8: Rome


The Roman Empire (100 CE)
A larger map of Rome is here

  • To explain the importance of Roman civilization
  • To identify the major contributions of the Etruscans to the development of Roman civilization
  • To outline the most important events in the three major periods of Roman history: Republic, Imperial, and the decline
  • Examine major works of art from the three major periods of Roman history
  • Know and understand the significance of the Pantheon, the arch, the Aeneid, and notable contributions associated with Rome.
  • Know the contributions of Augustus, Hadrian, Juvenal, and Cicero.
  • Know the terms monotheistic, polytheistic, and henotheistic.

Key Terms

Roman Republic
Punic Wars
Roman Empire
Julius Caesar
Augustus Caesar
The Aeneid
Roman Arches
The Villa of Mysteries
The Fall of Rome

The Aeneid

Young Romulus will take the leadership, build walls of Mars, and call by his own name his people Romans. For these I set no limits, world or time, but make the gift of empire without end.

Virgil | The Aeneid

I. Historical Context

  • A. The Early Monarchy (Etruscan Stage) 753-510 BCE
    • The Latins: local ethnic group of farmers and herdsmen
    • The Etruscan occupation: 616-510 BCE
      • built up urban centers for social/leisure activities
      • traded with other civilizations and expanded their empire
      • During this period, the Latins become known as Romans
    • Ethnic Romans overthrow Etruscan power base in 510 BCE
  • B. The Roman Republic | 509-31 BCE
    • Rome is ruled as a democracy (Senators, etc.)
    • See more below under Politics

  • C. Imperial Rome | 31 BCE - 476 CE
    • 476: the year of the final Roman Emperor
    • See more below under Politics

II. Politics

  • A. The Roman Republic | 509-31 BCE
    • The Romans develop a new form of government (the Republic) after the Etruscans leave
      • Two Basic Social Strata
        • Patricians (Aristocrats)
        • Plebians (Commoners)
      • Two Strata of Representatives
        • Patricians elect Tribunes
        • Plebians elect Consuls
      • The Consuls (c.f., Commoners) make laws with advice from Tribunes
        • The Consuls and Tribunes meet in the Forum, a multipurpose space in the center of Rome
        • The Roman Republic struggled for political equality
          • Patricians and Plebians compromise for relative peace in Rome
          • E.g., The Horensian Law: decisions made by the Plebian assembly must be followed by all Romans
    • The Punic Wars
      • Rome expands into Phoenician territory (264-146 BCE)
      • These territories, once conquered, were not governed well
      • Plebians became wealthy in these wars, causing political unrest

  • B. Rise of Augustus & Imperial Rome
    • Power struggle between 2 Roman generals: Pompey and Julius Caesar (3 min clip)
    • Julius Caesar assassinated 15 March 44 BCE (6 min clip)
      • His allies Marc Antony & Cleopatra are defeated in the Battle of Actium (31 BCE)
      • Octavian, Caesar’s heir, becomes the first emperor of Rome (5 min clip)
    • Octavian = Augustus Caesar
      • less war hero, more political leader
      • Augustus dreamed of Rome becoming the greatest civilization in world history
        • Put war veterans to work in new civil service positions and guarding the empire’s borders

III. Roman Proto-Religion

  • A. Religious Syncretism
    • Rome assimilates many of the Greek gods and goddesses
    • The only truly Roman story was of the Founding of Rome: Romulus & Remus
      • Everything else in Roman proto-religion was more or less a copy of Greek stories
      • Greek stories of the gods explained: politics, society, gender, metaphysics, biology, etc.
    • Syncretism is the fusion of different religious traditions through cultural exchange
      • Egyptian Amon-Ra ~ Greek Zeus
      • Phoencian sea travellers adopt Greek Poseidon
      • Egyptian Isis ~ Greek Demeter ~ Roman Ceres
      • The Romans were much more obvious about their syncretism than previous cultures

  • B. Religious Henotheism
    • In Rome, the gods of other cultures were not typically shunned or disdained (except sometimes in war)
    • Roman practice was that the gods of other cultures should be respected
    • Henotheism argues that I affirm there are many gods, but I believe my gods are best
      • Henotheism actually works great in a pluralist society, whereas Monotheism means you’re either in or out
      • Henotheistic pluralism allowed the many peoples Rome conquered to continue their own native practices
        • One notable exception to Roman Henotheistic toleration was Christianity
  • C. Roman “Religious” Practice
    • Roman priests practiced prophecy, sacrifice, and sacred temple services
    • The Augurs were priests who interpreted bird flight before, during, and after a sacrifice to determine if the gods approved
      • The interpretation that Augurs and other Roman priests made were called omens
      • Sacrifices came in two forms: a portion of one’s goods (e.g., first fruits, first sip of wine), or a domesticated animal
    • The Roman military took sacred practices quite seriously — victory depended on personal virtue and the will of the gods
      • Roman military units paid homage to the gods with shrines, standards, banners, statues, and songs
      • Roman generals could offer a devotio – to offer both his life and his enemies’ lives in exchange for victory

IV. Roman Texts

  • A. Poetry in Republican Rome
    • One of the first developments in Rome was poetry
    • Ennius (239-169 BCE) writes the Annuls: a collection of tragedies adpated from Greek models
    • Catallus was the first Roman lyrical poet (greatly influenced by the Greek poetess Sappho
    • Roman comedies also developed during the Republic (c.f., Plautus & Terence)

  • B. Roman Law in Republican Rome
    • Roman law formalized in this period
    • Julius Caesar writes Ius Civile with legal advisers
      • this will later serve as the model for Justinian’s Juris Civilis

  • C. Imperial Roman Literature
    • All art and literature in the Imperial period served to glorify the emperor’s personal views
    • The Satirist Juvenal (60-130 CE)
      • Juvenal was a notable exception to the imperial control of the arts
      • Juvenal wrote satires that showed the ugly side of Rome and Roman power
        • Rome was plagued with overcrowding
        • Roman citizens generally lived in squalor
        • Roman streets were filthy and crime-ridden
      • Juvenal was eventually banished by the emperor to live out his life in Egypt
    • Virgil: the Emperor’s Poet
      • Virgil is remembered as Imperial Rome’s greatest author
      • Virgil writes the Aeneid, the Gospel of Roman Imperial Theology
        • The Aeneid is commissioned by Augustus Caesar to celebrate the founding of Rome
        • It tells the mythic story of a Trojan warrior, Aeneas, who flees the Greek destruction of Troy
        • Aeneas is the son of Venus, the goddess who helps him escape
        • Aeneas’ descendents are Romulus and Remus: two brothers who fight to the death
        • In the Aeneid, Rome is commanded by God (Zeus) to rule the whole world, through violence, forever
          • This explains why every person, place, and object in the world belonged to Rome
          • This also explains how early Christianity stands in contradistinction to the Roman worldview

V. Roman Art

  • A. Roman Sculpture
    • Republican sculpture featured realistic details that expressed inner character (link: portraits)
    • Most Imperial statues were made for propaganda, sponsored by the emperor
      • As Julius Caesar watches from on high, Roman soldiers defeat Celts (pic)
      • Augustus Caesar and God of Victory stand over barbarian prisoner (pic)
      • Emperor Claudius over Lady Britannia (pic)
      • Emperor Nero over Lady Armenia (pic)
  • B. Roman Architecture
    • Roman architecture was also a political medium
      • Public buildings were constructed to show the glory of their leaders (c.f., Egyptian pyramids)
    • Arches are Rome’s greatest contribution to ancient architecture
      • Roman arches enabled buildings to be built much higher
      • Triumphal Arches were frequently built to celebrate military victories (e.g. The Arch of Titus)
    • The Roman Pantheon was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian
      • The Pantheon had one of the earliest domed ceilings in history
      • The oculus, at the top of the dome, allowed for natural light to enter the building
  • C. Pompeii
    • Pompeii was an unimportant town that is famous today because of its unique preservation
      • The eruption of a volcano on 24 August 79 CE buried Pompeii alive
      • The Villa of Mysteries are frescos preserved in the eruption
    • Pliny the Younger was a famous Roman author who writes an account of the eruption that we still have today
  • D. Roman Inventions
    • Overpopulation of the City of Rome led to several key inventions
      • They created one of the world’s first aqueducts, to bring fresh water into the city
      • They created covered sewers as a necessary public health act
      • They created apartment buildings to give Roman citizens housing in the crowded city

VI. Key Ideas: Roman Philosophy

  • A. The Stoics
    • Seneca was Rome’s most famous philosopher
      • Seneca was a Stoic philosopher, and the tutor to the child (pic) who would grow to become Emperor Nero
      • Seneca attempted many times to resign, but was always refused (Nero was quite unstable)
    • Emperor Marcus Aurelius was a famous Stoic (2 min clip)
      • Stoicism was popular among leaders who claimed there was no higher authority than reason
        • Stoicism stressed dignity and calm through all events — key virtues of leadership
    • Roman Stoicism claimed that because Nature is governed by rational principles, everything happens for a reason
      • People, therefore cannot and should not try to change things
      • The Stoic instead faces the future and mortality with calm acceptance
      • So, if our emotions rebel against this acceptance, then our emotions (which are subject to reason) are wrong

VII. Historical Context

  • A. Roman Contributions
    • Rome built a network of roads still used to maintain Europe today
    • Rome introduced construction techniques like aquaducts, sewers, and arches
    • The Roman alphabet and calendar are basically the same ones used by the Western world today
  • The End of Rome
    • The last Roman emperor was deposed in 476 CE
    • A complex series of historical forces led to the collapse of Roman society
      • A gradual decline of political representation and economic power
      • The Roman army became insufficient in size to defend Rome’s borders
        • Mercenary troops were often brought in to augment the army
        • Many times, the foreign mercenaries were not loyal to Rome
      • Rome increased taxes to pay for it’s unwieldy extravagance, but this just devalued their money
      • Roman society also forgot the Classical Ideals that had made them Roman
        • Over time, eastern cults gained massive influence over Roman society