Ancient Rome is a huge topic to cover in one essay, since it encompasses several hundred years of territorial expansion, literary development, and political workings. However, there are certain times and points within that huge history which it is particularly important to bring up, and those are what we will focus on in this essay. From the initial founding of Rome to the literary development of the syllabus and arts, this essay aims to look at various points of Ancient Rome to give an overview of it to the audience.
The civilisation of Rome was something which eventually took root on the shores of the Tiber, over the fabled seven hills of Rome (which actually reach a number which is higher than seven, but the myth endures). Rome was initially a kingdom, but the shepherds and traders who made up most of the populace eventually became tired of their excesses, ad declared themselves a republic. The Republic of Rome was initially just the area surrounding the Tiber and reaching to the coast, but eventually they expanded throughout Italy, and beyond to other parts of the Mediterranean.
Romans and Greeks are often found in the same sentence – they were in the same region of the world and their timelines overlapped somewhat (although the golden age of Greece had come and gone again by the time Rome reached its supremacy). That is where the similarities end, however; Romans and Greeks were more different than similar. Where Athens and other Greek cities focused their attentions on philosophy and drama of various sorts, Rome was known for its engineering feats – the roads are the most famous example, but Rome’s aqueducts are also a marvel of what could be done with their technological level. Rather than looking into the more flexible aspects of morality, Roman society stressed the importance of a strict moral character, expressing the strength of a man (and sometimes a woman) who could show a strong mind paired with a strong body.
At least at first, the main point of physical training for boys and young men was to equip them for military service in Rome’s vast and growing armies. Where the Greeks had an entire body of work on how physical training was part of making a body beautiful, with the body beautiful being the ultimate goal, Rome was much more practical. A good Roman was one who could serve the state through the military.
As Rome grew, their education necessarily changed, as they saw the need for a more equipped civil service to control their environment, and were exposed to more and new learning through the territories they captured. This was also in part due to the material changes which had taken place in the Roman world; rather than having Roman citizens make up the bulk of the army, mirrored legions known as auxiliaries (made up of non-citizens) were taking over more and more of the fighting, leaving Romans to be administrators and law-makers.
Education was at first handled in the home, but as the curriculum swelled, boys at least (girls were kept at home to learn the home arts from their mothers) were sent out to schools, which were normally administered by Greek slaves with educations of their own. The traditional Greek education of grammar and epic was joined by a Roman syllabus of oratory\rhetoric and the memorisation of the Twelve Tables, which contained all the laws of Rome.
For most of its history, the Roman curriculum preferred the more practical arts, as they were at heart a more practical people than others who has come before them. This has been borne out by their legacy to us, which has mostly come in the form of various pieces of legislation, and great pieces of architecture and engineering. However, eventually the sheer weight of the Roman Empire and its spoils broke the moral backbone of Roman education, as the hard work which had previously attended on its education was gradually eroded by the inclusion of slave labour.
The Romans had created a militaristic society – this was one reason for their continual expansion – and the result (combined with their technological expertise) had them conquering much of the Mediterranean and Europe with relative ease. However eventually outlying tribes began to t4st their strength against a Roman Empire which had become bloated with its own successes, finding that it could no longer defend itself in the manner they once had.
While there was an extremely rich Roman elite, the majority of the Romans were extremely poor, relying on the corn dole to survive. This, along with the magnificent games and pageants which were held in celebration of Rome’s many public holidays was the origin of the famous ‘bread and circuses’ phrase which we are familiar with today. Gladiatorial games and chariot races served many purposes, both in terms of entertainment, moral teaching, and desensitisation for the multitudes.
These games involved a number of different types of gladiator and types of fight to animals against humans, animals against animals, and even sea battles (flooding the amphitheatre to create the necessary environment). The ever-changing diet of gladiatorial games and other feats of strength were eventually said to have brought down the games themselves.
As has been said, there was originally a moral value to the games, in that they were seen as an expression of glory to the Gods, and were also useful as a means to show the ultimate glory that was the Roman Empire over its enemies. Eventually, however, the games deteriorated into purely entertainment, and lost the ability to sway others.
One other influence the Romans took from the Greeks (as well as possibly the Etruscans) was their penchant for using baths as a way to clean themselves and relax. We have many ruins of the Roman baths, because they were at the end entirely huge complexes made of multitudes of rooms for different purposes. However, while the Greeks normally had exercise halls and courtyards attached to their bathing facilities, the Romans did not; they seem to have preferred bathing to be an entirely social and sedentary affair.
The Roman Empire eventually split in two, with the Byzantine Empire becoming more and more estranged from its twin. While the Roman Empire was said to have died in the fifth century, its mantle truly passed to the tribes and clans which had won Rome from its last incumbents. However, while it did continue to exist in various forms, the Roman Empire never again had the same influence on the world around it, and eventually sank into relative oblivion.