Ancient Rome

In order to outline your lesson plans for ancient Rome, you’ll need to categorize the different aspects Roman history. Dealing with the entire history of Rome at once may leave students feeling overwhelmed. Categorizing Roman history on the following terms can be helpful.

Rome’s Founding

The people of two central Italian tribes, the Latins and the Sabines, most likely founded Rome during the eighth century B.C.E. During the following years, power shifted between these peoples and the Etruscans, the previous settlers of the area, but ultimately the Latins and the Sabines established the Roman republic which was to flourish for the next several hundred years.

One legend has it that two brothers, Romulus and Remus (direct descendants of the Trojan prince Aeneas) founded the city of Rome on April 21st, 753 B.C.E. The brothers had been raised by a she-wolf after being abandoned in infancy. The legend also tells that Romulus killed Remus and became the first of the seven kings of Rome (hence the origin of the name “Rome” from Romulus.) 

The Republic of Rome

The Roman Republic was established in 509 B.C.E. Various assemblies and annually elected magistrates handled administration. The Roman republic established the separation of powers, consisting of a powerful Senate, and various levels of a judiciary, as well as voting assemblies that addressed questions of war, peace, and civil law. The most important members of the judiciary were two Consuls, or magistrates.

Rome was able to expand its territory through conquest and military might, but this led to unrest within the Republic.

The Mighty Roman Empire

Rome gradually emerged as the greatest power of Italian peninsula via the Punic wars and the defeat of the Macedonian and Selucid powers.

Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus formed a secret triumvirate in mid 1st century B.C.E. However, after Julius Caesar led the defeat of Gaul, Pompey and the Senate attempted to wrestle power from Caesar. Caesar resisted their efforts and became a lifetime dictator. This victory was somewhat short-lived, however, as he was then assassinated in 44B.C by a group of senators who feared that he had become too powerful.

Caesar’s power was merely replaced when Octavian (Caesar’s heir), Lepidus and Marc Antony formed a second triumvirate. However, Lepidus was exiled and Antony, in conjunction with Cleopatra of Egypt, was defeated in the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.E. Augustus (the emperor formerly known as Octavian) emerged as the ruler of Rome. Augustus and the succeeding emperors retained dictatorial power over Rome. Emperors after Augustus included some of Rome’s most infamous rulers, Caligula and Nero, whose names are synonymous with depravity and selfishness.

The “Pax Romana” or Roman peace, was a time of economic strength and relative security that lasted from the late first century B.C.E. into the second century C.E. Under the Emperor Trajan, Rome reached the apex of its territorial expansion, including conquest of Dacia in present-day Southeastern Europe.

Rome’s Decline

After a period of instability, the emperor Diocletian established joint governance of the eastern and western halves of the Roman empire. The two halves gradually separated politically, until in 330 C.E. the Emperor Constantine I established Eastern Roman capital in Byzantine, marking the beginning of the Byzantine Empire. Meanwhile, in the western part of the empire, northern barbarian tribes such as the Vandals and Visigoths threatened Roman territory.

In 476 C.E. the attack of the Germanic chief Odoacer was the ultimate blow to the mighty nation. Roman rule in the west ended after 1200 years. In contrast, the Byzantine empire continued, first thriving and then shrinking until in the 1400’s it was conquered by the Turkish sultan Mehmed II.

People And Their Lives In Rome

Life in ancient Rome was supremely comfortable for the middle and upper classes. Ancient Rome was a flourishing metropolis with fountains, market complexes, libraries, baths, planned streets, an engineered sewage system, and aqueducts offering fresh drinking water for the population. Although life for the upper classes was lavish, lower classes including slaves did not enjoy the same comforts.

The Romans built significant landmarks that still stand today, such as the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and the Appian Way, a major highway. Throughout Europe, Rome’s influence can be seen in the ancient amphitheaters that grace many hillsides.

The Story Of the Roman Economy

Rome was primarily a trade based and agrarian economy. By the 1st century B.C grape and olive oil farms had substituted most of the regular staple crops, which were imported from Sicily, Tunisia and Egypt.

Industries comprised of mining and stone quarries and small workshops and factories provided employments to skilled and unskilled workers. The economy largely depended on slave labor, both skilled and unskilled. Roman history demonstrates a well-developed currency exchange system with coins made of brass, bronze and other semi-precious metals.

Rome had a hierarchical class structure, with patricians at the top, followed by the equestrian and merchant classes, the plebeians, the proletarians, and the slaves.

The Religion Of Rome

Roman religion was a rich blend of religious beliefs, including animism and ancestor worship, as well as the deification of emperors. Greek religion influenced Roman beliefs; deities like Jupiter and Mars were identified with the Greek gods Zeus and Ares, for example. Foreign sects like the Egyptian cult of Isis and the Persian cult of Mithras also gained prominence in Rome during the later years.

The Art and Literature of Ancient Rome

Roman sculpture was influenced by earlier Greek art, and included elaborate reliefs such as the relief found on Trajan’s column (a monument to Trajan’s expansion of the Roman Empire that still stands in Rome today). Mosaics were a popular art form, particularly in the latter portion of Rome’s history.

The language of Rome, Latin, lasted well beyond the end of the Roman Empire in its influence. Some of the greatest writers in the history of humanity include Catullus, Horace, Ovid, Virgil (who wrote the Aeneid), Cicero, Pliny the Elder, Juvenal, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The influence of Latin continued well into the early Renaissance, as the educated classes continued to learn and write in Latin for centuries following the empire’s collapse.

For older students, primary sources by these authors are the best way to learn about ancient Rome. You might consider choosing several passages from these authors for students to truly investigate and understand the glory that was Rome.

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