The History of Ancient Rome by Dante

Introduction

Ahhhhh, ancient Rome, a very civilized and peaceful place. Wait, what did you say? Rome was barbaric and they killed people for fun? They killed people in plays for entertainment? They crucified Christians because they didn’t like them? I thought Rome was civilized!

Rome lasted for roughly 1,800 years, if you count the survival of the Byzantine Empire. There were three stages to the Roman Empire: when Rome was created there were kings (Roman Kingdom), then the kings were overthrown and replaced with consuls (Roman Republic), and then the consuls morphed to emperors (Roman Empire). The emperors stayed until the fall of the empire. There were good emperors and bad emperors. One of the best was Emperor Trajan, and one of the worst was Caligula. The Romans liked killing people like Christians or criminals or enemy troops, for entertainment. You might have heard of the Coliseum; it was used for gladiator fights. They had a long history of wars so the people never lost their entertainment. Here is a brief history of Ancient Rome.

History of Rome

Timeline

735 BCE: Romulus and Remus found Rome. Legend has it that Rome was started by two brothers named Romulus and Remus. They built a city on the seven hills by the Tiber River. The story goes like this:

Back in 735 BCE there was an angry uncle who didn’t want to lose his power as king, so he told a servant to throw his heirs to the throne, Romulus and Remus, into the Tiber River. However the servant had mercy on them, so he put them in a basket and floated them down the river. Romulus and Remus kept floating down the river until they got caught on the branch of a fig tree. Later that day, a she wolf found them and raised them like her own. One day a Shepard was walking in the woods and he found the two boys and brought them back to his cottage. A few years later they went back to the same site where they were found and decided to start a village. They built the village on the seven hills by the Tiber River. But the village was open to attacks from the Barbarians, so Romulus built a wall. However, Remus didn’t like the design. So he said, “I can vault over this wall. ” He vaulted over it and they got in a fight. Romulus killed Remus and named the village after himself. Can you guess the name?

This is just a myth; historians believe that Romulus and Remus were made up characters that were actually named after the Rumen River. Rumen is the Etruscan name for Tiber River.

507 BCE: The kings were overthrown and the Roman Republic was started. Before the Republic there were seven kings, the people didn’t like the kings because they had too much power. So, they overthrew them and replaced them with the Consuls. The consuls were like ancient roman presidents. Read more about them in The Roman Government section.

450 BCE: The Twelve Tables were published. The Twelve Tables were the first set of Roman laws that were written up and put in the forum. We don’t know what all of the original tablets said because some of them got destroyed when the Gauls attacked Rome.

387 BCE: The Gauls, from today’s France, attack Rome. They wreck most of the buildings. The build a wall; it will surround Rome for the next 600 years.

201 BCE: The Punic wars were where the Romans and the Carthaginians fought each other. The Carthaginians were from Africa. They had taken over what is now modern day Spain, and they planned to take over Rome next. There were three Punic wars. And in the second Punic war, Hannibal, the leader of Carthage, decided to attack Rome on his elephants. He went to Rome after the treacherous journey of crossing the Alps. When he got to Rome he took the Romans by surprise when he came charging in on his elephants. The Romans quickly found out how to use the elephants to their advantage; they got out of the way of the elephants and let them pass, then the elephants would turn around and come charging back towards the Carthaginians. After a few days of fighting like this, Hannibal retreated back over the Alps.

44 BCE: Julius Caesar became dictator. He called himself Consul even though his plan was to become king. The people liked him because he was good at speaking so he convinced other people to elect him. Nevertheless, part of the senate still suspected him so they planned to kill him. Caesar went to a fortune teller and she told him that something bad would happen to him that day. So on the day that Caesar was killed, he went over to the fortune teller and started to taunt her until she said, “The day is not over yet.” Later that day, part of the senate surrounded him and started to stab him. Finally, he saw his friend Brutus, and he said, “Et tu Brute?” (which means “You too Brutus?”) before he was killed. Brutus dealt the final blow.

31 BCE:  Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, takes the throne. Octavian changed his name to Augustus. Mark Antony was married to Augustus’s sister. But he had an affair with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. He liked Cleopatra so much that he gave her some Roman land. Augustus was not pleased, so Augustus’ and mark Antony’s forces met but Augustus’ forces whipped Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s forces. Mark Antony and Cleopatra ran off to Egypt with their tails between their legs.

30 BCE: The Pax Romana era was when the Romans fought no wars or expanded their territory. The Pax Romana era was when there was peace between the Romans and everyone else.

98–117 CE: The Empire grows to its biggest size under Emperor Trajan. Trajan was one of the most popular emperors. He fought in Romania, Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Dacia.  His fighting in Dacia even earned him a column which is 100 feet high and has a 600 foot frieze spirally wrapped around it. it is not surprisingly called Trajan’s Column. Trajan thought that to keep the empire healthy he had to keep the people healthy. So he created a system Alimenta. Alimenta gave education and food to the poor and needy. After Trajan died (he died on a military campaign) all emperors, before they were crowned, would be told, may he be as lucky as Augustus and as good as Trajan.

180–284 CE: The century of crisis occurs after the fall of Marcus Aurelias. Marcus Aurelias was adopted by the former emperor Antoninus Pius. He was appointed emperor in 161 CE. Marcus wanted his friend to be co-emperor, so they worked together until his friend Lucius Varus died. When Marcus died the empire was going into a period of bad emperors, until Diocletian saved the day! During this period there were many bad emperors including Nero and Caligula. In Roman and today’s standards Caligula (Emperor from 37 to 43 CE) was a physco. He had a coliseum built for the people. People flocked to the poorly-built coliseum to watch the gladiator fights. The building collapsed with the weight of the people in it. When Caligula got the news he said, “What a shame, it must have been interesting to watch.” Caligula even appointed his horse as a consul. He told the senate to listen to his horse. Nero (Emperor from 54-68 CE) was also a terrible emperor. When he was at his country house a fire started in the projects of Rome. The rich part of Rome had built a wall so that no fire from the poor section of Rome would spread to the rich section of Rome. The fire somehow got over the wall and a spread to the rich section of Rome. A messenger went to Nero’s country house and tried to tell him but Nero was having a party. So when Nero got back he saw the damage done by the fire, and everyone was angry at him so he said that those Christians started the fire.

284 CE: Diocletian is now emperor. Diocletian was emperor from 284 to 305 CE. He split the army into two halves: the field army and the frontier army. The field army went out on campaigns and the frontier army stayed and defended the strongholds. He also faced the problem of putting the central government back together. He decided to have two emperors so he brought in Maximian. He gave Maximian the title Junior Emperor, or Caesar. Diocletian took the title Senior Emperor or Augustus. Now each Emperor had half of the empire. However, that was still too much. So he appointed two more Caesars. Now the empire was ruled by four people, or a “tetrarchy.”

307–337 CE: The capital of the Roman Empire is moved to Constantinople because of Emperor Constantine. Constantine became Augustus after Diocletian fell. Constantine wanted to be sole ruler, so he annihilated Maximian’s son Maxentius. Constantine didn’t like his brother-in-law, so he defeated him and became ruler of the entire Roman Empire. Once he was the emperor, he moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople, modern day Istanbul in Turkey. He moved the capital because he thought he needed a break with the past. Constantine also was made the Christian religion the state religion of the Roman Empire.

370 CE: The Visigoths went to the Roman Empire to get away from the Huns. The Romans didn’t want the Visigoths in their empire so they tried to keep them out. The Romans failed and the Visigoths forced their way into the empire. Once that happened, Rome was open to attacks, so the Visigoths conquered the western half of the empire.

476 CE: The western half of the empire falls but the eastern half survives for another thousand years. When the western half of the empire fell, along fell the city of Rome. Rome was in the western half of the empire and we usually consider this the fall of the Roman Empire. When the western half fell the eastern half’s name got changed to the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire fell in the late 1400’s.

War and Weaponry

One of the reasons Ancient Rome was so powerful was because of its army. The Romans had a very organized army. It was divided into a good organizing system. The biggest in the system was a legion, the legion was divided into 10 cohorts or 6,000 soldiers, and cohorts were divided into three maniples. The maniples were divided into 2 centuries, and the centuries were divided into 100 soldiers.

1 legion = 10 cohorts or 6,000 soldiers.

I cohort = three maniples

1 maniple = 2 centuries

I century = 100 soldiers.

The Roman navy wasn’t very strong until the Punic wars. The Roman navy grew by capturing a Carthaginian ship and copying it until they had a larger navy. They did make one exception, they made a long plank that they could lower onto another ship and lock them together so that the Roman soldiers could go easily from one boat to another.  This plank made the boat top-heavy so the Roman ships capsized frequently. As we sailors say, everything is a trade-off.

How to take over a city, (Roman style):

  • Step one: Build series of trenches and walls around the city, so that no one can get out.
  • Step two: Break down the original city walls using two things, an iron tipped battering ram called an Airies, and a boring drill called a Terebra.
  • Step three: Build assault towers on wheels that are higher than the wall, so you can shoot arrows over it and be able to get over the wall.
  • Step four: Build siege weapons like Ballista, which are giant crossbows that can fire arrows at 150 miles an hour. Or build an Onager which is a catapult which can fire rocks, or bags of rocks. Or lastly build a bigger catapult, which can fire a 60 pound rock for half a mile at 100 miles per hour.
  • Step five: Take over the city or go inside the city and fight hand to hand.

Why was the Roman army so successful?

It was successful because of the soldiers discipline and tactics. When a soldier disobeyed orders they would be tortured or killed.  One tactic was the soldiers would get into a tightly packed square and they would lock their shields over and in front of them, this it made an almost impenetrable formation. They called this the tortoise formation.

Life as a Roman

If you lived on a farm in ancient Rome, your life would vary depending on whether you were wealthy or poor. If you were wealthy, you would have a large villa with lots of land and slaves working for you. Or you would live in a city, and managers would look after your farm. Nevertheless, if you were poor, you would have a small farm of up to five acres, and you work for a long time during the day and not get much in return. You would grow grains or fruits and vegetables, or both and you would eat your produce.  If there was anything leftover you would sell it.

Early in the years of the empire many poor farmers were forced off their land by the wealthy farmers. The wealthy farmers could own hundreds of acres, and own thousands of slaves. Sometimes the poor farmers entered the army and left their wife and children to do all of the work on the farm. Or they became tenant farmers, which meant that they could work on the wealthy farms and get some of the food in exchange. Some also went to the city to try to find work.

Life in the city of Rome

If you lived in Rome you would travel by foot or horse drawn carriage. In the streets there were raised stepping stones with grooves so that no one would step in horse manure while crossing the street. At one point the city of Rome was so big; the carriages would have to travel at night because Rome was so traffic congested. The Romans liked and hated this for two reasons. They hated this because they had trouble falling asleep at night, but they liked this because Rome wasn’t as traffic congested during the day. Nevertheless, this still didn’t help much. At night the streets would get so dark that people would have to carry lanterns with them everywhere they went.

Rome was always undergoing building projects. More people could immigrate to Rome and have a higher probability of finding housing and work. Rome, in some ways, is like a city today. The streets were lined with vendors selling everything from food to art from faraway places.

If you had a job in ancient Rome you wouldn’t have breakfast at home. You would stop by a street vendor, and buy some breakfast. These vendors were like today’s fast food restaurants. However, you couldn’t get a Whopper burger. At the center of a Roman city there was usually something called a forum. The forum was like the city center in today’s cities. Shops surrounded the forum which made it like a pedestrian mall. At one end of the forum there was usually a temple. On one side there was a basilica which is the building where the commercial and public advents were held. The forum also held the Curia which was the workplace of the municipal magistrates.  A magistrate’s job was to run the city. The forum also had fountains and statues.

Every Roman city had at least one public bath. People in Rome went to these baths at least once a day. They used them for bathing and socializing as well. Obviously men and women went to separate rooms.

Roman people usually lived in apartment buildings called insulae, which means little island in Latin. These buildings had lots of issues; one issue was that they would catch fire frequently. They were wood framed buildings so they would burn down fast. If you lived in one of these, and you were poor, you would live on one of the top floors. But if you were rich, you would live on one of the bottom floors. At the very bottom floor there would be shops and restaurants. like many apartment buildings in Europe today.

Public health was a problem in ancient Rome. You could die from the plague or malaria. Today we know how to treat diseases like these but the Romans didn’t. If you were a doctor you would hang around street corners and try to attract customers.

What did the Ancient Romans wear?

The typical Roman clothing were tunics. A tunic was a dress-like cloth that everyone wore. The people who were higher in the government of Rome wore white tunics with purple trim. The magistrates wore white tunics with thin purple trim and the senators wore white tunics with wide purple trim. Men wore a toga, a fabric strip that men wrapped around themselves in a certain way with their right arm exposed, over their tunics. Roman boys wore a toga with a purple strip, but after a ceremony when they turned 16 they got a plain white toga.

Woman wore Stolas over their tunics, a Stola was a dress that was fastened around the waist and elegantly folded. Woman wore hoods when they went outside of their homes.

Architecture

Romans have had a long history of strong and simple buildings and machines. Once a Roman found a good way to build something, from either the materials or the design, they stuck with it.

The Romans are famous for their architecture. For example the Coliseum “which could hold 50,000 people” could be emptied within 15 minutes. Now that’s good engineering! The Romans found out how to make concrete using the volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius. Romans are also famous for their roads. Their roads were made of many layers.

How to make a Roman road:

  • Step one: Dig a pit that is the desired width and height.
  • Step two: Fill the bottom of the pit with sand.
  • Step three: Put large stones on top of the sand.
  • Step four: Put gravel and pebbles on top of the large stones.
  • Step Five: Put paving stones on top of the pebbles and gravel.

These roads were meant mostly for the Roman army. They allowed the army to travel quickly around the empire.

Sometimes the Romans ran into obstacles, like a swamp, but they had ways of dealing with this. If they ran into a swamp, they would drive wooden pilings into the soft ground, then they would build wooden planking on top of that, kind of like a wharf. Finally they would build a road on top of that.

If they ran into a river, they would dig down to the bedrock, and they would fill the hole with cement. Then they would build arches on top of the foundations to create the beautiful bridges that you can see today.

When building in mountainous areas, the Romans would try to follow the contours of the land. However, if they had to they would tunnel through or dig into the side of the mountains. a good example of this is the Via Apia in Rome.

Ancient Romans copied from the Greeks a lot.  For instance they used the same type of architecture such as columns supporting a triangular pediment, domes, and other things related. you can see a great example at the Pantheon, also in Rome.

Romans also copied the idea of aqueducts. They built these aqueducts at a slight angle so that the water would always be flowing downhill. Then the water from the aqueduct would collect in a reservoir in the city. From there smaller pipes would run off to the bath houses and other places around the city. The pipes that supplied the water to the city were made of lead. I know what you’re thinking, lead…why lead?

Lead was a metal that the Romans could easily get and make into pipes and other things. You are probably thinking…how did they not get poisoned? Well, they coated the inside of the pipes with a special mineral to stop the lead from getting into the water. They also built these pipes as big as a person so that they could clean the pipes every once and a while.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

The Romans have always loved games. The first entertainment was called ludi. This was a type of festival where the Romans would set up stages and have plays. They also loved chariot races. The separate teams were allowed to use weapons and knock people off of their chariots. There were four teams: red, blue, green and white. The racers would earn a certain amount of money but the winner would earn a lot more, sometimes even 60,000 sestertii.  The special theaters for the chariot races were called the Circus Maximus. This theatre had bleacher style seating, and the seating surrounded an oval track. In the middle of the oval there was a wall to prevent chariots from cutting corners. On top of the wall there were a lot of statues used as counting devices. There were seven dolphins at one end and seven eggs at the other end. Once the lead chariot passed one end, let’s say the dolphin end, the lap counter would be flipped showing what lap they were on.

See You Later, Gladiator

Gladiator fights originated from funeral games by the Etruscans. The gladiator fights were brought to Rome in 3 BCE.  The Romans liked the idea so they decided that they too would use the gladiator fights.  Most of the time, the fights were held in the marketplace or the forum.  When the liking of the gladiator fights soared, the Romans started to build special arenas for the gladiator games.  Sometimes they would flood the arenas and put on staged sea battles. Sometimes hundreds of people were in these battles and if you survived you could win your freedom. Under the Coliseum there were jail cells and places to train and tame animals. To make the fights more interesting, the Romans would put two or more different types of gladiators in the same fight.  For example one with a net and trident and another with a sword shield and armor. Sometimes they would put hungry lions or tigers or bears (oh my) into the arena for the gladiator to fight and sometimes the gladiators would have to fight multiple animals.  Some gladiators would win a lot of fights and get enough money to buy their freedom. They would also be popular with the public.

When gladiators trained they trained with heavier weapons than they would in the arena, sometimes even twice as heavy.

Gods, Goddesses and Religion

In the early days of Rome, the Romans believed in gods and goddesses. The Romans would pray, worship and give offerings to them. All of the gods and goddesses had special traits; they were all a god or goddess of something. Here is a list of some of the major gods and goddesses:

Jupiter                              god of the sky

Hera                                  protector of women

Neptune                           god of the sea

Mars                                 god of war

Minerva                            goddess of wisdom strategy and skill

Diana                                 goddess of the hunt and the moon

Apollo                               god of knowledge, divines wisdom, and the sun

Vulcan                               god of fire and metallurgy

Vesta                                 goddess of the home and hearth

Venus                                goddess of love

Dis                                     god of the dead

Mercury,                          messenger of the gods, god of boundaries and commerce

Christianity

The Romans were very tolerant to many different religions so it is weird that Christianity was not tolerated. The most logical reason was that since the Christians only believed in one god they refused to believe in the divinity of the Roman gods or emperors. By 100 CE, the Christians were refusing to practice the state rituals like sacrifices. And during the century of crisis, thousands of Christians were killed in gladiator fights or in other public performances. Many wanted to die though because they believed that it was an easy way to get to heaven. This was called being martyred (mart-erd) Christianity was an underground religion – no, really!  The Christians built crypts and tunnels under the city of Rome so that they could practice in secret. They built the crypts so that they could bury their dead because the believed that cremation stopped the soul from reaching Heaven.

The Emperor Constantine had a vision or “dream” of a giant cross in 312 CE just before he won the battle against Maxentius. Over time he converted to Christianity and made Roman Catholicism the state religion of the empire. If it weren’t for Constantine, Christianity would probably have not have spread until much later.

The Roman Government

The Romans had a government similar to our democracy. It was governed by a group of people called the senate; there was also the centuriate assembly, and the two consuls. The senate was a group of advisors. It existed even before the Roman republic. The senate was the most dominant branch of the republic. At first the senate was made up of 100 people, by the end of the republic it was made up of 600 people. The consuls were the highest up in the government; they were basically like the president. There were two consuls because the Romans didn’t want one consul to get all of the power. Sometimes the consuls didn’t agree with each other’s decisions. This caused a short breakdown in the government.  The consuls were appointed by the centuriate assembly.  Later in the republic the centuriate assembly added more jobs in the government like, praetors, censors, quaestors and aediles. The praetors were the judges, the quaestors were the treasurers, the aediles were the administrators and the censors took an annual count of the citizens.

The Classes

In ancient Rome there were four separate classes: the patricians, equites, plebeians and slaves.

The patricians were basically the rich class of Rome; patrician comes from the Latin word “padres,” which mean fathers. Back in the early days of Rome only patricians could serve in the senate.  The equites were basically the business men of Rome. Most of the time they were knights, but then started a new life in Rome. They weren’t quite as rich as the patricians, but they still had enough money to live comfortably. They were the middle class.   The plebian class, or “plebes,” was the poor. They were freeborn but they hardly had any money. They would usually own a small farm and eat what they grew, but if they had leftover food they would sell it. If they lived in the city they might own a small shop. Sometimes they would have to beg for money.

The slaves weren’t considered people; they were considered property. Some slaves were better off than some plebeians. I know, I know, how a slave would be better off than a plebe? Some slaves had food to eat and a roof over their heads. Some of the wealthier Romans owned hundreds of slaves.

Conclusion

So as we have learned the Roman Empire was great but it had flaws, such as the urge to kill people for fun. However, overall it was an extraordinary empire. It was an empire that at one point controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea! They made great discoveries and invented many technologies. Just think if the Roman Republic hadn’t been started there might be no such thing as a democracy. I really enjoyed writing this and thanks for reading it! You should check out some of the books listed below. My favorite was Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans by Terry Deary.

Bibliography

 

  1. Tools of the Ancient Romans by Rachel Dickinson
  2. Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans by Terry Deary
  3. If I Were a Kid in Ancient Rome by Cricket Media
  4. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Volume 1: Ancient Times (excerpts) by Susan Wise Bauer
  5. Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Ancient Rome and Pompeii by Mary Pope Osborne
  6. Who Was Julius Caesar? by Nico Medina
  7. Ancient Rome: Sixth Grade Social Science Lesson, Activities Discussion Questions and Quizzes by Terri Raymond

 

 

 

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