The legacy of the ancient Romans – from both the time of the Roman Republic (509-27 BCE) and the time of the Roman Empire (27 BCE - 476 CE) – exerted a significant influence on succeeding cultures and is still felt around the world in the present day. Roman inventions or innovations were so effective that they either continued in use or were later rediscovered to serve as models in virtually every aspect of human society from the mundane to the sublime. These aspects include but are not limited to:
- Technology and engineering
- Cultural transmission and adaptation
- Public servants
- Commerce and customer service
- Cuisine and fast-food
- Dog breeding, training, and collars
- Military & religious organization
- Language & leisure activities
At its height, c. 122 CE (under the reign of Hadrian, 117-138 CE), the Roman Empire stretched from Europe through North Africa, Asia Minor, and Mesopotamia and the Romans left their mark on the regions they had held long after the Western Empire had fallen. In some regions, such as Britain, the value of Rome's legacy was not immediately appreciated and was only realized later while in others, such as Greece and Italy, it was embraced earlier. After the Renaissance, in the 16th century CE, with the rediscovery of classical works, more nations recognized the value of Roman culture and came to adopt aspects of it in developing their own culture and traditions.
One of their most impressive contributions is in the separation of the government's branches – executive, legislative, judiciary – so that no one branch held exclusive power and each provided a check and balance to the others. The Romans had deposed their king in 509 BCE and wanted to protect their new form of government from the kind of tyranny they had endured under the monarchy. The executive branch of Rome during the Republic was the consuls, the legislative was the assemblies who made the laws and the Roman Senate which decreed them, and the judges were the judiciary. The people's assembly served to vote for the consuls in the same way common people vote for elected officials in the present day. During the Empire, the executive branch was the Roman emperor, the legislative was the assemblies/Senate, and the judiciary remained the judges. Although Athens, Greece is the birthplace of democracy, Rome was where that concept developed. This model of government and the concept of a democratic, representative republic would later be adopted by the United States of America.
The concept that everyone was subject to the law equally no matter their social class is also a Roman innovation.
The concept that everyone was subject to the law equally no matter their social class is also a Roman innovation as is trial by jury, civil rights, personal wills, and business corporations. The Twelve Tables addressed specifics of the law as well as penalties. The Twelve Tables were expanded under the reign of Justinian I (527-565 CE) into 50 books of law known as the Pandects but better known today as the Roman Digest which was lost with the fall of Rome and only discovered in the Middle Ages (c. 1070 CE) at which time it became the basis for the laws of Europe. The laws initiated by Rome, like the Roman government, also served as the model for the United States of America's founding fathers.
Technology & Engineering
Engineering, sciences, art, and architecture follow this same pattern and many of the commonplace items taken for granted today were either invented or developed by the Romans. The Roman road is the most famous example, but the Romans also made concrete – which most people think is a 19th-century CE development – which was fast-drying and much stronger than the concrete used in the present day. It was due to their exceptional concrete that they were able to produce their sturdy aqueducts and bridges as well as other structures. They also perfected the vault, the arch, and the dome in building projects. Roman roads, buildings, arches, and aqueducts still stand today over 2,000 years after they were built. Roman architecture was so impressive – both in how it functioned and how the buildings looked – that it was the model for later buildings throughout the world. In the United States, the Capitol building is based on the Roman Pantheon, and the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are both patterned after Roman architecture.
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Romans also enjoyed sports, games, and theater just as people do today and this necessitated the creation of a venue where such events could be held: the amphitheater. The concept of the amphitheater came from the Greeks but was fully developed by the Romans and people would fill the seats to see their favorite teams play or hear a popular poet or writer recite or watch the gladiatorial games.
Cultural Transmission & Adaptation
The Roman development of the amphitheater is an excellent example of one of Rome's most important policies: borrowing and improving on the concepts and inventions of other cultures, which they would absorb into their own. Sometimes they encountered a people they simply could not deal with – like the Picts of Scotland – and so they would build a wall (Hadrian's Wall and the later Antonine Wall) to separate their lands from the other people's. These walls – especially Hadrian's Wall – served more of a symbolic purpose than a practical one – they symbolized Rome's power – but they were not that effective (anyone who wants to cross a border will find a way over, under, or around a wall). Even so, they served the purpose of demonstrating Rome's military strength and dominance.
Usually, the Romans would conquer a region and then adapt the best aspects of those people for their own use while improving the conquered land through cultural transmission. The Romans recognized that the diversity of concepts could only strengthen their own culture and so they borrowed widely in many areas - including religion, engineering, art, architecture, literature, as well as the concept of the public servant.
Ancient Rome had many of the same public services as municipalities in the present day. The first fire brigade was formed under the general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus (l. c. 115-53 CE) whose motivation was far from altruistic. His firefighters would instantly respond to a burning house or building but could do nothing until Crassus negotiated with the owner. If the owner agreed to sell the property to Crassus for Crassus' price, the fire would be put out; if not, the building went up in flames. Emperor Nero (r. 54-68 CE) built on this idea – minus the extortion – to create his own fire brigade (the Vigiles) and the model was kept by his successors.
The Roman police force was instituted under Augustus Caesar (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE) and was known as the Cohortes Urbanae. They patrolled the city streets day and night (unlike the Vigiles who primarily operated at night when fires were more likely), kept order, enforced the law, and reported to a prefect who served the same purpose as a modern-day police chief. Rome also had its own sanitation department for managing the city's waste. The first sewers in Rome were built c. 750 BCE shortly after its founding and the great sewer system (the Cloaca Maxima) was constructed c. 600 BCE. The city's sanitation issues were managed by workers who cleaned latrines, picked up waste in the streets, and maintained the sewers.
Commerce & Customer Service
The Romans are also credited with the concept of “the customer is always right” which still informs customer service in the present day.
Governmental control of trade is another Roman innovation. Governments, theoretically at least, exercise control of trade to protect domestic interests and the quality of goods, and this concept was developed by the Romans. Goods were stamped with seals marking where they were made, the port they left from and arrived to, and – depending on the type of goods – their level of purity and weight. Merchants who dealt regularly in import-export frequently took out a loan in one port-city and paid it back in another, a practice which gave rise to the development of banks. If a customer was dissatisfied with a product they had purchased, Roman law mandated that they could return it for a refund or a replacement and the merchant had to honor that request. The Romans are therefore also credited with the concept of “the customer is always right” and the policies which still inform customer service in the present day.
Cuisine & Fast-Food
Rome developed or invented many of the most popular foods enjoyed by modern diners such as pasta dishes, pizza (in an early form), cheese dishes, fish, and especially, any meal accompanied by a sauce. The Romans were fond of sauces, especially one called garum, a fermented fish paste, eaten with almost anything. Roman cuisine is better known than that of many other cultures because so much of Roman daily life was preserved when the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.They also developed the concept of fast food through the establishment of thermopolia (“places where something hot is found”). A thermopolium was a simple restaurant, usually located on a street or in the marketplace, featuring a counter with jars of hot, prepared food in them. A customer would order at the counter, pay, scoop their food from a pot into a ceramic bowl, and go on their way. These bistros were popular with the lower classes because they offered a substantial meal for a low price and one could easily eat on-the-go; the upper class looked down on the thermopolia precisely because it was associated with the lower classes.
Dog Breeding, Training, & Collars
People of every class, however, admired dogs whether these were raised to guard a home or business, for hunting, racing, or as a pet. Dogs were quite popular among the Romans and the writer Columella (l. 4-70 CE), in fact, claims that a dog is the first purchase one should make after buying a home or establishing a business as it will serve to best protect one's interests. He also suggests keeping the dog's name simple (one or two syllables) so it will learn it easily and obey commands; advice dog trainers still give to owners in the present.
One of the most popular breeds was the Vertragus (ancestor of the modern Italian Greyhound) who was used primarily for racing and hunting because of its great speed and agility. Another popular breed was the Melitan, better known today as the Maltese, which slept on people's laps and so were known as lapdogs. Both of these breeds, whatever else their owners valued them for, were used as heaters to keep the owner warm. People, primarily women, kept the Melitan on their lap while Vertragus owners often slept with them, in winter especially.
All the breeds wore collars, which were developed from Greek models but grew more ornate in time. The Vertragus wore a light-weight leather collar with a metal ring on it through which a leather thong-leash (the lyam) would pass so the dog could be controlled on walks, hunts, or before a race. The Molossian (probable ancestor of the Neapolitan Mastiff) was trained for war and outfitted with its own protective armor including a spiked collar. Scholars disagree on whether the Molossian was used in combat but there is ample evidence they were used to guard camps, as messengers, and to track opponents just as dogs are used by military forces in the present day.
Military & Religious Organization
Although it was not the first professional standing army in the world (that honor belongs to the earlier Assyrian Empire), the Roman military was the most efficient and powerful of its time and the Romans developed many aspects of military life still in use today. Basic training was mandated in order to instill discipline as well as skill in battle and use of arms. The Roman legions were equalitarian in that a soldier of the lowest class could rise through the ranks to become an officer. The Roman army had a corps of engineers, logistics and support staff, ordnance corps, communications divisions, and skilled medical support staff. The medics were so effective, in fact, that a soldier serving in the army of ancient Rome had a better chance of surviving his wounds than any who served in the American Civil War between 1861-1865 CE.
Roman religious beliefs and rituals were also influential on the later development of Christianity. Constantine the Great (r. 306-337 CE) dictated the foundational Nicene Creed in 325 CE which was adopted by the Catholic Church and, in sometimes modified form, by later Protestant churches. The concepts of the priest serving the deity personally, of transformation-through-ritual, appointment of priests by a board (the collegia), a High Priest and lesser priests, recitation of a religious ritual in Latin, and the use of incense in a worship service were all Roman traditions adopted by the Church, naturally, since Christianity was first officially recognized and promoted by the Romans.
Language & Leisure Activities
The Romans spoke Latin and this language spread to regions conquered by Rome in the same way that Roman architecture and overall culture did. The Latin language is the basis for the Romance Languages of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian, and many Latin words or phrases remain in use today or form the basis for English words. “School”, for example, comes from the Latin schola and “Island” from the Latin insula. Latin informs 80% of English, in fact, either as a root-word or directly and many Latin phrases are familiar to English speakers such as carpe diem (seize the day), bona fide (in good faith), per diem (by the day), and vice versa (one position switched with another) as well as many more.
The language spread long after the fall of the empire through Roman literature. Great Latin writers such as Ovid, Virgil, Horace, Juvenal, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Quintilian, and many others preserved the language and culture which would influence the works of later writers and the development of later languages.
Rome also developed the apartment building – known as an insula because it was like an island of its own in a city – and the city block – also called an insula. These apartment buildings had owners and landlords, running water and sanitation, just like apartment buildings today. In the summers, without air conditioning, it could be quite hot in Roman apartments and the people would go to public parks to swim and sit in the shade, just as they do today. They also enjoyed playing and watching sports, attending the theater, boating, swimming, and outdoor concerts.
The above are only a few of the many instances of the legacy of the ancient Romans. The practice of throwing rice at weddings comes from the Roman ritual of the bride and groom throwing nuts and sweets toward their guests who would then throw them back and toward each other. The groom carrying the bride over the threshold of their new home is also a Roman innovation. The Romans invented advertising and the concept of the billboard to promote their wares and invented the trademark through the practice of artisans stamping their name and/or seal on their work as a symbol of authenticity and quality.
The enduring legacy of the Romans should really come as no surprise, as noted by scholar Brian K. Harvey:
Over the course of a millennium, the Romans expanded from their small village on the banks of the Tiber River to eventually become the dominant culture in the Mediterranean basin. Even more than fifteen hundred years after their collapse, the Romans continue to captivate the imagination. Great works such as Vergil's Aeneid and the Colosseum in Rome continue to inspire new generations with a desire to learn more about the Romans and their lost culture. (xi)
Harvey is correct in his observation on the continual interest in ancient Rome but not about the lost culture. Roman culture was continued and, even in the present day, affects the lives of people all over the world, whether they know it or not. The organization of towns and city-planning, Latin phrases used in legal decisions, bureaucracy, standardized currency, the calendar, the public swimming pool, public library, civic centers and plazas, all come from the Romans. It is actually very difficult to imagine the modern world as we know it without the legacy of ancient Rome.
The Complete Guide to Roman Numerals
Despite its heyday occurring nearly 2,000 years ago, the legacy of ancient Rome still looms large all around us: in government, law, language, architecture, religion, engineering and art for instance.
One such area where this is especially true is Roman numerals. Today this ancient arithmetic system remains prevalent in various aspects of society: on clock-faces, in chemistry formulae, at the beginning of books, in the names of popes (Pope Benedict XVI) and monarchs (Elizabeth II).
Knowing Roman numerals thus remains useful so here is your complete guide to Roman arithmetic.
Waterloo Station’s famous clock face is one of many that predominantly uses Roman numerals. Credit: David Martin / Commons.
Legacy of the Ancient Romans - History
The Romans were skilled and clever builders. In their architecture and engineering, they borrowed ideas from the Greeks and other peoples. But the Romans improved on these ideas in ways that future engineers and architects would imitate.
Architecture The Romans learned how to use the arch, the vault, and the dome to build huge structures. A vault is an arch used for a ceiling or to support a ceiling or roof. A dome is a vault in the shape of a half-circle that rests on a circular wall.
Roman baths and other public buildings often had great arched vaults. The Pantheon, a magnificent temple that still stands in Rome, is famous for its huge dome. The Romans used concrete to help them build much bigger arches than anyone had attempted before. Concrete is made by mixing broken stone with sand, cement, and water and allowing the mixture to harden. The Romans did not invent the material, but they were the first to make widespread use of it.
The Romans also invented a new kind of stadium. These large, open-air structures could seat thousands of spectators. The Romans used concrete to build tunnels into the famous stadium in Rome, the Colosseum. The tunnels made it easy for spectators to reach their seats. Modern football stadiums still use this feature.
The grand style of Roman buildings has inspired many architects through the centuries. Early medieval architects, for example, frequently imitated Roman designs, especially in building great churches and cathedrals. You can also see a Roman influence in the design of many modern churches, banks, and government buildings. A fine example is the Capitol building, the home of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C.
Another Roman innovation that has been widely copied is the triumphal arch. This is a huge monument built to celebrate great victories or achievements. A famous example is the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) in Paris, France. This monument celebrates the victories of the French emperor Napoleon in the early 1800s. Today, it is the national war memorial of France.
Engineering The Romans changed engineering as well as architecture. They were the greatest builders of roads, bridges, and aqueducts in the ancient world.
More than 50,000 miles of road connected Rome with the frontiers of the empire. The Romans built their roads with layers of stone, sand, and gravel. Their techniques set the standard of road building for 2,000 years. People in some parts of Europe still drive on highways built over old Roman roads.
The Romans also set a new standard for building aqueducts. They created a system of aqueducts for Rome that brought water from about 60 miles away to the homes of the city’s wealthiest citizens, as well as to its public baths and fountains. The Romans built aqueducts in other parts of the empire as well. The water system in Segovia, Spain, still uses part of an ancient Roman aqueduct. Roman arches from aqueducts can still be found in Europe, North Africa, and Southwest Asia.
The original Mediterranean population of Italy was completely altered by repeated superimpositions of peoples of Indo-European stock. The first Indo-European migrants, who belonged to the Italic tribes, moved across the eastern Alpine passes into the plain of the Po River about 1800 bce . Later they crossed the Apennines and eventually occupied the region of Latium, which included Rome. Before 1000 bce there followed related tribes, which later divided into various groups and gradually moved to central and southern Italy. In Tuscany they were repulsed by the Etruscans, who may have come originally from Anatolia. The next to arrive were Illyrians from the Balkans, who occupied Venetia and Apulia. At the beginning of the historical period, Greek colonists arrived in Italy, and after 400 bce the Celts, who settled in the plain of the Po.
The city of Rome, increasing gradually in power and influence, created through political rule and the spread of the Latin language something like a nation out of this abundance of nationalities. In this the Romans were favoured by their kinship with the other Italic tribes. The Roman and Italic elements in Italy, moreover, were reinforced in the beginning through the founding of colonies by Rome and by other towns in Latium. The Italic element in Roman towns decreased: a process—less racial than cultural—called the Romanization of the provinces. In the 3rd century bce , central and southern Italy were dotted with Roman colonies, and the system was to be extended to ever more distant regions up to imperial times. As its dominion spread throughout Italy and covered the entire Mediterranean basin, Rome received an influx of people of the most varied origins, including eventually vast numbers from Asia and Africa.
The building of an enormous empire was Rome’s greatest achievement. Held together by the military power of one city, in the 2nd century ce the Roman Empire extended throughout northern Africa and western Asia in Europe it covered all the Mediterranean countries, Spain, Gaul, and southern Britain. This vast region, united under a single authority and a single political and social organization, enjoyed a long period of peaceful development. In Asia, on a narrow front, it bordered the Parthian empire, but elsewhere beyond its perimeter there were only barbarians. Rome brought to the conquered parts of Europe the civilization the Greeks had begun, to which it added its own important contributions in the form of state organization, military institutions, and law. Within the framework of the empire and under the protection of its chain of fortifications, extending uninterrupted the entire length of its frontiers (marked in Europe by the Rhine and the Danube), there began the assimilation of varying types of culture to the Hellenistic-Roman pattern. The army principally, but also Roman administration, the social order, and economic factors, encouraged Romanization. Except around the eastern Mediterranean, where Greek remained dominant, Latin became everywhere the language of commerce and eventually almost the universal language.
The empire formed an interconnected area of free trade, which was afforded a thriving existence by the pax romana (“Roman peace”). Products of rural districts found a market throughout the whole empire, and the advanced technical skills of the central region of the Mediterranean spread outward into the provinces. The most decisive step toward Romanization was the extension of the city system into these provinces. Rural and tribal institutions were replaced by the civitas form of government, according to which the elected city authority shared in the administration of the surrounding country region and, as the old idea of the Greek city-state gained ground, a measure of local autonomy appeared. The Romanized upper classes of the provinces began supplying men to fill the higher offices of the state. Ever-larger numbers of people acquired the status of Roman citizens, until in 212 ce the emperor Caracalla bestowed it on all freeborn subjects. The institution of slavery, however, remained.
The enjoyment of equal rights by all Roman citizens did not last. The coercive measures by which alone the state could maintain itself divided the population anew into hereditary classes according to their work and the barbarians, mainly Germanic, who were admitted into the empire in greater numbers, remained in their own tribal associations either as subjects or as allies. The state created a perfected administrative apparatus, which exercised a strongly unifying effect throughout the empire, but local self-government became less and less effective under pressure from the central authority.
The decline of the late empire was accompanied by a stagnation of spiritual forces, a paralysis of creative power, and a retrograde development in the economy. Much of the empire’s work of civilization was lost in internal and external wars. Equally, barbarization began with the rise of unchecked pagan ways of life and the settlement of Germanic tribes long before the latter shattered the Western Empire and took possession of its parts. Though many features of Roman civilization disappeared, others survived in the customs of peoples in various parts of the empire. Moreover, something of the superstructure of the empire was taken over by the Germanic states, and much valuable literature was preserved in manuscript for later times.
It was under the Roman Empire that the Christian religion penetrated into Europe. By winning recognition as the religion of the state, it added a new basic factor of equality and unification to the imperial civilization and at the same time reintroduced Middle Eastern and Hellenistic elements into the West. Organized within the framework of the empire, the church became a complementary body upholding the state. Moreover, during the period of the decline of secular culture, Christianity and the church were the sole forces to arouse fresh creative strength by assimilating the civilization of the ancient world and transmitting it to the Middle Ages. At the same time, the church in the West showed reserve toward the speculative dogma of the Middle Eastern and Hellenic worlds and directed its attention more toward questions of morality and order. When the Western Empire collapsed and the use of Greek had died there, the division between East and West became still sharper. The name Romaioi remained attached to the Greeks of the Eastern Empire, while in the West the word Roman developed a new meaning in connection with the church and the bishop of Rome. Christianity and a church of a Roman character, the most enduring legacy of the ancient world, became one of the most important features in western European civilization.
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- *Includes pictures *Includes ancient accounts *Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading Possibly the most important man of antiquity, and even all of history, was Julius Caesar. Alexander Hamilton, the famous American patriot, once remarked that "the greatest man who ever lived was Julius Caesar." Such a tribute, coming from one of the Founding Fathers of the quintessential modern democracy in reference to a man who destroyed the Roman Republic, is testament to the enduring mark that Caesar left upon the world. The ultimate conqueror, statesman, dictator, visionary, and opportunist, during his time in power Caesar expanded the borders of Rome to almost twice their previous size, revolutionized the infrastructure of the Roman state, and destroyed the Roman Republic for good, leaving a line of emperors in its place. His legacy is so strong that his name has become, in many languages, synonymous with power: the Emperors of Austria and Germany bore the title Kaiser, and the Czars of Russia also owe the etymology of their title to Caesar. His name also crept further eastward out of Europe, even cropping up in Hindi and Urdu, where the term for "Emperor" is Kaisar. Even in his time, Caesar was in many ways larger than life, and because of his legacy as virtual founder of the Roman Empire, much of what was written about - and by - him during his life and immediately after his assassination was politically motivated. His successor, Octavian Augustus, had a strong interest in ensuring that Caesar's life be painted in a favorable light, while Caesar's political enemies attempted to paint him as a corrupt, undemocratic dictator who was destroying the old order of the Republic. This makes it exceedingly difficult to separate historical fact from apocryphal interjection, as the writings of Cicero (a rival of Caesar's) and the later biographies of Suetonius and Plutarch can be misleading. Nonetheless, along with Caesar's De Bello Gallico, his famous notes on his campaign against the Gauls, they remain our chief sources for Caesar's life - a life everyone agreed was nothing short of remarkable and changed the course of history forever. As Roman leaders vied with each other for power and constantly fought civil wars, Rome's famous roads fall into disrepair, the economy was crippled, the continent-wide trade system that had flourished in the previous years was replaced with a basic barter system, and there was a reduction in international trade. People became ever more fearful for their personal safety, and the Imperial Crisis saw an increasing trend toward sacrificing personal liberties and rights in return for guarantees of safety from wealthy landowners. All of this foreshadowed the emergence of the European feudal system and serfdom. These were obviously turbulent times, and given the volatility, many historians have debated how the Roman Empire managed to survive in any form at all, let alone remain robust enough to allow Diocletian and his successors to restore it. Given the many people involved, and the relatively short era in which everything transpired, Rome's Imperial Crisis has been difficult for historians to summarize, which is why, despite being one of the most intriguing periods in Roman history, it is often overlooked by people who have chosen to focus on the more cohesive periods before and after it. The Roman Empire: The History and Legacy of the Ancient World's Most Famous Empire from Julius Caesar to Its Collapse examines the history of Rome after the fall of the Republic. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about the empire like never before.
The History of Roman Numerals
The history of Roman numerals began back in the 8th to 9th century BC, approximately the same time as the founding of ancient Rome around Palantine Hill. The number system prevailed longer than the empire itself, remaining in common use until the 14th century when they were superseded by the Arabic system, which was introduced to Europe in the 11th century .
The Roman numeral system was descended from ancient Etruscan numerals, itself adapted from the Greek Attic symbols.
The system was somewhat flawed in that there was no symbol for zero (0) and no real method for counting above several thousand other than adding lines around numerals to indicate multiples.
Notwithstanding, it did not prevent ancient Rome’s intellectuals and architects from building a great empire. Considerable mathematical skills were required to run a complex society and economy, and also to build vast monuments like the Colosseum and Constantine’s Arch.
How did Roman Numerals Take their Form?
There are several theories as to how the ancient Etruscan and Roman numerals were designed the way they were. One leading theory was that they derived from the tally sticks used by shepherds to count their cattle. The shepherds used to cut notches in their sticks, thus I became a single unit, every fifth (Λ or V) was a double-cut, and every tenth (X) a cross-cut.
The other main theory was that they were references to hand signals, with I, II, III, IIII corresponding to single fingers V was demonstrated with the thumb out and fingers together. The numbers 6 to 9 were represented by using a V with one hand and I, II, III or IIII with the other hand, while 10 (X) was represented by crossing the thumbs.
Legacy of Roman Numerals
Not yet confined to sundials, roman numerals are still commonplace on watch and clock faces, book chapter headings, numbered points in print and on digital word-processing applications, film titles and many other places where a sense of classicism or style is required. Roman numeric characters are also used in many specialist subjects including pharmaceuticals, music theory, seismology, theology and photography.
Of the Indo-European tribes of European origin, the Greeks were foremost as regards both the period at which they developed an advanced culture and their importance in further evolution. The Greeks emerged in the course of the 2nd millennium bce through the superimposition of a branch of the Indo-Europeans on the population of the Mediterranean region during the great migrations of nations that started in the region of the lower Danube. From 1800 bce onward the first early Greeks reached their later areas of settlement between the Ionian and the Aegean seas. The fusion of these earliest Greek-speaking people with their predecessors produced the civilization known as Mycenaean. They penetrated to the sea into the Aegean region and via Crete (approximately 1400 bce ) reached Rhodes and even Cyprus and the shores of Anatolia. From 1200 bce onward the Dorians followed from Epirus. They occupied principally parts of the Peloponnese (Sparta and Argolis) and also Crete. Their migration was followed by the Dark Ages—two centuries of chaotic movements of tribes in Greece—at the end of which (c. 900 bce ) the distribution of the Greek mainland among the various tribes was on the whole completed.
From about 800 bce there was a further Greek expansion through the founding of colonies overseas. The coasts and islands of Anatolia were occupied from south to north by the Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians, respectively. In addition, individual colonies were strung out around the shores of the Black Sea in the north and across the eastern Mediterranean to Naukratis on the Nile delta and in Cyrenaica and also in the western Mediterranean in Sicily, lower Italy, and Massalia (Marseille). Thus, the Hellenes, as they called themselves thereafter, came into contact on all sides with the old, advanced cultures of the Middle East and transmitted many features of these cultures to western Europe. This, along with the Greeks’ own achievements, laid the foundations of European civilization.
The position and nature of the country exercised a decisive influence in the evolution of Greek civilization. The proximity of the sea tempted the Greeks to range far and wide exploring it, but the fact of their living on islands or on peninsulas or in valleys separated by mountains on the mainland confined the formation of states to small areas not easily accessible from other parts. This fateful individualism in political development was also a reflection of the Hellenic temperament. Though it prevented Greece from becoming a single unified nation that could rival the strength of the Middle Eastern monarchies, it led to the evolution of the city-state. This was not merely a complex social and economic structure and a centre for crafts and for trade with distant regions above all it was a tightly knit, self-governing political and religious community whose citizens were prepared to make any sacrifice to maintain their freedom. Colonies, too, started from individual cities and took the form of independent city-states. Fusions of power occurred in the shape of leagues of cities, such as the Peloponnesian League, the Delian League, and the Boeotian League. The efficacy of these leagues depended chiefly upon the hegemony of a leading city (Sparta, Athens, or Thebes), but the desire for self-determination of the others could never be permanently suppressed, and the leagues broke up again and again.
The Hellenes, however, always felt themselves to be one people. They were conscious of a common character and a common language, and they practiced only one religion. Furthermore, the great athletic contests and artistic competitions had a continually renewed unifying effect. The Hellenes possessed a keen intellect, capable of abstraction, and at the same time a supple imagination. They developed, in the form of the belief in the unity of body and soul, a serene, sensuous conception of the world. Their gods were connected only loosely by a theogony that took shape gradually in the Greek religion there was neither revelation nor dogma to oppose the spirit of inquiry.
The Hellenes benefited greatly from the knowledge and achievement of other countries as regards astronomy, chronology, and mathematics, but it was through their own native abilities that they made their greatest achievements, in becoming the founders of European philosophy and science. Their achievement in representative art and in architecture was no less fundamental. Their striving for an ideal, naturalistic rendering found its fulfillment in the representation of the human body in sculpture in the round. Another considerable achievement was the development of the pillared temple to a greater degree of harmony. In poetry the genius of the Hellenes created both form and content, which have remained a constant source of inspiration in European literature.
The strong political sense of the Greeks produced a variety of systems of government from which their theory of political science abstracted types of constitution that are still in use. On the whole, political development in Greece followed a pattern: first the rule of kings, found as early as the period of Mycenaean civilization then a feudal period, the oligarchy of noble landowners and, finally, varying degrees of democracy. Frequently there were periods when individuals seized power in the cities and ruled as tyrants. The tendency for ever-wider sections of the community to participate in the life of the state brought into being the free democratic citizens, but the institution of slavery, upon which Greek society and the Greek economy rested, was untouched by this.
In spite of continual internal disputes, the Greeks succeeded in warding off the threat of Asian despotism. The advance of the Persians into Europe failed (490 and 480–79 bce ) because of the resistance of the Greeks and in particular of the Athenians. The 5th century bce saw the highest development of Greek civilization. The Classical period of Athens and its great accomplishments left a lasting impression, but the political cleavages, particularly the struggle between Athens and Sparta, increasingly reduced the political strength of the Greeks. Not until they were conquered by the Macedonians did the Greeks attain a new importance as the cultural leaven of the Hellenistic empires of Alexander the Great and his successors. A new system of colonization spread as far as the Indus city-communities fashioned after the Greek prototype, and Greek education and language came to be of consequence in the world at large.
Greece again asserted its independence through the formation of the Achaean League, which was finally defeated by the Romans in 146 bce . The spirit of Greek civilization subsequently exercised a great influence upon Rome. Greek culture became one of the principal components of Roman imperial culture and together with it spread throughout Europe. When Christian teaching appeared in the Middle East, the Greek world of ideas exercised a decisive influence upon its spiritual evolution. From the time of the partition of the Roman Empire, leadership in the Eastern Empire fell to the Greeks. Their language became the language of the state, and its usage spread to the Balkans. The Byzantine Empire, of which Greece was the core, protected Europe against potential invaders from Anatolia until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. (The main treatment of the Byzantine Empire from about 330 to about 1453 is given in the article Byzantine Empire.)
Britain after Rome
However, in Britain, the experience is very different. From the later 4th, into the early 5th centuries the East Coast was been increasingly predated by Germanic Raiders the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes from popular legend.
Therefore, a lot of the elites who could afford to leave actually did leave and a lot of them left for the west of Britain.
Lots of them also left for the Armorican Peninsula, which became known as Brittany because of the British settlers there.
So there wasn’t much of Roman society structure left for anybody coming in to actually take over, especially on the east coast.
More importantly, the Germans who came over and then stayed, the Germanic Raiders, weren’t Goths or Germans from immediately around the Rhine or Danube. They were from the very far north of Germany: Frisia, Saxony, the Jutland Peninsula, Southern Scandinavia, so far north that they didn’t really know the Roman ways.
So they arrived and found nothing or little to take over. Even if there had been Roman societal structures for them to take over, they didn’t know how to do it.
In What the Romans Did for Us, Adam Hart-Davis explores how these resourceful and inventive people left their mark on this country. A great way to understand everyday life in Roman Britain is to visit the remains of Verulamium at St Albans, Hertfordshire. Verulamium was a thriving Roman provincial town for almost 400 years and significant parts of its fabric have been preserved, including mosaics, an underfloor heating system and a theatre. Visit The Verulamium Museum.
The Romans withdrew from Britain early in the 5th century, as their empire began to crumble. In their place came the Anglo-Saxons, settlers from the German regions of Angeln and Saxony. They quickly set about dividing the country into kingdoms and removing traces of Roman influence. They replaced Roman stone buildings with their own wooden structures and introduced their own language, which evolved eventually into English.
A slave society
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.
. slavery required the systematic use of physical punishment, judicial torture and spectacular execution.
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.
Roman society was acutely aware of its own paradoxes.
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.
How the Romans Influenced Modern Education
Education was something that was highly valued in Roman culture. This emphasis on education is what helped to establish them as a society that’s still leaving its mark. Here are just a few of the ways that the Roman education system left its undeniable mark on in the modern education system.
Gradual Learning Process –
The idea of learning everything in a gradual manner was something that the Romans changed for education. It can still be seen today in how each class will build off of the basics of the previous class. This was a revolutionary concept because it was based on comprehensive learning instead of the memorization principles of other cultures. The Romans implemented principles of building up knowledge through application in both their military and political training systems that are still used today.
Employment of Professional Teachers –
Schools are a very Roman concept and changed how people have been educated in the past. Formal education was the privilege of the rich Romans (almost like a status symbol), while the masses tended to ‘learn’ through their vocations and apprenticeships. Often, many apprentices would learn and work in a room that was just another area of the shop. The idea of group apprenticeships was to aid in education and meaningful job training for the masses. A group learning environment was found to be more conducive to the development of well-rounded citizens for the Roman Empire. Group learning in schools gives everyone the benefit of learning from someone who knows the best way to go about teaching them, not just the rich.
Alternative Learning Environments –
As useful as schools are, the Romans also understood the principle of diverse learning styles. Alternative learning environments is another way that the Romans reformed the educational system. This gave their people the chance to gain education even when they didn’t have time or money for the traditional classroom environment, often through hands-on military training. The Roman Military, in some ways, set the stage for modern military academies and educational systems. Modern alternative learning environments like online classrooms have their roots in the on-the-job training and apprenticeships that the Romans were able to provide their population to give them the required job skills to be productive members of society.
Multidisciplinary Focuses –
The Romans believed that education should be more inclusive of all of the aspects of learning (at least for those who could afford to study in schools). This was something that was different than in previous cultures. It can still be seen in the fact that you need to take different kinds of classes in order to obtain your degree. Science, math, literature, and social studies are just a few of the multidisciplinary areas that you’ll study in your own educational pursuits. Furthermore, more than one of such fields/areas were needed for infrastructural projects, with a pertinent example relating to the building of roads. Simply put, the construction of Roman roads needed experts from the interdisciplinary fields like surveying, building material science, and logistics.
In essence, the Roman culture is something that can still be seen as affection modern learning, from military, to political, to scientific, to general education. Understanding the way many things we see as modern concepts have their roots in the ancient world helps us better see history as one connected whole.