Ancient Rome

When people think of Ancient Rome, they usually thing of decadent emperors living lavish lifestyles. While that image may be somewhat true for a certain period of time, Rome did not start out that way.

Famous bronze statue showing
twins Romulus and Remus
with the she-wolf who raised them.
(Public domain)
Rome was a small city-state located along the Tiber River in what is now modern-day Italy. According to legend, the city was founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. They were abandoned as small children and raised by wolves.

The city was famous for being a republic. A republic is a system of government where the people elect representatives to rule in their names. In fact, most modern democracies trace their origins to the Roman Republic. The United States is a republic and looked to the Roman Senate for inspiration when creating the Constitution.

Building a democratic republic was not easy. Two classes in Roman were bitter rivals. The rich landowners were part of the Patrician class. Everybody else who were not slaves fell into the Plebian class. After years of fighting and struggle, Rome passed a series of laws that gave rights to the Plebians. This law was called the Law of the Twelve Tables and established the concept that everybody should be treated the same when it comes to law. This is called "equality of law" and is the foundation of most law codes in the world today.

Erecting the Law of the Twelve Table sin the Roman Forum.

As Rome built its republic, it also expanded its borders. After defeating the city-state of Carthage in North Africa in 148 BCE, Rome was the undisputed leader of the Mediterranean region. The Roman Legion was the best fighting force of the era. Generals in the Republic struggled to gain power.

The extent of the Roman Republic in 45 BCE.
(Public Domain)

Julius Caesar
(Public Domain)

One such general was able to take over Rome and have himself declared a dictator in 46 BCE. His name was Julius Caesar. Although he pretended to abide by the rules of the Republic, he wanted to establish himself as the only power. In 44 BCE, a group of senators stabbed him to death on the floor of the Senate.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar.
(Public Domain)
Rome fell into civil war. Eventually, a young general (and adopted son of Julius Caesar) named Octavian defeated his rivals and became the sole ruler of Rome.  The republic was dead.  And now Rome was an Empire.

This man became the first emperor of Rome. His new name was Augustus. He had unlimited power. People saw him as a god.

As the Empire grew, Rome experienced good emperors and bad. The bad emperors we remember. Names like Nero, Caligula and Tiberius still bring to mind corruption and perversity.

Augustus Caesar, the First Roman Emperor.
(Public Domain)

The Romans borrowed all of their culture from the ancient Greeks. However, the Romans were great builders.  They built huge cities. They cut thousands of miles of roads that were paved and drained. The phrase, "All roads lead to Rome" was a truth of the times. They also invented concrete and the arch.

All over their empire they used this technology to create aqueducts, which are bridge-like structures to bring water down from the mountains. Some of these aqueducts are still working today.

This is the Pont du Gard aqueduct built in around 40 CE. It is located in Southern France.
By Benh LIEU SONG (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

But they also created enemies. Tribal people along the borders of Rome started to attack. Some people within Rome began to rebel against the dominant culture--a culture that demonized the poor and celebrated violence through brutal gladiator games. Poor people, in particular, were drawn to a new religion that came into being in the first century C.E.: Christianity.

The Roman Empire in 117 CE.
By Tataryn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Like all empires, Rome would eventually collapse. But nothing truly disappears. From Rome, the latin language lived on and became the basis for many European languages such as French, Italian and Spanish. Christianity would eventually win out in Rome and spread throughout the world. And Roman law and government forms the basis of much of the modern western world today.

Important Points to Remember:

  • Rome started off first as a Republic, a type of democracy in which people elect representatives
  • Although the Romans borrowed much of their culture from Greece, Roman language, law and government has had a lasting impact on the world
  • Romans were great builders, creating concrete and arches
  • The Roman Empire dominated the western world for over 1000 years
  • Christianity would develop during the Roman Empire