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The Romans and their empire at its height in 117 CE was the most extensive political and social structure in western civilization. By 285 CE the empire had grown too vast to be ruled from the central government at Rome and so was divided by Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) into a Western and an Eastern Empire.

Scroll down to see more articles about the history of the Romans.

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Who were the Romans? – The Legend of Rome

A legend is a story about a person who did something heroic. It is not based on fact nor can it be said to be the truth. Roman children were told the following legend about how the city of Rome was built.

Babies in a basket

Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. Their father was Mars, the God of War, their mother was Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin and daughter of the King, Numitor. Numitor’s brother, Amulius, had taken the throne from him and had forced Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin so that she would not have any children who might try to take back the throne.

When the boys were born, Amulius seized them, put them into a basket and threw them into the river Tiber. He hoped that they would drown. However, the boys were rescued by a she-wolf who fed the babies with her own milk and cared for them.

romulus and remus with wolf and shepherd

They grew up and were found by the shepherd Faustulus, who took them home and looked after them until they were grown up.

The two young men discovered who they really were and decided to kill Amulius and put their grandfather back on the throne. After doing this they decided to build a city of their own but could not agree where to build it. Remus favoured the Aventine Hill but Romulus wanted to use the Palatine Hill. They could not reach an agreement and so each began to build his own city enclosed with walls.

One day, Remus visited Romulus and made fun of his wall by jumping over it and saying how easily it could be breached. Romulus was so annoyed that he killed Remus and said the he would kill anyone who mocked his city or tried to break through the walls of Rome.

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The legend says that Romulus became the first King of Rome in 753BC and populated his new city with runaway slaves and convicted criminals. He stole women from the Sabine tribe to provide wives for the slaves and criminals and to populate his new city.

The Sabine tribe were not happy about this and declared war on Rome. The war went on for many years but eventually the Sabine tribe and Romulus reached an agreement and the Sabines became a part of Rome under the Kingship of Romulus.

The legend ends by telling how Romulus was carried up to the heavens by his father, Mars, and was worshipped as the God Quirinus.

* Romulus and Remus illustration by: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

When was Julius Caesar Born?

The exact date of Julius Caesar’s birth is not known, but historians claim it to be on July 12 or 13, 100 or 102 BC in Rome. His parents were Gaius Julius Caesar (a praetor) and Aurelia and although he belonged to a noble family, they weren’t very influential or rich during this time. His aunt, Julia was the leader of the Popular faction, Gaius Marius’ wife.

Julius Caesar’s Youth

Caesar’s father died when he was only sixteen, leaving him as the head of the house. Rome at the time was very unstable, struggling to manage its influence and size. Caesar was already very ambitious and decided that his family would benefit most if he would become a  priest. He got himself nominated as Jupiter’s High Priest, but was required to not only be a patrician, but to also be married to one. This led him to break off his current engagement with a plebeian girl and to marry Cornelia, a patrician and daughter of a the influential Lucius Cinna (member of the Populares). Sulla, the Roman ruler at the time declared himself to be dictator of rome and started to purge his enemies systematically. He targeted Caesar, who fled Rome, but his mother’s family successfully convinced the ruler to lift his sentence. He was however no longer allowed to be a priest and Cornelia’s dowry was confiscated. With no other way to provide for his family, Caesar decided to join the army. From there he worked himself up until he, himself became dictator of Rome.

How Did Julius Caesar Die?

How did Julius Caesar die? Julius Caesar died from being stabbed to death by a mob of conspirators in a place just next to the Theatre of Pompey, in 44 BC on the Roman Ides of March. At the time, Julius Caesar had been declared dictator by the Senate and had only served a year’s term. He has, however, already reformed the Senate in that short period and made changes in how local governments worked. He became very popular with the lower and middle-class Romans, but many senators despised him and were concerned about him having too much power as dictator. One of his biggest mistakes was to appoint two of his former enemies, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus who ended up leading the plot to assassinate him.

How Julius Caesar’s Assassination Took Place

Over 40 people were involved in the plot to murder Julius Caesar, or, as they called it, commit tyranicide. They organized a gladiator game and a meeting of the Senate. During the meeting, Casca struck at Ceasar with a dagger, after which Caesar acted in surprise. Casca called for help and the whole group, Brutus included, stabbed him. He tried to get away but was surrounded by a mob of about 60 men. He was stabbed 23 times, although only one of the wounds was fatal.

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What Caused the Fall of the Roman Empire?

The main cause of the fall of the Roman Empire is still a topic of debate among historians, maybe because it is a symbol of what we fear about our own civilization. There are many different theories about why a superpower that ruled for 500 years crumbled and fell, but most scholars degree that it wasn’t one event, but a series of factors that caused a steady decline. Alexander Demandt, for example, had 210 different theories and even more emerged afterwards.

Possible Major Causes:

  • Conflict between the Emperor and the Senate
  • Weakening of the emperor’s authority (after Christianity the Emperor was no longer seen as a god)
  • Political Corruption – there was never a clear-cut system for choosing a new emperor, leading the ones in power to “sell” the position to the highest bidder.
  • Money wasting – the Romans were very fond of their prostitutes and orgies and wasted a lot of money on lavish parties, as well as their yearly “games”
  • Slave labor and price competition – Large, wealthy farm owners used slaves to work their farms, allowing them to farm cheaply, in contrast to smaller farmers who had to pay their workmen and could not compete price wise. Farmers had to sell their farms, leading to high unemployment figures.
  • Economical Decline – After Marcus Aurelius, the Romans stopped expanding their empire, causing in a decrease of gold coming into the empire. The Romans however kept spending, causing coinmakers to use less gold, decreasing the value of money.
  • Military spending – Because they wasted so much money and had to defend their borders all the time, the Government focused more on military spending than building houses or other public works, which enraged the people. Many stopped volunteering for the army, forcing the government to employ hired mercenaries, who were expensive, highly unreliable and ended up turning against the Roman Empire.
  • A stop in technological advancement – The Romans were great engineers, but did not focus on how to produce goods more effectively to provide to their growing population.
  • The Eastern Empire – The Roman Empire was divided in a Eastern and Western empire that drifted apart, making the empire easier to manage, but also weaker. Maybe the empire’s rapid expansion was its own downfall in the end.
  • Civil War and Barbarian Invasion – Civil war broke out in Italy and the smaller Roman army had to focus all of its attention there, leaving the borders wide open for the barbarians to attack and invade. Barbarian bandits made travel in the empire unsafe and merchants could not get goods to the cities anymore, leading to the total collapse of the empire

Roman Britain Timeline

Below is a Roman Britain timeline, featuring the most important events in the Roman occupation of Britain, from Julius Caesar’s first attempts at invasion to the fall of the island to the Saxons to the military success of the Britons, leading to the legends of King Arthur.

 

The Roman invasion and occupation of Britain

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

26th – 31st August 55BC Julius Caesar attempted to invade Britain Julius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 10,000 soldiers. They landed on the beach at Deal and were met by a force of Britons. The Romans eventually took the beach and waited for cavalry back up to arrive from France. However, a storm prevented the back up force from reaching Britain and Caesar had to withdraw.
July – Sept 54BC Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain Julius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 27,000 infantry and cavalry. They landed again at Deal and were unopposed – the Britons had retreated to higher ground. The Romans marched inland and met a large force of Britons led by Cassivellaunus north of the River Thames. After a hard battle the Romans defeated the Britons and some tribal leaders surrendered to the Romans. Cassivellanus ordered crops to be burned and made guerrilla attacks on Roman forces.  But the Romans were too strong and Cassivellanus was forced to surrender. In September Caesar was forced to return to Gaul (France) to deal with problems there and the Romans left Britain.
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54BC – 43AD Roman influence increased Although not present in Britain, the influence of the Romans increased due to trade links
5AD Cymbeline Cymbeline, King of the Catuvellauni tribe, was acknowledged by Rome to be King of Britain.
May 43AD Romans Invaded Britain A Roman force of about 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent. They defeated a force of Britons led by Caratacus and began taking the South-East of Britain. Caratacus escaped and fled to Wales where he set up a resistance base.
Autumn 43AD Claudius arrived with reinforcements The Roman emperor Claudius arrived in Britain with reinforcements. Colchester (Camulodunum) was taken and eleven tribal Kings surrendered to the Romans. Claudius appointed Aulus Plautius Governor of Britain before returning to Rome.
43 – 47AD Conquest of the South The Romans continued their conquest and by 47AD had conquered the whole of South Britain and claimed Britain as part of the Roman Empire.
47 – 50AD London Founded London (Londinium) was founded and a bridge built across the river Thames. A network of roads was built across the south of Britain.
51AD Caratacus defeated and captured Caratacus’ guerrilla force was joined by other tribes who resisted Roman conquest. and confronted the Romans near the River Severn. However, Caratacus was defeated. He escaped again and sought shelter with the Brigantes tribe. However their Queen, Cartimandua betrayed him to the Romans. Caratacus, his family and other rebels were taken prisoner and sent to Rome. In Rome Caratacus was pardoned by Claudius and allowed to live out his days in Italy.
60 – 61AD Boudicca leads revolt against the Romans Prasatugas, King of the Iceni tribe who had signed a peace treaty with the Romans, died. His wife, Boudicca intended to honour the treaty, but after the local Roman authorities seized Prasatugas’s property and raped his two daughters, Boudicca retaliated by signing a treaty with Trinovantes who were hostile to the Romans.

Boudicca is said to have been very tall with striking red hair that hung to her hips. Her army of Iceni tribesmen and women captured and burned Colchester, London, St Albans and caused the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, to raise the biggest force he could. Boudicca’s army were eventually cornered and massacred. Boudicca poisoned herself to evade capture.

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63AD Joseph of Arimathea visited Britain Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’s disciples, was sent to Britain to convert the people to Christianity.
75 – 77AD Roman Conquest of Britain completed The Romans defeated the last of the resistant tribes in the North making all of Britain Roman.
77 – 400AD Life in Roman Britain Under Roman rule the Britons adopted Roman customs, law, religion. Many were taken by the Romans as slaves. The Romans built many roads, towns, bath houses and buildings. Trade and industry flourished under Roman rule.
79AD Agricola invaded Scotland The Governor of Britain, Agricola, attempted to conquer Scotland for Rome but was unsuccessful.
122AD Hadrian’s Wall built The Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep the rebellious Scottish tribes out. Construction of the wall began in 122 and was completed by 139.
142AD Antonine Wall Built The Romans made another attempt to conquer southern Scotland and after making some gains built another wall across the land between the Forth and the Clyde. It was abandoned in 160AD.
216AD Britain divided into two provinces In order to better control Britain the Romans divided the land into two provinces. The South was known as Britannia Superior and the North Britannia Inferior.
260 – 274AD The Gallic Empire The Roman general Postumus rebelled against Rome and established himself as Emperor of France (Gaul) and Britain (Britannia)
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22nd June 304AD St Alban Martyred Alban became the first Christian Martyr in Britain. The Emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christians should be persecuted. St Alban, a recent convert to Christianity changed places with a local priest who was wanted by the Romans. When he was discovered he was executed at Verulamium (St Albans).
312AD Christianity the official religion of the Empire The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire.
360sAD Attacks from Picts, Scots, Franks, Saxons Roman Britain was attacked by tribal groups of Picts, Scots, Franks and Saxons. Reinforcements were sent to Britain and the attacks were repelled.
388 – 400AD Romans begin to leave Britain The Roman Empire was being attacked by many different barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in Britain were recalled to Rome.
410 Last Romans leave Britain All Romans had been recalled to Rome and the Emperor Honorious told the people of Britain that they no longer had a connection to Rome and that they should defend themselves.
500 Ambrosius Aurelianus – British warlord Ambrosius Aurelianus was a British warlord who commanded the victorious Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. The Saxons had pushed the Britons further and further west unchecked until this battle. The story of King Arthur dates from this period.

For more resources similar to this Roman Britain timeline, specifically the Roman invasion of Britain, please click here.

The Romans – Fall of the Empire

The Fall of the Empire was a gradual process. The Romans did not wake up one day to find their Empire gone!

By AD369 the Empire was beginning to crumble for the following reasons:

The Government was running out of money.

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The people had to pay very high taxes – up to a third of their money.

The rich were given grants of money and land which made them richer while the poor got poorer.

There was not enough money to pay for the army.

Barbarians from Germany called vandals were conquering parts of the Empire and there were not enough soldiers to fight back.

Although the outer edges of the Empire were well defended, there was no defence with in the Empire. This meant that once barbarians had broken through there was nothing to stop them marching to Rome.

The Roman network of roads allowed invaders an easy route to Rome.

No one had decided on a good way to choose an Emperor,. This meant that any general could march into Rome, kill the Emperor and make himself the next Emperor. In 73 years there were 23 Emperors and 20 of them were murdered.

Roman Britain Timeline

The Roman invasion and occupation of Britain

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

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26th – 31st August 55BC Julius Caesar attempted to invade Britain Julius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 10,000 soldiers. They landed on the beach at Deal and were met by a force of Britons. The Romans eventually took the beach and waited for cavalry back up to arrive from France. However, a storm prevented the back up force from reaching Britain and Caesar had to withdraw.
July – Sept 54BC Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain Julius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 27,000 infantry and cavalry. They landed again at Deal and were unopposed – the Britons had retreated to higher ground. The Romans marched inland and met a large force of Britons led by Cassivellaunus north of the River Thames. After a hard battle the Romans defeated the Britons and some tribal leaders surrendered to the Romans. Cassivellanus ordered crops to be burned and made guerrilla attacks on Roman forces.  But the Romans were too strong and Cassivellanus was forced to surrender. In September Caesar was forced to return to Gaul (France) to deal with problems there and the Romans left Britain.
54BC – 43AD Roman influence increased Although not present in Britain, the influence of the Romans increased due to trade links
5AD Cymbeline Cymbeline, King of the Catuvellauni tribe, was acknowledged by Rome to be King of Britain.
May 43AD Romans Invaded Britain A Roman force of about 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent. They defeated a force of Britons led by Caratacus and began taking the South-East of Britain. Caratacus escaped and fled to Wales where he set up a resistance base.
Autumn 43AD Claudius arrived with reinforcements The Roman emperor Claudius arrived in Britain with reinforcements. Colchester (Camulodunum) was taken and eleven tribal Kings surrendered to the Romans. Claudius appointed Aulus Plautius Governor of Britain before returning to Rome.
43 – 47AD Conquest of the South The Romans continued their conquest and by 47AD had conquered the whole of South Britain and claimed Britain as part of the Roman Empire.
47 – 50AD London Founded London (Londinium) was founded and a bridge built across the river Thames. A network of roads was built across the south of Britain.
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51AD Caratacus defeated and captured Caratacus’ guerrilla force was joined by other tribes who resisted Roman conquest. and confronted the Romans near the River Severn. However, Caratacus was defeated. He escaped again and sought shelter with the Brigantes tribe. However their Queen, Cartimandua betrayed him to the Romans. Caratacus, his family and other rebels were taken prisoner and sent to Rome. In Rome Caratacus was pardoned by Claudius and allowed to live out his days in Italy.
60 – 61AD Boudicca leads revolt against the Romans Prasatugas, King of the Iceni tribe who had signed a peace treaty with the Romans, died. His wife, Boudicca intended to honour the treaty, but after the local Roman authorities seized Prasatugas’s property and raped his two daughters, Boudicca retaliated by signing a treaty with Trinovantes who were hostile to the Romans.

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Boudicca is said to have been very tall with striking red hair that hung to her hips. Her army of Iceni tribesmen and women captured and burned Colchester, London, St Albans and caused the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, to raise the biggest force he could. Boudicca’s army were eventually cornered and massacred. Boudicca poisoned herself to evade capture.

63AD Joseph of Arimathea visited Britain Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’s disciples, was sent to Britain to convert the people to Christianity.
75 – 77AD Roman Conquest of Britain completed The Romans defeated the last of the resistant tribes in the North making all of Britain Roman.
77 – 400AD Life in Roman Britain Under Roman rule the Britons adopted Roman customs, law, religion. Many were taken by the Romans as slaves. The Romans built many roads, towns, bath houses and buildings. Trade and industry flourished under Roman rule.
79AD Agricola invaded Scotland The Governor of Britain, Agricola, attempted to conquer Scotland for Rome but was unsuccessful.
122AD Hadrian’s Wall built The Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep the rebellious Scottish tribes out. Construction of the wall began in 122 and was completed by 139.
142AD Antonine Wall Built The Romans made another attempt to conquer southern Scotland and after making some gains built another wall across the land between the Forth and the Clyde. It was abandoned in 160AD.
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216AD Britain divided into two provinces In order to better control Britain the Romans divided the land into two provinces. The South was known as Britannia Superior and the North Britannia Inferior.
260 – 274AD The Gallic Empire The Roman general Postumus rebelled against Rome and established himself as Emperor of France (Gaul) and Britain (Britannia)
22nd June 304AD St Alban Martyred Alban became the first Christian Martyr in Britain. The Emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christians should be persecuted. St Alban, a recent convert to Christianity changed places with a local priest who was wanted by the Romans. When he was discovered he was executed at Verulamium (St Albans).
312AD Christianity the official religion of the Empire The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire.
360sAD Attacks from Picts, Scots, Franks, Saxons Roman Britain was attacked by tribal groups of Picts, Scots, Franks and Saxons. Reinforcements were sent to Britain and the attacks were repelled.
388 – 400AD Romans begin to leave Britain The Roman Empire was being attacked by many different barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in Britain were recalled to Rome.
410 Last Romans leave Britain All Romans had been recalled to Rome and the Emperor Honorious told the people of Britain that they no longer had a connection to Rome and that they should defend themselves.
500 Ambrosius Aurelianus – British warlord Ambrosius Aurelianus was a British warlord who commanded the victorious Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. The Saxons had pushed the Britons further and further west unchecked until this battle. The story of King Arthur dates from this period.
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The Legend of Rome

A legend is a story about a person who did something heroic. It is not based on fact nor can it be said to be the truth. Roman children were told the following legend about how the city of Rome was built.

Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. Their father was Mars, the God of War, their mother was Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin and daughter of the King, Numitor. Numitor’s brother, Amulius, had taken the throne from him and had forced Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin so that she would not have any children who might try to take back the throne.

When the boys were born, Amulius seized them, put them into a basket and threw them into the river Tiber. He hoped that they would drown. However, the boys were rescued by a she-wolf who fed the babies with her own milk and cared for them.

They grew up and were found by the shepherd Faustulus, who took them home and looked after them until they were grown up.

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This picture shows Romulus and Remus being found by the shepherd, Faustulus and his wife:

The two young men discovered who they really were and decided to kill Amulius and put their grandfather back on the throne. After doing this they decided to build a city of their own but could not agree where to build it. Remus favoured the Aventine Hill but Romulus wanted to use the Palatine Hill. They could not reach an agreement and so each began to build his own city enclosed with walls.

One day, Remus visited Romulus and made fun of his wall by jumping over it and saying how easily it could be breached. Romulus was so annoyed that he killed Remus and said the he would kill anyone who mocked his city or tried to break through the walls of Rome.

The legend says that Romulus became the first King of Rome in 753BC and populated his new city with runaway slaves and convicted criminals. He stole women from the Sabine tribe to provide wives for the slaves and criminals and to populate his new city.

The Sabine tribe were not happy about this and declared war on Rome. The war went on for many years but eventually the Sabine tribe and Romulus reached an agreement and the Sabines became a part of Rome under the Kingship of Romulus.

The legend ends by telling how Romulus was carried up to the heavens by his father, Mars, and was worshipped as the God Quirinus.

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The Romans – Trade

The Romans trade system was vast and extensive.  Here is a Roman 4-wheeled chariot, photo by Binter at de.wikipedia

trade ship

The Romans traded goods throughout their Empire. By importing goods from other countries they raised their standard of living and were able to have many luxuries.

The Romans used their network of roads and also waterways to transport goods from one country to another.

silver

The Romans traded with Britain for silver, which they used to make jewellery and coins, and wool which they used to make clothes.

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spices

They imported dyes to colour their clothes from the south-eastern part of their Empire and also spices to flavour their food.

silk

From the Far East, what is now China, they imported silk to make fine clothing.

lion

Cotton came from Egypt and exotic and wild animals for the gladiator fights came from Africa by sea.

The Romans – Roads

Narbonne: Via Domitia uncovered in front of the Archbishop’s palace.

The Romans are noted for their skill at building roads. At the time of the Empire there was a vast network of roads that all led to the centre of Rome. Many of these roads still exist today.

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The Romans were the first people to build paved roads that would be able to be used in all types of weather. They built their roads so that they were higher in the middle than at the edges. This meant that when it rained the rain would run off the sides of the roads. They often put a drainage system alongside the roads to catch the water as it ran off.

roman road

Rich people travelled along the roads in litters carried either by six or eight men or pulled by mules. Those who could not afford a litter often travelled in small groups for safety. They would travel in carriages. Messengers, who had to travel alone and fast, would ride in a light carriage like a chariot.

litter              chariot

Travel was not safe, especially at night. There were roadside inns along all the roads but even these were not safe. Fights would break out and sometimes people were murdered. Travellers preferred to stay with either friends of their own or friends of their friends.

The Romans – Public Health

Pont du Gard, Roman Empire, October 2007, by Emanuele

The Romans were the first civilization to introduce a public health system. They had to do this because Rome had grown in size and it was impossible to find a natural source of fresh water in the city. It was also necessary to find a way of disposing of the rubbish to prevent pollution causing health problems.

Aqueduct         Aqueduct

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Aqueducts were built to transport fresh water into the city. In AD100 there were a total of nine aqueducts that brought fresh water into the city of Rome.

Bath House          Bath House

Public baths were places where people could go to bathe, meet and discuss business. There were hot and cold baths as well as massage rooms.

Sewer in Rome

A network of sewers was built to take sewerage and waste out of the city to the river Tiber. There were also public lavatories.

Roman Society and Social Classes

Painting from Pompeii, now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Naples), showing a banquet or family ceremony feature multiple aspects of Roman society.

Roman society was clearly hierarchical, with legally defined privileges allotted to different classes and countless informal differences in attitudes toward the classes in everyday life.

In ancient Rome the population was divided into two groups: patricians and plebeians.

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Patricians

Plebians

The patrician class were the descendants of the most ancient and powerful noble families. They were landowners, lived in large houses and they had political power in the Senate.

The patricians married and did business only with people of their own class.

Plebeians were mainly artisans or peasants who worked the patricians’ land; they lived in apartments and they had no political rights.

If they were lucky plebeians could become clients (obedient servants) of a patrician family. They offered their services in return received the protection of the head of the patrician family, who became their patron.

 

Roman Society in the Era of the Empire 27BC – 1453AD

Below is the pyramid of Roman society, with the emperor at top and slaves at the bottom. Multiple layers existed between them. While it was possible to move up and down this social latter, as the categories were not immutable, changing one’s social standing was extremely difficult and only possible through meritocratic institutions such as the military.

The Emperor
Head of Roman society and ruler of all Rome

Patrician Families
Wealthy influential landowning families

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Senators
Served in the Senate and governed Rome

Equestrians
Wealthy property owners who chose business over politics

Plebeians
Working class. Men without substantial wealth who worked for their living at jobs such as artisans, craftsmen, bakers etc

Freed Slaves
Slaves who had either been given their freedom or had paid for their freedom and now worked for their living.

Slaves
Generally prisoners of war but sometimes abandoned children who were owned by their master

The Romans – Roman Government

The Roman government took on my different forms from its centuries-long existence, back to its legendary founding. For the sake of brevity, this article will skip over its city-state and kingdom periods to focus on its republican and imperial periods. From the time of Julius Caesar, 48 BC, Rome and the Roman Empire was ruled by an Emperor. The Emperor was wise if he listened to the advice of the Senate but some chose to be dictators and do what they wanted rather than follow the Senate’s advice.

Before Julius Caesar took control in 48BC, the Roman Empire was not ruled by the Emperor but by two consuls who were elected by the citizens of Rome. Rome was then known as a Republic.

Roman Government in the Republic Period

People were divided into different classes. There were Patricians, Plebeians and Slaves.

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Patricians were wealthy citizens of Rome. They usually lived in grand houses and had slaves to do their work for them. Because they were citizens of Rome they were allowed to go to the Assembly to vote.

Plebeians were not wealthy but they were citizens of Rome. They were usually craftsmen or tradesmen and they worked for a living. Because they were citizens of Rome they were allowed to go to the Assembly to vote.

Slaves had no money, no rights, no freedom and were not citizens of Rome. Because they were not citizens of Rome they were not allowed to go to the Assembly to vote.

Patricians and Plebeians met in the Assembly and voted for consuls, tribunes and magistrates. Women and slaves were not allowed in the Assembly and could not vote.

Roman Government: Consuls

The citizens of Rome voted for two consuls. They were elected to serve for one year. It was the Consuls job to govern Rome. They had to both agree on all decisions. After they had served their year they were replaced. They were not allowed to be consuls again for ten years.

Magistrates

The citizens of Rome voted for a number of magistrates. It was the magistrates job to keep law and order and also to manage Rome’s financial affairs. When magistrates retired they became senators and attended the Senate.

Tribunes

The citizens of Rome voted for tribunes. It was the tribunes job to make sure that the people were treated fairly.

Roman Senate

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The Senate

Senators went to the Senate to discuss important government issues. Senators were retired magistrates and knew a lot about the government of Rome. It was the job of the senate to give advice to the two consuls. When Rome had an Emperor the senate still gave advice on governing Rome and the Empire.

The Romans – Invasion of Britain

The Roman invasion of Britain was a determined military and political effort to project Roman power in the Northeastern Atlantic.

Julius Caesar
Although Julius Caesar had visited Britain in 55BC (Before the birth of Christ) and reported that the soil was good, there was plenty of food and people that could be used as slaves, the Romans did not have a large enough army to invade and conquer Britain.

Claudius

It was AD (Anno Domini [after the birth of Christ]) 43 before the Romans, under the Emperor Claudius, were ready to conquer Britain.

roman ship

The Romans crossed the Channel from Boulogne and set up a base at Richborough in Kent. Different legions were sent to conquer different parts of Southern Britain. The 2nd legion set up their first base at Fishbourne, near Chichester in Sussex, then continued to Exeter where they set up their main base. The 20th legion, established their base at Colchester, the 14th legion at Leicester and the 9th at Longthorpe near Peterborough. Eleven British Kings surrendered to Claudius immediately while King Caratacus was easily defeated by the 20th legion and escaped to Wales.

By AD 47 half the country had been conquered but some Kings, like Caratacus still resisted the Romans. Caratacus lost another battle to the Romans near the river Severn in AD 51 but escaped again and hid in the camp of the Brigantes tribe. However, the Queen of the Brigantes told the Romans that Caratacus was hiding with them. The Romans captured Caratacus and sent him to Rome as a slave.

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Boudicca

In AD 60, King Prastagus of the Iceni tribe, who had signed a peace treaty with the Romans, died. His wife, Boudicca, became Queen and intended to remain at peace with the Romans. However, the Romans said that all Prastagus’s land and possessions now belonged to them. They attacked the Iceni tribe, took their land and Prastagus’s two daughters. Boudicca was not happy and planned revenge on the Romans.

Boudicca's Chariot

Boudicca joined forces with the Trinovantes and together they raised an army to fight the Romans. Boudicca’s army captured and burned London, Colchester and St Albans. The Romans were forced to raise the largest army they had ever had to defeat Queen Boudicca. The Romans killed anyone who had fought them. Boudicca poisoned herself to prevent the Romans from capturing her.

The Romans – Roman Britain Timeline

Roman hemispherical sundial in the Side Archaeological Museum (Side, Turkey), photo by Ad Meskens

The Roman invasion and occupation of Britain

Date

Summary

Detailed Information

26th – 31st August 55BC Julius Caesar attempted to invade Britain Julius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 10,000 soldiers. They landed on the beach at Deal and were met by a force of Britons. The Romans eventually took the beach and waited for cavalry back up to arrive from France. However, a storm prevented the back up force from reaching Britain and Caesar had to withdraw.
July – Sept 54BC Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain Julius Caesar crossed the Channel with a force of around 27,000 infantry and cavalry. They landed again at Deal and were unopposed – the Britons had retreated to higher ground. The Romans marched inland and met a large force of Britons led by Cassivellaunus north of the River Thames. After a hard battle the Romans defeated the Britons and some tribal leaders surrendered to the Romans. Cassivellanus ordered crops to be burned and made guerrilla attacks on Roman forces.  But the Romans were too strong and Cassivellanus was forced to surrender. In September Caesar was forced to return to Gaul (France) to deal with problems there and the Romans left Britain.
54BC – 43AD Roman influence increased Although not present in Britain, the influence of the Romans increased due to trade links
5AD Cymbeline Cymbeline, King of the Catuvellauni tribe, was acknowledged by Rome to be King of Britain.
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May 43AD Romans Invaded Britain A Roman force of about 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent. They defeated a force of Britons led by Caratacus and began taking the South-East of Britain. Caratacus escaped and fled to Wales where he set up a resistance base.
Autumn 43AD Claudius arrived with reinforcements The Roman emperor Claudius arrived in Britain with reinforcements. Colchester (Camulodunum) was taken and eleven tribal Kings surrendered to the Romans. Claudius appointed Aulus Plautius Governor of Britain before returning to Rome.
43 – 47AD Conquest of the South The Romans continued their conquest and by 47AD had conquered the whole of South Britain and claimed Britain as part of the Roman Empire.
47 – 50AD London Founded London (Londinium) was founded and a bridge built across the river Thames. A network of roads was built across the south of Britain.
51AD Caratacus defeated and captured Caratacus’ guerrilla force was joined by other tribes who resisted Roman conquest. and confronted the Romans near the River Severn. However, Caratacus was defeated. He escaped again and sought shelter with the Brigantes tribe. However their Queen, Cartimandua betrayed him to the Romans. Caratacus, his family and other rebels were taken prisoner and sent to Rome. In Rome Caratacus was pardoned by Claudius and allowed to live out his days in Italy.
60 – 61AD Boudicca leads revolt against the Romans Prasatugas, King of the Iceni tribe who had signed a peace treaty with the Romans, died. His wife, Boudicca intended to honour the treaty, but after the local Roman authorities seized Prasatugas’s property and raped his two daughters, Boudicca retaliated by signing a treaty with Trinovantes who were hostile to the Romans.

Boudicca is said to have been very tall with striking red hair that hung to her hips. Her army of Iceni tribesmen and women captured and burned Colchester, London, St Albans and caused the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, to raise the biggest force he could. Boudicca’s army were eventually cornered and massacred. Boudicca poisoned herself to evade capture.

63AD Joseph of Arimathea visited Britain Joseph of Arimathea, one of Jesus’s disciples, was sent to Britain to convert the people to Christianity.
75 – 77AD Roman Conquest of Britain completed The Romans defeated the last of the resistant tribes in the North making all of Britain Roman.
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77 – 400AD Life in Roman Britain Under Roman rule the English adopted Roman customs, law, religion. Many of the English were taken by the Romans as slaves. The Romans built many roads, towns, bath houses and buildings. Trade and industry flourished under Roman rule.
79AD Agricola invaded Scotland The Governor of Britain, Agricola, attempted to conquer Scotland for Rome but was unsuccessful.
122AD Hadrian’s Wall built The Emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep the rebellious Scottish tribes out. Construction of the wall began in 122 and was completed by 139.
142AD Antonine Wall Built The Romans made another attempt to conquer southern Scotland and after making some gains built another wall across the land between the Forth and the Clyde. It was abandoned in 160AD.
216AD Britain divided into two provinces In order to better control Britain the Romans divided the land into two provinces. The South was known as Britannia Superior and the North Britannia Inferior.
260 – 274AD The Gallic Empire The Roman general Postumus rebelled against Rome and established himself as Emperor of France (Gaul) and Britain (Britannia)
22nd June 304AD St Alban Martyred Alban became the first Christian Martyr in Britain. The Emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christians should be persecuted. St Alban, a recent convert to Christianity changed places with a local priest who was wanted by the Romans. When he was discovered he was executed at Verulamium (St Albans).
312AD Christianity the official religion of the Empire The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire.
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360sAD Attacks from Picts, Scots, Franks, Saxons Roman Britain was attacked by tribal groups of Picts, Scots, Franks and Saxons. Reinforcements were sent to Britain and the attacks were repelled.
388 – 400AD Romans begin to leave Britain The Roman Empire was being attacked by many different barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in Britain were recalled to Rome.
410 Last Romans leave Britain All Romans had been recalled to Rome and the Emperor Honorious told the people of Britain that they no longer had a connection to Rome and that they should defend themselves.
500 Ambrosius Aurelianus – British warlord Ambrosius Aurelianus was a British warlord who commanded the victorious Britons at the Battle of Mons Badonicus. The Saxons had pushed the Britons further and further west unchecked until this battle. The story of King Arthur dates from this period.

The Roman Army: Organization and Battle Tactics

The Roman army was the backbone of the empire’s power, and the Romans managed to conquer so many tribes, clans, confederations, and empires because of their military superiority. It was also the source of the empire’s economic and political strength, ensuring domestic peace so that trade could flourish. However, this peace was often coterminous with subjugation. The Emperor used the army to protect Rome and to control the people it had conquered.

The Roman army was also a tool of cultural assimilation. Some soldiers were away from their families for long periods of time, loosening their clan loyalties and replacing them with loyalty to Rome. The Roman army was a means by which a barbarian could become a citizen, but the process was not fast. Only when a soldier had served in the army for 25 years he could become a citizen of Rome.

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Organization of the Roman Army

The army was organised in a very simple way:

5000 Legionaries (Roman Citizens who were in the army) would form a Legion.

The Legion would be split into centuries (80 men) controlled by a Centurion.

The centuries would then be divided into smaller groups with different jobs to perform.

A Roman Soldier

Roman Soldier

Roman soldiers had to be physically vigorous. They were expected to march up to 20 miles per day in line, wearing all their armor and carrying their food and tents.

 

Roman Army Turtle

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Roman soldiers were trained to fight well and to defend themselves. If the enemy shot arrows at them they would use their shields to surround their bodies and protect themselves. This formation was know as ‘the turtle’.

They fought with short swords, daggers for stabbing and a long spear for throwing. They also carried a shield for protection as well as wearing armor.

The tactics were simple but versatile enough to face different enemies in multiple terrains: From the forests of Germania to the rocky planes of the Greek peninsula. For these and many other reasons the Roman army was the reason for the Empire’s existence for several centuries.

Ancient Roman Slaves: A Life of Bondage

Ancient Roman slaves were the backbone of the empire’s economy, up until its end, but their personal lives were anything but glamorous. A favored slave of a wealthy patrician could live in relative comfort; a less-fortunate laborer could literally be worked to death.

Ancient Roman slaves were usually prisoners captured in war, but some were people who had been kidnapped in Italy. These Slaves were sold at a slave-market. They were put on show, naked, with a notice around their necks. anyone who had enough money could buy them. Once sold they were the property of their new owner and had to work for no money. Sometimes a rich man would have as many as 400 slaves.

Some slave owners beat their slaves and slaves that ran away could be killed. Slaves could not argue with their masters, they had to do exactly as they were told or else they would be punished. If a slave killed his master then all the other slaves in the household would be killed.

Female slave

Both men and women were sold as slaves and young boys were the most expensive slaves to buy. Some slaves were well educated, especially those from Greece, and they would be used to teach the children of the house.

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Women slaves would be used as hairdressers, dressmakers, cooks and servants for rich women. Other slaves worked in small workshops making leather or silver goods or pots and pans.

Slave working

The ancient Roman slaves who had the hardest lives were those who were put to work in the mines. They had to spend long hours underground in hot, cramped conditions. The mines were also unsafe and often slaves were killed in accidents. Farmers used slaves to do the hardest work on their farms like digging and ploughing.

Some slaves were called public slaves; they worked for Rome. Their job was to build roads and other buildings and to repair the aqueducts that supplied Rome with fresh water. Other public slaves worked as clerks and tax collectors for the city.

Although they, and other slaves, would be killed if they ran away, many did try to escape. However, this was very difficult because they had no one to help them and many of them did not speak Latin.

Spartacus

Spartacus was a famous ancient Roman slave who did manage to escape and form a group of slaves who defeated the Roman army in battle. However, their success did not last for long as the army managed to stop more slaves from joining Spartacus and killed those that had survived the battle.

Roman Entertainment: Bread, Circuses, and Everything Else

Roman entertainment is a byword for the decadence of the late empire, leading to its downfall when it spent more time on amusement than reforming the military or rooting out corruption. But few did mass entertainment better then the Romans. Their coliseums still inspire modern-day sporting arenas. Other forms of Roman entertainment could be found in the amphitheater, the hippodrome or the theatre.

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Roman Entertainment: The Amphitheater

The Colosseum in Rome could seat up to 50,000 people and was the largest amphitheatre in the Empire. It was here that people gathered to see the fights between gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals like lions.

The Emperors encouraged people to go to see the fights as it stopped them from being bored and criticising their ruler. The fights were very violent and ended when the loser died.

Sometimes, when the arena was flooded there would be fights with boats. The cells where the animals and prisoners were kept was underneath the floor of the main arena. The Colosseum even had a lift to bring them up to the arena.

Roman Entertainment: The Hippodrome

Circus Maximus

This was where the Romans went to see the chariot racing.

The Circus Maximus was the largest hippodrome in Rome and could hold up to 250,000 people. Chariots were pulled by 2 – 4 horses, and were driven seven times around the ring at extremely fast speeds. Sometimes accidents happened and drivers were often trampled to death.

There were four teams – red, white, blue and green – and fans of each team would wear their team’s colours.

Roman Entertainment: The Theatre

Drama Masks

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People went to one of the big theatres in Rome to watch plays.

Because the audience would not stay quiet the actors had to wear costumes. The actors wore masks – brown for men, white for women, smiling or sad depending on the type of play. The costumes showed the audience who the person was – a purple gown for a rich man, a striped toga for a boy, a short cloak for a soldier, a red toga for a poor man, a short tunic for a slave etc.

Women were not allowed act, so their parts were normally played by a man or young boys wearing a white mask.

The actors spoke the lines, but a second actor mimed the gestures to fit the lines, such as feeling a pulse to show a sick person, making the shape of a lyre with fingers to show music. The plays were often violent and could result in the death of an actor by mistake.

Ancient Roman Games For Children

For more information on ancient Roman games and other counter-intuitive facts of ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization.  


 

The sort of leisure enjoyed by Roman children typically depended on one’s class. Children from poor Roman families engaged in near-constant labor, typically in agriculture, but they still found time to play, whether after the harvest or the fleeting moments of time between sundown and bedtime. Accounts by Roman writers and archeological evidence suggests they fashioned instruments at hand into many sorts of toys.

Children from wealthy Roman families had significantly more time for leisure. As the household slaves performed most of the menial labor, and their parents feared that the appearance of their children laboring would lower their social standing among other patricians, they had ample opportunities to play.

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Some of the games were directly influenced by Roman social institutions. Children loved to engage in mock swordplay and mimic their favorite gladiator. Others reenacted the Punic Wars and pretended to be Scipio Africanus, dispatching Hannibal of Carthage.

Other toys and objects of leisure were influenced by the inter-imperial trade of Rome. Cats came to Europe in approximately 100 AD, thanks to growing connections with Egypt and the Near East.

Some of the most favored ancient Roman games and toys include the following:

hobby horse Balls
Bats
Board games
Hobbyhorses
Kites
Models of people
Models of animals
Hoops
Stilts
Knucklebones (like Jacks)
board game

Jacks

rag doll Boy’s Games

War games
Wooden sword fights
Wrestling
Tag

Girl’s Games

Rag dolls
Wax dolls
Board games

wooden swords
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Goose Children also played with their pets

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Dogs
Pigeons
Ducks
Quail
Geese
Monkeys – though these were rare
Cats after 100 AD

Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romans – The Bath House

The Romans were concerned about health and cleanliness. A network of pipes brought clean water into the city of Rome and removed waste.

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The public bath house was the place where people went to socialise and do business as well as getting clean.

The picture, above, shows an artists impression of how a Roman bathhouse may have looked.

Note the classical columns and arches, mosaic floor and ceiling.

The large spacious entrance or meeting area is a place where visitors can walk and talk or sit on seats around two large fountains.

The public baths can be seen in the background through the feature arches.

Roman Bath House

This picture is of one of the oldest surviving Roman bath houses – the bathhouse in Bath, near Bristol in the United Kingdom

Twelve facts about the Bath House:-

There were hot, warm and cold baths

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Water was heated by a boiler over a fire

The hot room was called the caldarium

The cold room was called the frigidarium

Men and women used separate bath houses

The floor might be covered with a mosaic

You had to pay to use the baths

You could buy refreshments at the baths

People did weight lifting at the baths

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Public slaves could give you a massage

There was no soap so people used oil instead

Sticks called strigils were used to scrape dirt off the body

The Romans – Religion

The Romans were very superstitious. They believed that good or bad luck was given by the gods – if the gods were happy then you would have good luck but if they were unhappy then your luck would be bad.

There were many different gods and each of them looked after different things.

jupiter neptune mars
Jupiter was the god of the sky and the most important god Neptune was the god of the sea Mars was the god of war
venus bacchus ceres
Venus was the goddess of love Bacchus was the god of wine Ceres was the goddess of agriculture

The Romans worshipped their gods in a temple. They made sacrifices of animals and precious items to their gods. They believed that when an Emperor died he became a god and so a sacrifice was also made to the Emperor. The Romans also worshipped Gods in their own homes.

christians in arena

Christians worshipped one god and refused to recognise or make sacrifices to either the Roman gods or the Emperor. Many of them worshipped in secret. The Romans were very suspicious of the Christians and believed that they were dangerous to Rome. Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods were put into the arena with lions. Although the Christians were persecuted by the Romans for 400 years, the religion continued to become more popular and by 500AD it was the official religion of Rome.

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The Romans – Education

The Romans education was based on the classical Greek tradition but infused with Roman politics, cosmology, and religious beliefs. The only children to receive a formal education were the children of the rich. The very rich families employed a private tutor to teach their children. Those that could not afford to do this used either slaves or sent their children to a private school.

Children of poor families, those living in the country or those whose parents were slaves were not educated at all.

A Roman school would be one room with one teacher. Teachers were very badly paid and worked long hours. Children learned to read and write. It was important to be able to read and write because words were everywhere. If a boy answered a question with the wrong answer, the teacher would beat him with a cane. If he spoke in class without permission he would be dragged to the front of the class and beaten with a cane or a whip.

cane    whip

Boys and girls did not receive the same education.

Boys

Boys would be given lessons in honourability and physical training which were considered preparation for a man’s role in society and the army. Although they learned how to do simple addition and subtraction more difficult mathematics was not taught because it was difficult to add up numbers written in the Roman system.

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Girls

Girls were only allowed to learn to read and write.

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The Romans – Roman Numerals

The Roman system of numbers was made up of just seven letters.

We still use Roman Numerals today, they are most often seen on clock or watch faces.

The table below shows how the letters are combined to make numbers.

1

2

3

4

5

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6

7

8

9

10

I

II

III

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IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

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11

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12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

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20

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

XVII

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XVIII

XIX

XX

21

22

23

24

25

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26

27

28

29

30

XXI

XXII

XXIII

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XXIV

XXV

XXVI

XXVII

XXVIII

XXIX

XXX

31

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32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

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40

XXXI

XXXII

XXXIII

XXXIV

XXXV

XXXVI

XXXVII

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XXXVIII

XXXIX

XL

41

42

43

44

45

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46

47

48

49

50

XLI

XLII

XLIII

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XLIV

XLV

XLVI

XLVII

XLVIII

XLIX

L

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51

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52

53

54

55

56

57

58

59

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60

LI

LII

LIII

LIV

LV

LVI

LVII

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LVIII

LIX

LX

61

62

63

64

65

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66

67

68

69

70

LXI

LXII

LXIII

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LXIV

LXV

LXVI

LXVII

LXVIII

LXIX

LXX

71

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72

73

74

75

76

77

78

79

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80

LXXI

LXXII

LXXIII

LXXIV

LXXV

LXXVI

LXXVII

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LXXVIII

LXXIX

LXXX

81

82

83

84

85

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86

87

88

89

90

LXXXI

LXXXII

LXXXIII

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LXXXIV

LXXXV

LXXXVI

LXXXVII

LXXXVIII

LXXXIX

XC

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91

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92

93

94

95

96

97

98

99

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100

XCI

XCII

XCIII

XCIV

XCV

XCVI

XCVII

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XCVIII

XCIX

C

200

300

400

500

600

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700

800

900

1000

CC

CCC

CD

D

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DC

DCC

DCCC

CM

M

* Shepard Gate Clock image by Joaquim Alves Gaspar.

The Romans – Gladiators

It is believed that the first gladiators were slaves who were made to fight to the death at the funeral of Junius Brutus Pera. The spectacle was arranged by the dead man’s relatives to honour his death.

The tradition was copied at other funerals and then became staged events put on by rich locals for the benefit of their local population. Spectators to the games were charged a fee to watch an array of gladiatorial tournaments.

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The majority of gladiators were slaves who were taught how to fight in special schools. They were trained to fight with daggers, swords, forks and nets. They had to fight slaves and criminals who were either unarmed, or armed only with the net.

gladiators

The fight ended when one man died. If a man was wounded and unable to fight on, he make a sign for mercy. The crowd would then decide whether he should live or die by giving him thumbs up or thumbs down. Thumbs up signified that the crowd wanted the loser killed while thumbs down meant that he should be spared.

The largest and most spectacular gladiator fights were those staged in Colosseum in Rome. The huge circular amphitheatre could seat up to 50,000 people. Spectators were given tickets showing their seat place and also which of the 80 entrances they should use.

Colosseum in Rome

The gladiator fights took place on the huge central stage. Underneath the stage was a network of rooms and corridors used to store costumes and props used to stage the larger spectacles. Some rooms were also used by the gladiators as dressing rooms.

Lifts were used to bring the gladiators up to the main arena.

The Romans – Housing

Ancient Roman housing was bereft of modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing, but they were surprisingly sophisticated as well. There were big differences between the housing of the rich and the poor in Roman times.

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ancient rome housing

Poor Romans lived in insulae.

An insulae consisted of six to eight three-storey apartment blocks, grouped around a central courtyard. The ground floors were used by shops and businesses while the upper floors were rented as living space.

Insulae were made of wood and mud brick and often collapsed or caught fire. There was no heating or running water and often no toilet. The upper floors were the most unsafe and therefore the cheapest to rent. An entire family would often occupy just one or two rooms.

Insulae were dirty, noisy and unhealthy places to live.

Domus

Rich Romans lived in a single-storey dwelling called a domus.

A domus was very grand – with marble pillars, statues, plaster or mosaic walls and mosaic floors.

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Domus plan

A domus was divided into two sections the antica, which was at the front and the postica, which was at the back.

Both sections were designed in the same way with small rooms leading off a large central area.

The front door of the domus was at the end of a small passageway called the vestibulum.

A corridor called the fauces led from the front door to the central area of the antica which was called the atrium.

There was an opening in the centre of the atrium ceiling, beneath which there was a shallow pool called an impluvium to catch rainwater.

The bedroom (cubiculum), dining room (triclinium) and other general living rooms surrounded the atrium.

The ala was an open room which had windows in the outside wall. There were two alae, found on each side of the atrium, and it is thought that their main function was to let light into the house.

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The main reception room of the house was located between the antica and postica and was called the tablinum. It was separated from the atrium by a curtain which was often drawn back when the weather was warm. A door or screen separated the tablinum from the postica.

The main feature of the postica was the peristylium which could be reached by going through the tablinum or through an arched passageway called an andron. The peristylium did not have a roof and was the garden of the house. The Romans grew both herbs and flowers and when the weather was warm would often eat their meals here. The kitchen (cucina), bathroom and other bedrooms surrounded the peristylium. The exhedra was a large room used as a communal dining room or lounge during the summer months.

The Romans – Clothing

Roman clothes were made of wool, spun into cloth by the women of the family. Later on the richer people had slaves to do this work for them. If you could afford to buy clothes, you could buy linen, cotton or silk, which was brought to Rome from other parts of the Empire. Washing clothes was difficult because the Romans did not have washing machines or soap powder. They used either a chemical called sulphur or urine.

These are the clothes that Roman men wore

The Toga

romans clothing

This man is wearing a toga. Only male citizens of Rome were allowed to wear togas. They were made out of wool and were very large. The material was not sewn or pinned but was draped around the body and over one arm. Togas were very expensive because of the large amount of material needed to make them and very heavy. It was the law that all citizens wore togas for public events. They were even told which colour of toga they had to wear:

A plain white toga was worn by all adult male citizens

An off-white toga with a purple border was worn by magistrates and upper class boys

A toga made of dark coloured wool was worn after someone had died

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A bleached toga was worn by politicians

A purple toga with gold embroidery was worn by a victorious general and later by emperors.

In later times it became more acceptable to wear togas of different colours with embroidery  but this was frowned on by those who preferred to keep to the established order.

The Tunic

Roman tunic worn under a cloak

The tunic was standard dress for all men from slaves to the nobles. It could be worn plain, belted at the waist or under a cloak. Citizens of Rome would wear a tunic under their toga.

The simplest and cheapest tunics were made by sewing two pieces of wool together to make a tube with holes for the arms. For those that could afford it tunics could be made of linen or even silk. The tunic would be worn belted at the waist and just covering the knees.

Underwear

Both men and women wore a simple loincloth called a subligaculum under their clothes.

Shoes

Shoes

Indoors, the Romans wore open-toed sandals. However, outdoors they preferred to wear shoes that covered their toes. The Romans made shoes and sandals by fixing strips of leather to a tough leather or cork base. Sandals, to be worn indoors or in the summer, had a smaller number of leather strips. Shoes for walking, for winter or for soldiers had many more leather strips to cover the toes and provide more warmth.

Jewellery

Men were only allowed to wear one piece of jewellery – a ring that was used to make a mark in wax for sealing documents. However, many ignored the rules and wore several rings and brooches to pin their cloaks.

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Hairstyles

All men had their hair cut short and shaved. After the time of Hadrian some men began growing beards.

Roman Food: Plain Sustenance for a Powerful Empire

Despite the opulence of the city of Rome, and the power of its imperial army, Roman food was quite plain by modern standards and served in small portions. As such, the Romans did not eat huge meals.

Their main food was pottage. Pottage is a kind of thick stew made from wheat, millet or corn. Sometimes they would add cooked meat, offal or a sauce made out of wine.

Food for the common people consisted of wheat or barley, olive oil, a little fish, wine, home grown vegetables, and if they were lucky enough to own a goat or cow or chickens, cheese and a few eggs.

As the Republic grew and the Empire expanded the Romans came into contact with food from other ethnic grojuops. They used herbs and spices to flavor their food and began eating more fish, especially shell fish.

Vegetables were plentiful and most of the Roman’s recipes included vegetables. They also ate a lot of fruit, especially grapes, and made wine.

The Romans ate their food with their fingers. They used knives made from antlers, wood or bronze with an iron blade to cut their food. They also had spoons made from bronze, silver and bone which they used to eat eggs, shellfish and liquids.

Typical Roman Food in Everyday Situations

Breakfast – This would be eaten early, probably as soon as the sun rose and would include bread and fresh fruit.

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Lunch – Probably taken around noon. Lunch was only a small meal as it was thought a large meal would make one fall asleep in the afternoon. It would include some of the following – a little cooked meat – ham or salami, salad, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, vegetables and bread.

Dinner – This would begin at about four in the afternoon and could continue into the night. The starter would be either a salad or dish of small fish. The main course of fish, cooked meat and vegetables would be served next. The dessert would consist of fresh fruit and cheese. Sometimes small cakes sweetened with honey would be served.

The Romans – Bibliography

Fall of the Roman Empire

Roman Baths – Bath, UK

Roman Games – Nettlesworth Primary School

Roman Roads – KET

Roman Society – Roman Empire Net

The Romans – BBC

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The Romans in Britain – The Romans in Britain

Cite This Article
"The Romans: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" History on the Net
© 2000-2019, Salem Media.
June 25, 2019 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/romans-the-rise-and-fall-of-roman-empire>
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