as virtue, was the principle of the republic; the ambitious citizens laboured to deserve the solemn glories of a triumph; and the ardour of the Roman youth was kindled into active emulation, as often as they beheld the domestic images of their ancestors. The temperate struggles of the patricians and plebeians had finally established the firm and equal balance of the constitution; which united the freedom of popular assemblies with the authority and wisdom of a senate-and the executive powers of a regal magistrate. When the consul displayed the standard of the republic, each citizen bound himself, by the obligation of an oath, to draw his sword in the cause of his country, till he had discharged the sacred duty by a military service of ten years.

“This wise institution continually poured into the field the rising generations of freemen and soldiers; and their numbers were reinforced by the warlike and populous states of Italy, who, after a brave resistance, had yielded to the valour, and embraced the alliance, of the Romans. The sage historian, who excited the virtue of the younger Scipio and beheld the ruin of Carthage,has accurately described their military system; their levies, arms, exercises, subordination, marches, encampments; and the invincible legion, superior in active strength to the Macedonian phalanx of Philip and Alexander. From these institutions of peace and war, Polybius has deduced the spirit and success of a people incapable of fear and impatient of repose. The ambitious design of conquest, which might have been defeated by the seasonable conspiracy of mankind, was attempted and achieved; and the perpetual violation of justice was maintained by the political virtues of prudence and courage. The arms of the republic, sometimes vanquished in battle, always victorious in war, advanced with rapid steps to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Rhine, and the Ocean; and the images of gold, or silver, or brass, that might serve to represent the nations and their kings, were successively broken by the iron monarchy of Rome.”

Roman Model in the Modern World

Twelve Tables, Rome's first laws

“When the Roman Empire fell and was broken up into fragments, some of these fragments became the foundation of modern states—Italy, Spain, France, and England. Rome is thus the connecting link between ancient and modern history. She not only gathered up the products of the ancient world, she also transmitted these products to modern times. What she inherited from the past she bequeathed to the future, together with what she herself created. On this account we may say that Rome was the foundation of the modern world.” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Roman Empire set up many of the structures on which the civilization of modern Europe and the West depend. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “A gap of 2,000 years may seem to have put the Romans at a safe distance from our own lives and experience, but modern Europe with its Union is unthinkable without the Roman Empire. It is part of the story of how we came to be what we are. The Romans are important as a conscious model, for good or ill, to successive generations. [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 Wallace-Hadrill is Professor of Classics at the University of Reading. His books “include Suetonius: The Scholar and his Caesars,” “Augustan Rome,” and “Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum.” |::|

“A century ago, for imperialist Britain (and for other European states with imperial ambitions), the Roman Empire represented a success story. Rome's story of conquest, at least in Europe and around the Mediterranean, was imitated, but never matched, by leaders from Charlemagne to Napoleon. The dream that one could not only conquer, but in so doing create a Pax Romana, a vast area of peace, prosperity and unity of ideas, was a genuine inspiration. |::|

“But the efforts of 20th-century dictators such as Mussolini, peculiarly obsessed with the dream of reviving an empire centred on Rome, left Europe disillusioned with the Roman model. The dream of peace, prosperity and unity survives, but Roman style conquest now seems not the solution but the problem. Centralised control, the suppression of local identities, the imposition of a unified system of beliefs and values - let alone the enslavement of conquered populations, the attribution of sub-human status to a large part of the workforce, and the deprivation of women of political power - all now spell for us not a dream but a nightmare.” |::|

Roman Emperors


Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “ One image of the imperial system is of strong, effective central control. The figure of the emperor himself, as defined by Julius Caesar and Augustus, stands for good order in contrast to the chaos of pluralism - squabbling city-states or competing aristocrats. [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Historians have underlined the benefits of provincial government restrained by imperial control and the development of a sophisticated and complex law code which still underlies continental legal systems. They have pointed to the benefits of the central bureaucracy built up by the early emperors, especially Claudius, which provided a structure for long-term continuity amid changing dynasties. That bureaucratic mentality, you could say, transmitted from late antiquity through the papacy to modern nation states, is what makes contemporary Brussels possible. |::|

“But look at the figures of the Caesars themselves and what fascinates us now is their arbitrary nature. We see not an efficient system of fair and sober government, but a gamble at work. From Augustus's ruthless intelligence, to Caligula's scary insanity, or Nero's misplaced parade of rockstar popularity, we seem to be dealing with a system which throws the individual and his personal foibles into excessive prominence. |::|

“The 'mad' and 'bad' Caesars seem more interesting than the good, sober ones - certainly, from Quo Vadis to I Claudius to Gladiator, they are the ones who have fired the popular imagination. It is as if we do not want to learn the secret of Roman success, but scare ourselves by looking deep into the irrationality of an apparently successful system. In that sense, the Caesars now serve us not as a model of how people ought to rule but a mythology through which we reflect on the terrifying power of the systems in which we may happen to find ourselves entrapped. |::|

Roman Slave Society

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “One element, which perhaps more than others seems to separate our world from that of the Roman Empire, is the prevalence of slavery which conditioned most aspects of Roman society and economy. Unlike American plantation slavery, it did not divide populations of different race and colour but was a prime outcome of conquest. [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Again, we find ourselves gazing back at the Roman world not as a model, but as an alien and terrifying alternative. No concept here of human rights: slavery required the systematic use of physical punishment, judicial torture and spectacular execution. From the crucifixion of rebel slaves in their thousands to the use of theatrical enactments of gruesome deaths in the arena as a form of entertainment, we see a world in which brutality was not only normal, but a necessary part of the system. And since the Roman economy was so deeply dependent on slave labour, whether in chained gangs in the fields, or in craft and production in the cities, we cannot wonder that modern technological revolutions driven by reduction of labour costs had no place in their world. |::|

“But while this offends against the core values on which the modern world is based, brutality and human rights abuses are not limited to the past. Enough to think of the stream of refugees struggling to break into the fortunate zones of Europe, and recall that the Roman empire collapsed in the West because of the relatively deprived struggling to get in, not out. |::|

“The system that seems to us manifestly intolerable was in fact tolerated for centuries, provoking only isolated instances of rebellion in slave wars and no significant literature of protest. What made it tolerable to them? One key answer is that Roman slavery legally allowed freedom and the transfer of status to full citizen rights at the moment of manumission. |::|

“Serried ranks of tombstones belonging to liberti (freed slaves, promoted to the master class), who flourished (only the lucky ones put up such tombs) in the world of commerce and business, indicate the power of the incentive to work with the system, not rebel against it. Trimalchio, the memorable creation of Petronius's Satyricon, is the caricature of this phenomenon. Roman society was acutely aware of its own paradoxes: the freedmen and slaves who served the emperors became figures of exceptional power and influence to whom even the grandees had to pay court.” |::|

Diversity of the Roman Empire

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “One of the most astonishing features of the Roman Empire is the sheer diversity of the geographical and cultural landscapes it controlled. It was a European empire in the sense that it controlled most of the territory of the member states of the present EU, except part of Germany and Scandinavia. [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]


“But it was above all a Mediterranean empire, and pulled together diverse cultures, in Asia (the Near East), Egypt and North Africa that have not been reunited since the spread of Islam. This represented a vast diversity, including language (two 'international' languages were still needed for communication, Greek as well as Latin, let alone local languages) and relative development - they spoke of 'barbarians' versus Romans/Greeks, where we would speak of first and third world. The planting of cities, with their familiar apparatus of public services and entertainment, was a sign and instrument of the advance to 'first-world' status. |::|

“But while we can still admire the effectiveness of this city-based 'civilisation' in producing unity and common cultural values in diverse societies, what we might look for from a contemporary perspective, and look for in vain, is some conscious encouragement of the 'biodiversity' of the different societies that composed the empire. |::|

“Vast regional contrasts did indeed continue, but there is little sense that the emperors felt an obligation to promote or protect them. The unity of the empire lay in a combination of factors. The central machine was astonishingly light compared to modern states - neither the imperial bureaucracy nor even the military forces were large by modern standards. The central state in that sense weighed less heavily on its component parts, which were largely self-governing. |::|

“But above all the unity lay in the reality of participation in central power by those from the surrounding regions. Just as the emperors themselves came not just from Rome and Italy, but Spain, Gaul, North Africa, the Danubian provinces, and the Near East, so the waves of economic prosperity spread over time outwards in ripples.” |::|

Common Values That Unified the Roman Empire

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill of the University of Reading wrote for the BBC: “The unified empire depended on common values, many of which could be described as 'cultural', affecting both the elite and the masses. Popular aspects of Graeco-Roman literary culture spread well beyond the elite, at least in the cities. Baths and amphitheatres also reached the masses. It has been observed that the amphitheatre dominated the townscape of a Roman town as the cathedral dominated the medieval town. [Source: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The underlying brutality of the amphitheatre was compatible with their own system of values and the vision of the empire as an endless struggle against forces of disorder and barbarism. The victims, whether nature's wild animals, or the human wild animals - bandits, criminals, and the Christians who seemed intent on provoking the wrath of the gods - gave pleasure in dying because they needed to be exorcised. |::|

“There was also a vital religious element which exposed the limits of tolerance of the system. The pagan gods were pluralistic, and a variety of local cults presented no problem. The only cult, in any sense imposed, was that of the emperor. To embrace it was as sufficient a symbol of loyalty as saluting the flag, and rejecting it was to reject the welfare of all fellow citizens. |::|

“Christians were persecuted because their religion was an alternative and incompatible system (on their own declaration) which rejected all the pagan gods. Constantine, in substituting the Christian god for the old pagan gods, established a far more demanding system of unity. |::|

“We are left with a paradox. The Roman Empire set up and spread many of the structures on which the civilisation of modern Europe depends; and through history it provided a continuous model to imitate. Yet many of the values on which it depended are the antithesis of contemporary value-systems. It retains its hold on our imaginations now, not because it was admirable, but because despite all its failings, it held together such diverse landscape for so long.”

Violence and Upheaval After the Punic Wars

The period of Roman history after the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.) is one of the saddest, and yet one of the most interesting. It is one of the saddest, because it was a time when the Roman state was torn asunder by civil strifes, and the arms of the conquerors were turned against themselves. It is one of the most interesting, because it shows to us some of the greatest men that Rome ever produced, men whose names are a part of the world’s history. Our attention will now be directed not so much to foreign wars as to political questions, to the struggle of parties, and the rivalry of party leaders. And as a result of it all, we shall see the republic gradually passing away, and giving place to the empire. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: For the most part, the early half of the 1st century B.C. “was a period of nearly non-stop violence: a time of civil wars, grueling overseas campaigns, political assassinations, massacres, revolts, conspiracies, mass executions, and social and economic chaos. Even a brief chronology of the times paints a grim picture of devastation, with each decade bearing witness to some new disturbance or uprising. [Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) ]

In 100 B.C., riots erupted “in the streets of Rome; two public officials, the tribune L. Appuleius Saturninus and praetor C. Servilius Glaucia, are murdered. 91 B.C. : the so-called Social War (between Rome and her Italian allies) breaks out. No sooner is this bitter struggle ended (88 B.C.) than Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a ruthless politician and renegade army commander, marches on Rome, and an even more convulsive and bloody Civil War begins. 82 B.C. : Sulla becomes dictator. His infamous proscription results in the arrest and execution of more than 4000 leading citizens, including 40 senators. In 71 B.C., Spartacus' massive slave revolt (involving an army of 90,000 former slaves and outlaws) is finally put down by Cassius and Pompey. More than 6000 of the captured rebels are crucified and their bodies left for display along the Appian Way. In 62 B.C. is the defeat and death of Catiline. By this point in his career this former lieutenant of Sulla had become a living plague upon Roman politics and a virtual byword for scandal, intrigue, conspiracy, demagoguery, and vain ambition.

Crossing of Rubicon, the Ending of the Republic

The crossing of the Rubicon — a small stream in northern Italy that defined the border between Rome and its northern provinces— by Julius Caesar in 51 B.C. was a pivotal event in Roman history and the creation of the Roman Empire and ultimately modern European culture. It marked the beginning of a period of civil wars that lasted until 31 B.C. While serving as governor of Gaul, Caesar amassed a personal fortune and displayed his military skill in subduing the native Celtic and Germanic tribes. Caesar became so popular with the masses, he presented a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey, who held power in Rome. Under these condition, the Senate called upon Caesar to resign his command and disband his army or risk being declared an "Enemy of the State". Pompey was entrusted with enforcing this edict. [Source:]

After Julius Caesar finished subduing Gaul in 51 B.C., he prepared to return to Rome. While he was away in Gaul, Crassus was killed and Pompey became leader. Pompey wielded great power and declared Caesar a public enemy and ordered him to disband his army. Caesar refused. When he moved his army from Gaul into Rome's formal territory, it was interpreted as a declaration of war against Rome. Caesar reached the border of greater Rome at the Rubicon River. He then he plunged his horse in the water, shouting , “The die is caste."

Caesar marched into Rome with his army and seized control of the government and the treasury and declared himself dictator while Pompey, in command of the Roman navy, fled to Greece. But this campaign was just the beginning. Five years of civil war followed. Caesar was forced to cover huge distances in his effort to destroy Pompey and his extensive allies across the Roman world.

Caesar defeated Pompey in a series of land battles that took place throughout the Roman empire over a four years period. After Caesar put down a revolt in modern-day Marseille in France and routed Pompey’s loyalists in Spain at the Battle of Ilerda in June 49 B.C., he defeated Pompey in Greece. Pompey fled to Egypt. The Ptolemies refused to provide quarter for a loser and had him executed and cut off his head.

Caesar crossing the Rubicon

By crossing the Rubicon Caesar declared war on the political establishment of his day. For many historians it marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. To this day “crossing the Rubicon” describes a decision from which there is no return. By doing this, Caesar gambled that he could not only beat his military rival Pompey but also could also outmaneuver conservative politicians like Cicero and Cato. Some historians say Caesar's move marked the end of period in which foreign adventures created larger armies and more powerful generals and it was only a matter of time until they threatened the political status quo.

Creation of the Roman Empire Finalized Under Augustus

We have taken the date of the battle of Actium (31 B.C.) to mark the beginning of the empire, because Octavian (Augustus) then became the sole and undisputed master of the Roman world. But it is not so important for us to fix upon a particular date for the beginning of the empire, as it is to see that some form of imperialism had come to be a necessity. During the whole period of the civil wars we have seen the gradual growth of the one-man power. We have seen it in the tribunate under the Gracchi; in the successive consulships of Marius; in the perpetual dictatorship of Sulla; in the sole consulship of Pompey; in the absolute rule of Julius Caesar. The name of “king” the Romans hated, because it brought to mind the memory of the last Tarquin. But the principle of monarchy they could not get rid of, because they had found no efficient form of government to take its place. The aristocratic government under the senate had proved corrupt, inefficient, and disastrous to the people. A popular government without representation had shown itself unwieldy, and had become a prey to demagogues. There was nothing left for the Romans to do except to establish some form of monarchy which would not suggest the hated name of king. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

After Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C., Octavian's connection to Caesar boosted him on the political scene. At that time Octavian (Augustus) was seen as a “deceptively, malleable-seeming” 18-year-old. “He is wholely devoted to me," Cicero boasted, not long before the youth cut a deal to have him murdered. Octavian joined with Antony and Lepidus to form a Triumvirate (“Group of Three). Octavian was able get Caesar's old soldiers behind him and win the support of the Senate.

The Triumvirate battled Cassius and Brutus for control of Rome during five years of civil war. After defeating the armies of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Phillipi in 42 B.C., Lepidus was stripped of his power and Octavian and Marc Antony divided the empire, with Octavian getting Italy and the west and Antony getting the east. Mark Anthony and Octavian, shared power for ten years until Octavian declared war on Antony's lover's Cleopatra. While Antony and Cleopatra were enjoying themselves, Octavian was building up his army and navy and preparing for a fight. More than a hundred years had passed away since the beginning of the commotions under the Gracchi. During this time we have seen the long conflict between the senate and the people; we have seen the republic gradually declining and giving way to the empire. But we must not suppose that the fall of the republic was the fall of Rome. The so-called republic of Rome was a government neither by the people nor for the people. It had become the government of a selfish aristocracy, ruling for its own interests. Whether the new empire which was now established was better than the old republic which had fallen, remains to be seen. But there are many things in which we can see that Rome was making some real progress. \~\

The first thing that we notice is the fad that during this period of conflict Rome produced some of the greatest men of her history. It is in the times of stress and storm that great men are brought to the front; and it was the fierce struggles of this period which developed some of the foremost men of the ancient world—men like the two Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Cato, Cicero, and Julius Caesar. Whatever we may think of their opinions, of the methods which they used, or of the results which they accomplished, we cannot regard them as ordinary men. \~\

Another evidence of the progress of Rome was the extension of the rights of citizenship, and the bringing into the state of many who had hitherto been excluded. At the beginning of this period only the inhabitants of a comparatively small part of the Italian peninsula were citizens of Rome. The franchise was restricted chiefly to those who dwelt upon the lands in the vicinity of the capital. But during the civil wars the rights of citizenship had been extended to all parts of Italy and to many cities in Gaul and Spain. \~\

Roman Mythology and How Romans Wanted to View Themselves

Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker: “These were emblems of Rome as it wanted to be remembered—stern, pious, martial, the sort of people destined to conquer the world. Many of the most famous appear in “The Romans and Their World” (Yale; $35), Brian Campbell’s lucid new survey of Roman history, which compresses twelve centuries into fewer than two hundred and fifty pages; yet Campbell relates them with palpable skepticism. The story of Cincinnatus, he writes, “certainly tells us how later Romans wanted their early history to be remembered, embodying noble, unselfish self-sacrifice, courage and quiet determination.” But all it conveys to us about the reality of early Rome is that it was a city consumed by “continuing difficult struggles and intense fighting against aggressive invaders.” [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012 ]

“Campbell doubts not only the veracity of such legends but the legitimacy of the values they embody. Take the Aeneid, the great epic of the age of Augustus Caesar, in which Virgil has the god Jupiter promise Rome perpetual domination: “To this people I assign no boundaries in space or time. I have granted them power without limit.” After a century in which the quest for unlimited power licensed genocide and world war, this sort of thing has lost whatever glamour it once possessed. Rome’s early expansion, which is so glorified by Livy, seems to Campbell more like a successful criminal enterprise: “There was . . . a community of interest in making war and being part of successful war making.”

“As Rome expanded from a city-state to a regional and then a continental power—a process sealed by the incredible bloodshed of the Punic Wars, against Carthage, in the third century B.C: the sheer momentum of warfare guaranteed ever more fighting. “Rome had to give all these soldiers something to do,” Campbell observes dryly. Upon this pragmatic foundation, the Romans erected a superstructure of ideology that held that “they always waged just war, on the argument that their enemies had committed an offence and failed to atone for it.”

“The classic statement of this ideology comes, again, in the Aeneid: “Remember, Roman, these will be your arts: / To teach the ways of peace to those you conquer, / to spare defeated peoples, tame the proud.” Against this poetic ideal, Campbell places the descriptions of Rome’s historians, such as Polybius’ account of a Roman campaign in the Second Punic War: “Scipio . . . ordered them to kill everyone they met and to spare no one. . . . The purpose of this practice, I suppose, is to strike terror. So you can often see in cities captured by the Romans not only people who have been butchered, but even dogs hacked in two and the limbs of other animals cut off.”

Western Impression of Rome Shaped by Shakespeare?

1953 Hollywood version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

In a review of Garry Wills’ book “Rome and Rhetoric”, Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker: “ For many English speakers since the Renaissance,” Shakespeare’s ““Julius Caesar” has been their first and perhaps only contact with Roman history. “The accomplishment of this play is hard to exaggerate,” Wills writes. “It is the first play to bring a strong feel for Romanitas to the English stage. . . . Shakespeare has a feel for Roman rhetoric, Stoicism, nobility, and cynicism that are immediately convincing.” [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012 ]

“For Wills, the nobility is less interesting than the cynicism. Shakespeare gave us Brutus, “the noblest Roman of them all,” willing to sacrifice his life for freedom; but, Wills reminds us, he also created Antony, the warlord who manipulates public frenzy in order to consolidate his bloody grip on power. Wills draws attention to the scene in which Antony explains that he regards his fellow-ruler of Rome, Lepidus, as a beast of burden like “my horse. . . . He must be taught and trained and bid go forth,” until his usefulness is exhausted, whereupon Antony will “turn him off / Like to the empty ass to shake his ears / And graze in commons.” Shakespeare, Wills writes, “saw all around the Roman ethos, its bellicose and cold-blooded side, as well as its aspirations after honor and nobility.”

“Wills is characteristic of the current wave of writers in his deep skepticism about the nature of Rome’s “lasting image.” Thanks to historians like Suetonius and Tacitus, the Rome of the emperors has always had a reputation for dissoluteness and tyranny; but the Roman Republic, which flourished until Julius Caesar became dictator, was an altogether nobler memory. For centuries, Europeans and Americans read Livy, the first-century- B.C. historian of early Rome, and took his stories as exempla of heroism, to be cherished and emulated: Scaevola, thrusting his hand into the fire to prove his fearlessness before the enemy Etruscan king Lars Porsena; Horatius Cocles, a junior officer who, with two comrades, successfully defended a bridge into Rome against Lars Porsena’s invading army; Lucretia, who was raped by the son of the king of Rome and took her own life, after pledging her father to revenge. And there was Cincinnatus, the Roman who took up dictatorial power, saved Rome, then willingly relinquished it and returned to his plow—an example that led the veterans of America’s Revolutionary War to name themselves the Society of Cincinnati.”

Similarities Between the Roman Empire and the United States

Some of the U.S.’s most important institutions — namely the Senate to the Capitol — are modelled on those of the Roman Republic. Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker: “To read the Federalist Papers—in which Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote under the Latin pseudonym Publius—is to enter into a running debate about Roman history, in which the Roman example is one to be alternately emulated and shunned. For if the Republic flourished, starting in 509 B.C., and brought most of the Mediterranean world under Roman sway, it finally gave way, five centuries later, to the autocracy of the Empire. [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012 ]

Thomas Jefferson was an admirer of Roman culture

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “By 146 B.C., the Romans found themselves the undisputed masters of the Mediterranean world. But they had achieved this without ever really intending to, and consequently they were unprepared to take on that mantle. This is the position that the United States of America finds itself in today. Like the Roman republic, the US is now the policeman of the western world. Its armed forces are unstoppable, its influence is everywhere and just like the Romans, it got there by mistake. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011. Dr Ibeji is a Roman military historian and associate producer on Simon Schama's “A History of Britain”. |::|]

“Some commentators have said that the key difference between Rome and the US is that Rome was proud of her empire and America is not. The US, so the argument goes, will not forge an empire like Rome’s, because the US does not have an imperialist culture. This argument is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what drove these two great superpowers. In fact, both Rome and America were founded upon the same myth, and that myth has shaped their respective destinies. |::|

“The whole concept of the separation of powers, with its checks and balances, was lifted virtually wholesale from Rome and given a new, modern gloss. You only have to read the names of key institutions in United States' government – the senate, the veto, the governor – to see just what a debt the American republic owes to the republic of Rome. And if you read the writings of the founding fathers, you will see just how consciously they pursued the creation of a new Rome. They even debated whether they should have two consuls, just like the Roman republic, instead of a single president.

“The problem with the myth of liberty for a republic founded upon freedom is that it is supposed to be fighting against tyranny. After all, republics only annexe territory that is rightfully theirs. Don't they? Tyrants invade their defenceless neighbours and impose their will upon the defeated population. Tyrants annexe vast tracts of land that don't belong to them. Tyrants go to war on a whim. Republics only go to war in defence of their people. If this happens to expand their empire, then that’s not intentional, it’s just a natural consequence of a perfectly justified act of self-defence. After all, republics only annexe territory that is rightfully theirs. Don’t they?” |::|

Roman Empire, the United States and Just Causes and Wars

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Both America and Rome spread like a virus into the bodies of their home continents without ever admitting that they were empire-building. They did this by creating yet another fiction, what Rome called the casus belli - the 'cause of war'. It was enshrined in Roman law that the republic could never go to war without a 'just cause'. The law even defined what these just causes could be, and in all cases it ultimately boiled down to an act of aggression by another power. This gave rise to the concept of the defensive war, espoused by all republics and democracies in history. The people will only go to war to defend their (and others') liberty against oppression, and as far as Rome and America were concerned, that’s exactly what they did. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011. Dr Ibeji is a Roman military historian and associate producer on Simon Schama's “A History of Britain”. |::|]

US President George Bush addressing Congress After the 9-11 attack

“An appeal for help from certain Greek cities prompted Rome’s conquest of southern Italy. An appeal from San Francisco brought California into the United States....Such 'absent-minded' expansionism has its consequences. In 264 B.C., Rome intervened in Sicily on behalf of a group of Latin pirates called the Mamertines. These Mamertines were using the town of Messana in Sicily as a base from which to pillage the area. This naturally annoyed the local inhabitants, who tried to throw them out. |::|

“When Rome stepped in, the Sicilians appealed to Carthage - the great North African trading power that dominated the Mediterranean. All of a sudden, Rome found herself thrust out of the local concerns of Italy and fighting a war on a world stage. Three wars and a hundred years later, Rome had lost more than a quarter of a million men and the African city was a pile of rubble. Suddenly Rome was a force to be reckoned with. A power you could appeal to. |::|

“In 146 B.C., the hawks in the senate pointed to evidence provided by Rome's allies that Carthage was rearming and preparing to strike once more. Never mind the fact that these allies had most to gain if Carthage was ground into the dust. 'Delenda Carthago est!' they thundered: 'Carthage must be destroyed!' And destroyed it was. |::|

“Rome's victory changed everything. Suddenly Rome was a superpower - a force to be reckoned with. A power you could appeal to. Such power inevitably breeds arrogance. Even before the destruction of Carthage, when the Persian king Antiochus invaded Egypt in 168 B.C., the Romans despatched an envoy called Popilius Laenas to deal with the situation. He did so by drawing a line in the sand, stepping back and telling Antiochus that if he took one step further onto Egyptian soil, Rome would declare war. Antiochus decided not to cross the line. |::|

“America now finds itself in a very similar position to the Roman republic of 146 B.C. It is the dominant power on the world stage. Its armies are unstoppable and its culture permeates everywhere. It controls its foreign interests through what the Romans would have called 'client' kings - local rulers propped up by the superpower. If it doesn't like what a 'rogue' state is doing, it flexes its military and economic muscle until that state backs down or succumbs to war. |Yet the pressures of such dominance inevitably warped Rome until it was a republic no more. How the United States fares in the same position will depend on what it can learn from the histories written by Rome.” |::|

Fate of the Roman Empire: A Warning to the U.S.

Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker: “ Discussing the dangers of a standing army, Madison observes that while the Roman legions conquered the world, “the liberties of Rome proved the final victim to her military triumphs.”After the Second World War, it was common to wonder if America’s national-security state represented the imperial phase of our history. In 2007, Cullen Murphy, in his book “Are We Rome?,” concluded that the resemblances are close enough to make us worry: “What draws us now is something . . . elemental and emotional: the brutal reminder of impermanence. That, and from time to time an anxious flicker of recognition—the eagle in the mirror.” Deborah Eisenberg’s story “Twilight of the Superheroes,” an astringent parable of America’s post-9/11 reckoning, ends with an inhabitant of New York remembering a Roman image from a school textbook: This one’s a photograph of a statue, an emperor, apparently, wearing his stone toga and his stone wreath. The real people, the living people, mill about just beyond the picture’s confines. . . . Are the people hidden by the picture frightened? Do they hear the stones working themselves loose, the temples and houses and courts beginning to crumble? . . . Closing his book Lucien hears the thrilling crash as the bloated empire tumbles down. [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012 ]

“If anyone ought to be immune from this kind of apocalyptic hypnosis, one might think, it is Niall Ferguson, the conservative historian who has spent the past decade urging America to take up Britain’s old role as beneficent empire. Yet in his new blockbuster, “Civilization,” Ferguson’s antennae for the Zeitgeist lead him to ruminate darkly on the ways that America is following in Rome’s doomed footsteps. Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Ferguson writes, “tells the story of the last time the West collapsed. Today, many people in the West fear we may be living through a kind of sequel. When you reflect on what caused the fall of ancient Rome, such fears appear not altogether fanciful.”

“Such writers are carrying on the centuries-old tradition of seeing America in, and as, Rome. The comparison is necessarily a loose one, but it preserves the customary understanding of the Roman Empire as a peak of human civilization, a fragile accomplishment that could all too easily be undermined by its own hubris. But this season brings a number of new works on Roman history that focus not on the glories of Roman culture but on its notorious brutalities. The perspective is, in its own way, just as unsettling as any apocalyptic fantasy of decline and fall. What if the true meaning of Rome is not justice but injustice, not civilization but institutionalized barbarism? What if, when you look back as Freud did at the Eternal City—a sobriquet that Rome had already earned two thousand years ago—you find at the bottom of all its archeological strata not a forum or a palace but a corpse?”

In his book, “Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History,” Kirsch wrote, Robert “Hughes Hughes also takes note of some cautionary similarities between Rome and America. Both tolerated a vast inequality in wealth: “For the top 5 percent, life took on a character of manic overindulgence and extravagance, unpleasantly reminiscent of the life of the American super-rich today.” Then as now, the art world was one of the best places to observe this excess: “Just as today, the prices of fashionable ‘fine’ art were fantastically inflated: ancient Rome, it seems, had its equivalents to the hysterical, grotesque pricing of Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. The orator Lucius Crassus paid an incredible 100,000 sesterces for two silver goblets engraved by Mentor, a famed Greek silversmith, ‘but he confessed that for shame he had never dared use them.’ ”

Plebeians (Commoners) in the early Roman Republic

Sources on Ancient Rome

There is lot more materials and sources for the study of the ancient Romans than there is for the study of the ancient Greeks. Most of the Roman sources are from the members of the ruling elite. There generally is not much information on the lower classes and how they lived. Archaeologists and historians warn that in the study of ancient Rome it is important to tread carefully and go only as far as the data takes you, understanding the limits and realizing the fragility of the constructs and presence of contradictions.

Herodotus (484?-425? B.C.) has been called the Father of History, a compliment initially given to him Cicero. He is given credit for recording information from all over but criticized for using less than reliable sources and sometimes espousing what seems like propaganda. Most of Herodotus's histories were stories he picked up from travelers, merchants and priests. He seems to have known many were exaggerations or unproven claims and he made some effort to pick out what was plausible. Occasionally he ascribed events to myths. Aristotle called him a “legend monger.” [Source: Daniel Mendelsohn, The New Yorker, April 28, 2008]

Strabo (64 B.C. – c. A.D. 24) was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who came from Asia Minor at around the time the Roman Republic was becoming the Roman Empire. Strabo is best known for his work Geographica ("Geography"), which describes the history and characteristics of people and places in different regions known during his lifetime. Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus (in present-day Turkey). He traveled extensively during his life, venturing to Egypt and Kush (Sudan) and as going far south as Ethiopia. He lived in Rome and journey throughout throughout the Mediterranean and Near East. Strabo studied under several prominent teachers of various specialities throughout his early life at different stops during his Mediterranean travels. Geographica was not utilized much by contemporary writers but numerous copies survived throughout the Byzantine Empire. It first appeared in Western Europe in Rome as a Latin translation in 1469.

Procopius of Caesarea (c. A.D. 500 – after 565) was a prominent late antique Greek scholar from Caesarea Maritima (in present-day Israel). He accompanying the Byzantine general Belisarius in Emperor Justinian's wars and was principal Byzantine historian of the 6th century. His works include “History of the Wars”, “Buildings”, “Secret History”. He is often described as the last major historian of the ancient Western world.

Roman Historians

The Romans were great historians who seemed to record and write down almost everything they saw. Much of what we know about the Greece, Greek art, early Christianity and life the Holy Land when Jesus was alive is based on Roman accounts. The Romans left behind so much information in fact we know more about more about Europe 2,000 years ago than were know about North America 300 or 400 years ago.

Influential writers, observers and historians included Horace, Pliny, Seneca, Juvenal, Cato, Martial the historians Tacitus (A.D. 56-120) and L. Casius Dio, the biographer Suetonius and the prose Romantic Petronius (d. A.D. 66). Livy (59 B.C.- A.D. 17) is one of the main sources on the Roman Republic and the early, legendary period of Rome. It him 40 forty years to write his 142-book “History of Rome.”

Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.) wrote “Rome at the End of the Punic Wars.” he was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period noted for his work “The Histories,” which covered the period of 264–146 B.C., when the Roman Republic became dominant power in the ancient Mediterranean world. Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C.) wrote “War Commentaries”: 1) “The African Wars”, 2) “The Alexandrian Wars”, 3) “The Civil Wars”, 4) “The Gallic Wars”, 5) “The Spanish Wars”.

Much of what we know about the Holy Land around the time of Jesus is based on accounts by Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100), the pro-Roman Jewish governor of Galilee, in his books The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities . Josephus was born to an upper-class Jewish family. He became the governor of Galilee at the age of 31 in A.D. 68 and later led a Jewish liberation army against Rome. When he was Rome, he was spared when he told the Roman general Vespasian that he was a Jewish messiah and a future emperor of Rome. When Vespasian did in fact become emperor, Josephesus was give a generous pension and comfortable apartment. He spent the rest of his life writing books that attempted to explain whey the Jews revolted. Josephus (A.D. 37- after 93): Complete Works: includes Antiquities of the Jews, The Jewish War and Against Apion.

Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120) wrote “Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans,” commonly called “Parallel Lives” or “Plutarch's Lives.” The work is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in Greek and Roman pairs to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century A.D. The most widely circulated versions were translated by John Dryden (1730-1700). Among the history figures included are Aemilius Paulus, Agesilaus, Agis, Alcibiades, Alexander, Antony, Aratus, Aristides, Artaxerxes, Caesar, Caius Gracchus, Caius Marius, Camillus, Cato the Younger, Cicero, Cimon, Cleomenes, Coriolanus, Crassus, Demetrius, Demosthenes, Dion, Eumenes, Fabius, Flamininus, Galba, Lucullus, Lycurgus, Lysander, Marcellus, Marcus Brutus, Marcus Cato, Nicias, Numa Pompilius, Otho, Pelopidas, Pericles, Philopoemen, Phocion, Pompey, Poplicola, Pyrrhus, Romulus, Sertorius, Solon, Sylla, Themistocles, Theseus, Tiberius Gracchus, Timoleon.

Comparisons in Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans”: The Comparison of Alcibiades with Coriolanus, The Comparison of Crassus with Nicias, The Comparison of Demetrius and Antony, The Comparison of Demosthenes and Cicero, The Comparison of Dion and Brutus, The Comparison of Fabius with Pericles, The Comparison of Lucullus with Cimon, The Comparison of Lysander with Sylla, The Comparison of Numa with Lycurgus, The Comparison of Pelopidas with Marcellus, The Comparison of Philopoemen with Flamininus, The Comparison of Pompey with Agesilaus, The Comparison of Poplicola with Solon, The Comparison of Romulus with Theseus, The Comparison of Sertorius with Eumenes, The Comparison of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus with Agis and Cleomenes, The Comparison of Timoleon with Aemilius Paulus,. Suetonius (c. A.D. 69-after 122): “De Vita Caesarum: Julius” (Life of Julius Caesar”), “De Vita Caesarum: Augustus” (“Life of Augustus”), “De Vita Caesarum: Tiberius”, “De Vita Caesarum: Caius Caligula”, “De Vita Caesarum: Claudius” (“Life of Claudius”), “De Vita Caesarum: Nero”, “De Vita Caesarum: Galba”, “De Vita Caesarum: Otho”, “De Vita Caesarum: Vitellius”, “De Vita Caesarum: Vespasian”, “De Vita Caesarum: Titus”, “De Vita Caesarum: Domitian”, “De Viris Illustris”.

Suetonius was a Roman historian and biographer. He served briefly as secretary to Emperor Hadrian (some say he lost his position because he became too close to the emperor's wife.) His position gave him access to privileged imperial documents, correspondence and diaries upon which he based his accounts. For this reason, his descriptions are considered credible. [Source:]


Tacitus was born in the year 56 or 57 probably in Rome. He was in Rome during the great fire. During his lifetime he wrote a number of histories chronicling the reigns of the early emperors. His final — and arguably greatest — work “Annals” was written around A.D. 116. Tacitus: (A.D. b.56/57-after 117) wrote: “Annals,” “Histories ,” “The Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola” (40-93 A.D.), translated by J. Church and W. J. Brodribb; “Germania”. translated by J. Church and W. J. Brodribb and by Thomas Gordon.

J. Vanderspoel of the University of Calgary wrote: “P. Cornelius Tacitus wrote his history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus (A.D. 14) to the death of Domitian (A.D. 96) during the reigns of Trajan (A.D. 98-117) and Hadrian (A.D. 117-138). This consists of two works, the Annals and the Histories; the first covers the period to the death of Nero (A.D. 68), the second from that point to the death of Domitian, but of each work only portions survive. Previously, after the accession of Nerva (A.D. 96-98), Tacitus had written three shorter works, the Agricola, the Germania, and the Dialogue on Orators. Born about A.D. 56 or 57, Tacitus was a member of the Senate, served Domitian in several capacities and was to serve Nerva and Trajan as well; he held the consulship in 97 and governed Asia some years later, probably 112/113. For the portions that survive, his works are the most detailed treatment of the early empire available from antiquity; he himself was able to use a variety of sources that are no longer extant, including the records of the Senate. [Source: J. Vanderspoel, Department of Greek, Latin and Ancient History, University of Calgary]

Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard told an interviewer that Tacitus's The Annals is the best work of history ever written. “Take the murder of Nero's mother," she said. “There is no better story than Nero's attempts to murder his mother with whom he is finally very pissed off! Nero the mad boy emperor decides that he is going to get rid of mum by a rather clever collapsible boat. He has her to dinner, waves her fondly farewell. The boat collapses. Sadly for Nero, his mum, Agrippina, is a very strong swimmer and she makes it to the land and back home. And she's clever, she knows boats don't just collapse like that — it was a completely calm night, so she works out Nero was out to get her. She knows things are going to end badly. Nero can't let her off, so he sends round the tough guys to murder her. Agrippina looks them in the eye and says, “Strike me in the belly with your sword." There are two things going on. One is: my son who came out of my belly is trying to murder me. But the other thing we know is that they were widely reputed to have had an incestuous relationship in the earlier days. So it's not just Nero the son murdering his mother, but Nero the lover murdering his discarded mistress. And if you read Robert Graves's I, Claudius, some of it comes directly from this.

When asked if it's better than a Hollywood plot, Beard said, “Yes but it's not just that. What he does is seduce you with an extraordinary tale. But, there is also a cynical, hard-hitting analysis of corruption. Reading Tacitus in Latin is like reading James Joyce. It's language which is really at the margins of comprehensibility as well as being very exciting. But, actually, he wants to talk about the corruption of autocracy. It's about one-man rule going bad."

Provinces of the Roman Empire

Roman History: Created by Roman Nobility, Ignoring the Masses

Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker: “Much of what we know about the Roman emperors is based on myth and misunderstanding. But even that much can’t be said for the vast majority of their subjects, whose way of life has left barely a trace in the historical record.As Robert Knapp points out in “Invisible Romans” (Harvard), “What survives was generally created by or for the rich and the powerful, and hides the actions and perspectives of any but their own class.” Almost everybody we read about in Roman history was a member of one of the three ruling orders—senators, equestrians or knights, and provincial aristocrats. Yet “the three orders amounted to no more than 100,000-200,000 people, less than half a percent of the empire’s population of 50-60 million.” [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012 ]

“In this passionately moral book, Knapp asks the same question as Occupy Wall Street: What about the ninety-nine per cent? What did they think about work, sex, religion, power, and death? “Invisible Romans” attempts to elicit a world view from the scraps of evidence that remain: popular dream-interpretation guides, inscriptions on gravestones, fragments of papyri, and, very often, the New Testament. Although the Gospels are from the Near East and were written in Greek, Knapp argues that “likenesses in attitudes and behavior” make it possible to generalize to the Empire at large. To him, the New Testament is “the single richest collection of literature written by what I call invisibles and expressing their outlook.”

“Wherever possible, Knapp tries to restore to these “invisibles” some of the dignity of agency, eliminating the bias of the sources, which see them merely as raw material to be shaped or wasted by their rulers. Roman women, for instance, were “always in the power, under the legal authority, of a male,” either a father or a husband. Deprived of legal power, they turned to magic. Amulets and spells, Knapp observes, were “a major weapon for women against the perils of their world,” and he quotes some surviving examples of love charms: “I will bind you, Nilos”; “You are going to love me, Capitolina . . . with a divine passion, and you will be for me in everything a follower, as long as I wish.”

Lost Classics and Roman Historical Works

John Seabrook wrote in The New Yorker: “One could dare hope for one or two of the lost histories of Livy, of whose hundred and forty-two books on the history of Rome only thirty-five survive. Or perhaps one of the nine volumes of verse written by Sappho, the Greek poet; only one complete poem remains. By some estimates, ninety-nine per cent of ancient Greek literature has been lost, and Latin has not fared much better. [Source: John Seabrook, The New Yorker , November 16, 2015 \=/]

“Among those works we know are missing are Aristotle’s second volume of the Poetics, which was on comedy; Gorgias’ philosophical work “On Non-Existence”; the four missing books of the Roman historian Tacitus’ Annals, covering Caligula’s reign and the beginning of Claudius’; Ovid’s version of “Medea”; and Suetonius on the Greek athletic games. (His “Lives of Famous Whores” also, sadly, has not survived.) Greek tragedy has been decimated. According to the Suda, the tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedia of classical culture, Euripides wrote as many as ninety-two plays; eighteen survive. \=/

“We have seven each from Aeschylus and Sophocles, who wrote about ninety and a hundred and twenty, respectively. “And that’s just the big three of tragedy,” the writer and classics professor Daniel Mendelsohn told me. “Of the thousand that were likely written and performed during the hundred-year heyday of tragedy, we have only thirty-three extant plays—that’s about a three-per-cent survival rate.” \=/

Edward Gibbons and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

On June 7, 1787, at the age of 50, Edward Gibbons wrote the last line of the final chapter of the sixth and last volume, of “ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” from his house at Lausanne, Switzerland. He started the work in 1772. It took him 24 years to complete.

In the third volume of “ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” Gibbon’s concluded "the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principal of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of the conquest; and, as soon as time or accident removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric-yielded to the pressure of its on weight. The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long."

In the end he said "after a diligent inquiry" there are "four principal causes of the ruin of Rome, which continued to operate in a period of more than a thousand years...I. The injuries of time and nature. II. The hostile attacks of the barbarians and Christians. III. The use and abuse of materials. And, IV. The domestic quarrels of the Romans."

Gibbons was independently wealthy, and had neither a wife nor children, which explains how he had the time and money to complete his monumental task. What made the work so revolutionary, other than its length, was the fact it focused on the tragic and humorous human aspects of history.

Roman Provinces

Chief Roman Provinces (with dates of their acquisition or organization): Total, 32. Many of the main provinces were subdivided into smaller provinces, each under a separate governor—making the total number of provincial governors more than one hundred. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

1) Western.
Spain (205-19 B.C.).
Gaul (France, 120-17 B.C.).
Britain (A.D. 43-84).
2) Central.
Rhaetia et Vindelicia (roughly Switzerland, northern Italy15 B.C.).
Noricum (Austria, Slovenia, 15 B.C.).
Pannonia (western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. A.D. 10).
3) Eastern.
Illyricum (northern Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and coastal Croatia, 167-59 B.C.).
Macedonia (northern Greece, modern Macedonia, 146 B.C.).
Achaia (western Greece, 146 B.C.).
Moesia (Central Serbia, Kosovo, northern modern Macedonia, northern Bulgaria and Romanian Dobrudja 20 B.C.).
Thrace (northeast Greece, A.D. 40).
Dacia (Romania, A.D. 107). \~\

Africa proper (Libya, former Carthage, 146 B.C.).
Cyrenaica and Crete (74, 63 B.C.).
Numidia (Algeria, small parts of Tunisia, Libya, 46 B.C.).
Egypt (30 B.C.).
Mauretania (western Algeria, Morocco, A.D. 42). \~\

1) In Asia Minor (Anatolia, modern Turkey)
Asia proper (western Turkey133 B.C.).
Bithynia et Pontus (northern Turkey, south of the Black Sea, 74, 65 B.C.).
Cilicia (southeast coast of Turkey, 67 B.C.).
Galatia (central Turkey, 25 B.C.).
Pamphylia et Lycia (southwest Turkey, 25, A.D. 43).
Cappadocia (eastern Turkey, A.D. 17).
2) In Southwestern Asia.
Syria (64 B.C.).
Judea (Israel, 63 - A.D. 70).
Arabia Petraea (A.D. 105).
Armenia (A.D. 114).
Mesopotamia (A.D. 115).
Assyria (A.D. 115). \~\

Sicily (241 B.C.).
Sardinia et Corsica (238 B.C.).
Cyprus (58 B.C.). \~\

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Roman culture living on in Byzantium

Rulers of the Roman Empire

Julio-Claudian Dynasty (27 B.C.–68 A.D.)
Augustus (27 B.C.–14 A.D.)
Tiberius (14–37 A.D.)
Gaius Germanicus (Caligula) (37–41 A.D.)
Claudius (41–54 A.D.)
Nero (54–68 A.D.)
Galba (68–69 A.D.)
Otho (69 A.D.)
Vitellius (69 A.D.)
[Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, List of Rulers of the Roman Empire", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Flavian Dynasty (69–96 A.D.)
Vespasian (69–79 A.D.)
Titus (79–81 A.D.)
Domitian (81–96 A.D.)

Five Good Emperors (96–180 A.D.)
Nerva (96–98 A.D.)
Trajan (98–117 A.D.)
Hadrian (117–38 A.D.)
Antoninus Pius(5) (138–61 A.D.)
Marcus Aurelius (161–80 A.D.)

Antonine Dynasty (138–93 A.D.)
Antoninus Pius (138–61 A.D.)
Marcus Aurelius (with Lucius Verus6, 161–69 A.D.) (161–80 A.D.)
Commodus (with Marcus Aurelius, 177–80) (177–92 A.D.)
Pertinax (193 A.D.)
Didius Julianus (193 A.D.)
Pescennius Niger (194 A.D.)

Severan Dynasty 9193–235 A.D.)
Septimius (193–211 A.D.)
Caracalla (with Geta, 211–12 A.D.) (211–17 A.D.)
Macrinus (217–18 A.D.)
Diadumenianus (218 A.D.)
Elagabalus (218–22 A.D.)
Alexander Severus (222–35 A.D.)

Soldier Emperors (235–284 A.D.)
Maximinus I (235–38 A.D.)
Gordian I and II (in Africa) (238 A.D.)
Balbinus and Pupienus (in Italy) (238 A.D.)
Gordian III (238–44 A.D.)
Philip the Arab (244–49 A.D.)
Trajan Decius (249–51 A.D.)
Trebonianus Gallus (with Volusian) (251–53 A.D.)
Aemilianus (253 A.D.)
Gallienus (with Valerian, 253–60 A.D.) (253–68 A.D.)
Gallic Empire (West)
Follows the death of Valerian)
Postumus (260–69 A.D.)
Laelian (268 A.D.)
Marius (268 A.D.)
Victorinus (268–70 A.D.)
Domitianus (271 A.D.)
Tetricus I and II (270–74 A.D.)
Palmyrene Empire)
Odenathus (c. 250–67 A.D.)
Vaballathus (with Zenobia) (267–72 A.D.)
The Soldier Emperors (continued))
Claudius II Gothicus (268–70 A.D.)
Quintillus (270 A.D.)
Aurelian (270–75 A.D.)
Tacitus (275–76 A.D.)
Florianus (276 A.D.)
Probus (276–82 A.D.)
Carus (282–83 A.D.)
Carinus (283–84 A.D.)
Numerianus (283–84 A.D.)

Diocletian (and Tetrarchy) (284–305 A.D.)
Western Roman Empire
Maximianus (287–305 A.D.)
Constantius I (305–6 A.D.)
Severus II (306–7 A.D.)
Constantine I )(307–37 A.D.
Eastern Roman Empire
Diocletian (284–305 A.D.)
Galerius (305–11 A.D.)
Maxentius (Italy) (306–12 A.D.)
Maximinus Daia (309–13 A.D.)
Licinius (308–24 A.D.)

Constantine Dynasty (337–63 A.D.)
empire reunited by Constantine's defeat of Licinius
Constantine II (337–40 A.D.)
Constans (337–50 A.D.)
Constantius II (337–61 A.D.)
Magnentius (350–53 A.D.)
Julian (361–63 A.D.)
Jovian (363–64 A.D.)
Western Roman Empire (after death of Jovian))
Valentinian (364–75 A.D.)
Gratian (375–83 A.D.)
Valentinian II (375–92 A.D.)
Eugenius (392–94 A.D.)
Honorius (395–423 A.D.)
Constantinius III (421 A.D.)
John (423–25 A.D.)
Valentinian III (425–55 A.D.)
Petronius Maximus (455 A.D.)
Avitus (455–56 A.D.)
Majorian (457–461 A.D.)
Severus III (461–65 A.D.)
Anthemius (467–72 A.D.)
Olybrius (472 A.D.)
Glycerius (473–74 A.D.)
Julius Nepos (474–75 A.D.)
Romulus Augustulus (475–76 A.D.)
Eastern Roman Empire (after death of Jovian))
Valens (364–78 A.D.)
Theodosius I (379–95 A.D.)
Arcadius (395–408 A.D.)
Theodosius II (408–50 A.D.)
Marcian (450–57 A.D.)
Leo (457–74 A.D.)
Zeno (474–91 A.D.)
Anastasius (491–518 A.D.)

Legacy of the Roman Empire

The most important contribution of Rome was perhaps that in taught the world how to organize itself properly. Unlike Greece which taught use how to reason, ponder and create, Rome gave us universal laws, a regular army, infrastructure, and bureaucracy. Most of cultures that were under Roman control, such as the Britons, learned little about plumbing, tools or practical architecture from the Romans.

The foundation of Western civilization is based on Roman culture and leadership. Rome's enduring legacy is reflected in modern architecture, politics, urban planning, legal codes, government, medicine, sports, arts, engineering, literature, languages, our alphabet and numbers, currency and political institutions. Two months are named after Roman emperors — July after Julius Caesar and August after Augustus. The modern year of 365¼ days was introduced by Caesar.

The Romans were intent on being remembered. We know more about them than any other ancient civilization because they left behind a vast amount of literary and historical works. Much of what we know about Greece, the Greeks and Greek art is based on Roman accounts. Princeton classical scholar Frank Bourne used to tell his students, "In the age of Pax Americana , there's no more important lesson we can teach young Americans than the rise and the decline of Pax Romana ." He used to end his course with the words De Nobis fabula narratur ("Their story is our story").

Dr Peter Heather of Oxford University wrote for the BBC: For many scholars and “commentators, the fall of Rome marked the death knell of education and literacy, sophisticated architecture, advanced economic interaction, and, not least, the rule of written law. The 'dark ages' which followed were dark not only because written sources were few and far between, but because life became nasty, brutish and short. Other commentators, who were more focused on the slavery and entrenched social hierarchies that were also part of the Roman world, didn't really disagree with these observations. But they saw the 'dark ages' as a more necessary evil - Rome had to fall to destroy large-scale slavery and make possible, eventually, a world which valued all human beings more equally. [Source: Dr Peter Heather, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“These revisionist arguments have some real substance. There really was little change at one deep level - the life of the peasant producers who made up perhaps 90% of the population. I am still staggered by feats of Roman engineering, blown away by the beauty of some the buildings Romans lived in, and delighted by the sophistication of the empire's literary and political culture. But these cultural glories were limited to a tiny privileged elite - those who owned enough land to count as gentry landowners. They represented maybe 3% of the whole population. Its structures were probably unspeakable vile to pretty much everyone else. As late as 383 AD, captive barbarians were being fed to wild animals in the Colosseum, and its criminal law dealt ruthlessly with anyone seeking to remedy the highly unequal distribution of property. In 650 AD, as in 350 AD, peasants were still labouring away in the much the same way to feed themselves and to produce the surplus which funded everything else.”

Did Rome Really Rise and Fall as Was Claimed?

Dr Peter Heather wrote for the BBC: “The 1960swere famously a time when all established certainties were challenged, and this applied to ancient history. The eastern half of the Roman empire not only survived the collapse of its western partner in the third quarter of the fifth century, but went on to thrive in the sixth. Under Justinian I (527 - 565 AD), it was still constructing hugely impressive public monuments, such as the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and had reconquered Italy, North Africa, and parts of Spain. At the same time, there still lived in the west many individuals, who continued to describe themselves as Romans, and many of the successor states, it was correctly pointed out, were still operating using recognisably Roman institutions and justifying themselves ideologically with reference to canonical Roman values. [Source: Dr Peter Heather, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Consequently, by the late 1990s the word 'transformation' had come into vogue. No one denied that many things changed between 350 and 600 AD, but it became fashionable to see these changes as much more the result of long-term evolution than of a violent imperial collapse. These revisionist arguments have some real substance. There really was little change at one deep level - the life of the peasant producers who made up perhaps 90% of the population.

“I am still staggered by feats of Roman engineering, blown away by the beauty of some the buildings Romans lived in, and delighted by the sophistication of the empire's literary and political culture. But these cultural glories were limited to a tiny privileged elite - those who owned enough land to count as gentry landowners. They represented maybe 3% of the whole population. Its structures were probably unspeakable vile to pretty much everyone else. As late as 383 AD, captive barbarians were being fed to wild animals in the Colosseum, and its criminal law dealt ruthlessly with anyone seeking to remedy the highly unequal distribution of property. |In 650 AD, as in 350 AD, peasants were still labouring away in the much the same way to feed themselves and to produce the surplus which funded everything else.” |::|

Romans and Popular Culture

“Ben Hur” (1959) is regarded as one of the greatest spectacles of all time. It won 11 Academy Awards and saved MGM from bankruptcy. It is based on a novel by Gen. Lew Wallace. The first version of the film, made in 1907 and only 15 minutes long, was one of the most expensive silent movie ever made. “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” (1925) – silent film directed by Fred Niblo and starring Ramon Novarro, is noteworthy for its color segments and for the female nudity in the parade sequence. “Ben-Hur” (2016), directed by Timur Bekmambetov, was an expensive flop.

Other famous Roman-themed films have included “Gladiator” (2000), directed by Ridely Scott, with and “Spartacus” (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrik with Kirk Douglas as Spartacus. “Julius Caesar” (1953) –deals with the assassination of Julius Caesar and the Liberators' civil war, with Marlon Brando as Mark Antony and John Gielgud as Gaius Cassius “The Robe” (1953) – based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas — features Richard Burton as Marcellus and Jean Simmons as Diana.. “Caligula” (1979) was produced by Penthouse magazine, with Malcolm McDowell as Caligula. The 1959 version of “The Last Days of Pompeii” was directed Mario Bonnard & Sergio Leone of spaghetti Western fame. “Fellini Satyricon” (1969) was fantasy drama loosely based on Petronius's work and directed Federico Fellini. “I, Claudius’ was a well-received BBC TV series (1976), with Derek Jacobi as Claudius, based on Robert Graves's novels “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God.”

The Inquiry (2006) boasts Max von Sydow as Tiberius. Quo Vadis (1951) featured Peter Ustinov as Nero. Titus (1999) has Anthony Hopkins in the leading role. “Attila” (1954) featured Anthony Quinn as Attila the Hun and Sophia Loren as Justa Grata Honoria. “Sign of the Pagan” (1954) – with Jack Palance as Attila the Hun. And there are the Cleopatra movies. Cecil B. DeMille’s “Cleopatra (1934)” starred Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra. “Caesar and Cleopatra” (1945), based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, featured Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra and Claude Rains as Julius Caesar. Cleopatra (1963) featured Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Richard Burton as Mark Antony and Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz it included the Battle of Actium and the Final War of the Roman Republic but is regarded as one of the most expensive, box-office busts of all time.

On “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” a 13-part series shown in 2010 on cable channel Starz, Charles McGrath wrote in the New York Times, “Overtaxed, militarily overextended and with an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots, the Romans, we learn, were a lot like us, but for entertainment purposes they had some signal advantages: They were more violent, they wore skimpier clothes and they had orgies. “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” a retelling of the history of the famous slave and his rebellion, does not neglect any of these traits. It features abundant nudity, both male and female. (“In the early days we had a lot of conversations about how many penises we could show in a single episode,” Rob Tapert, one of the producers, recalled recently.) There is a great deal of simulated sex, of both the gay and straight variety. And the subtitle is not false advertising: the characters do not merely bleed; they spray great fountains and gouts, arterial geysers, that splash up on the inside of your TV screen or else hang in midair like red Rorschach blots. Mr. Tapert and his co-producer, Sam Raimi (better known as the director of the “Spider-Man” films), got their start with the “Evil Dead” horror-movie franchise, and the new show at times suggests their early experiments with high-pressure circulatory systems. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Mr. Tapert admitted. [Source: Charles McGrath, New York Times, January 15, 2010]

Book: “Pompeii” by Robert Harris (Random House, 2003) is a historical novel with a Chinatown-like plot that begins in 79 B.C. two days before the eruption of Vesuvius. The central character is a hydraulic engineer who sets out to discover what is happening to the missing water from the aqueduct he helped build to Pompeii. It is an entertaining and informative read. There has been some discussion about Roman Polanski directing a film version of the book. The film’s proposed $200 million budget would make it the most expensive movie ever filmed in Europe.

Rome: the HBO-BBC Miniseries

“Rome” was a critically-acclaimed 22-episode television series that ran for two seasons on HBO and the BBC (2005–2007). The joint British-American-Italian production on Rome's transition from Republic to Empire was directed by Michael Apted. Newsweek described it as “seamy, grandiloquent and compulsively watchable...It’s “Upstairs, Downstairs” with swords and sandals...The witchy women are more or less equals of the swinish men, and whenever Julius Caesar and Octavian says he’s acting not for himself but for the empire, you are invited to roll your eyes.”

“Rome” is set during the 1st century B.C. before and after Caesar crossed the Rubicon, marking the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. It has its share of soft-core sex and exposed male genitals but lacks the big battle scenes that we have came to expect from such works. Among the characters are Cicero, Cleopatra and Marc Antony. The series reportedly cost over $100 million to make.

Jamie Frater wrote for Listverse: “HBO/BBC created an excellent series called “Rome” which covers a number of years of the Roman Empire. In the series they have, unfortunately, slandered the good name of one of the main Characters, Atia (Mother of Octavian – Augustus – and niece of Julius Caesar). In the show she is seen as a licentious, self-absorbed and manipulative schemer who is Mark Antony’s lover. In reality, Atia was a highly moral woman, well regarded by Roman Society at the time. Tacitus had this to say of her: “In her presence no base word could be uttered without grave offence, and no wrong deed done. Religiously and with the utmost delicacy she regulated not only the serious tasks of her youthful charges, but also their recreations and their games.” [Source: Jamie Frater, Listverse, May 5, 2008]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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