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Ancient Rome Fact Card

Civilizations of Europe

Location: Beginning on the Italian peninsula, the Roman Empire spread throughout most of Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East.

The ROMAN civilization began to develop around 1000 BC, when people settled in what is now Italy near the Tiber River and the Tyrrhenian Sea.  According to legend, the city of Rome was founded by a man named Romulus in 753 BC. 

Rome was ruled by kings until 509 BC, when the people rebelled and set up the Republic, governed by elected officials.  By 265 BC the city of Rome ruled the entire Italian peninsula.  In 27 BC, Augustus became the first emperor of the Roman Empire.  At its height, the Empire controlled all of the area around the Mediterranean Sea including much of what is now Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East.


· Brought many diverse cultures together under a common rule, influencing all future Western civilizations.

· Skilled engineers and surveyors built superior bridges, aqueducts, and roads.

· First city to house one million people (Rome in AD 100s).


Roman society was divided into two classes: the patricians, or upper class, and the plebs, or lower class. Patricians held all political power and also served in the army.  Slaves were too low to belong to either class. Before the Republic was formed, the Senate, a council of patricians, chose the king. He ruled for life, led the army, and acted as judge in legal matters.

During the Republic, Rome was governed by a Senate.  Each year, the Senate appointed two consuls to rule together. Bronze tablets called the Twelve Tables laid out the laws of the land. Lawyers and judges had the task of interpreting and enforcing this law.

During the time of the Empire, the emperor had complete power.  Consuls and magistrates were appointed by the emperor and served under him.  Roman citizenship and protection under Roman law was granted throughout the Empire.


· Rome - the capital and major city.

· Alexandria - (in Egypt) second largest city in the Roman Empire.

· Pompeii - major Roman city destroyed by the volcano Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79.

· Carthage - major port city on the north coast of Africa, taken from the Phoenicians by Rome in 146 BC.


Roads paved with stones (some still used today) covered most of the Roman Empire. Horses pulled chariots, some two-wheeled and some four-wheeled.  The wealthy sometimes traveled in a palanquin, an enclosed couch carried by several men.  Cattle were used for pulling heavy loads.

Large fleets of long narrow battleships and cargo ships with huge sails traveled the seas.  Rome was an important link between east and west, importing grain and manufactured goods from around its huge empire.  Marble, copper, and iron ore mined in northern Italy were carried to sites throughout the Mediterranean.


Latin was the language written and spoken in Rome.  Many modern languages developed from it, including English, Italian and Spanish.  The Latin alphabet had 21 letters.  Five more have since been added and it is the English alphabet we use today.

Works written by Roman writers include speeches and letters by Cicero; history by Tacitus; humor by Horace and Juvenal; and poetry by Ovid and Virgil.  A newspaper, the Acta Diurna (Daily Events) was distributed in Rome.


Since the Roman Empire covered so much territory, Roman art incorporated the styles of many different peoples, yet had its own unique character. It was greatly influenced by Greek art and architecture.

The Romans made statues of gods, heroes and real people.  Stone was a favored material but statues were also made of bronze, gold, and silver.  Marble bas-reliefs (flat sculptures) often decorated sarcophagi (coffins).  Painting was done on panels and on walls.  Subjects included people, mythological stories and scenes from daily life or important events.  Painted walls were often accompanied by mosaic floors made of tiny pieces of marble.

Metals and gems were used to make jewelry, tableware, and coins.  Cameos (carved gems, often of a face or figure) were particularly popular.  Glass was molded or blown to make cups and vases.


The typical Roman city was built in the form of a rectangle with two major streets crossing each other.  The center of the city was the forum, a large open area that served as a meeting place.  Around the forum were the main buildings: a basilica (large hall for business and legal meetings), a temple, public baths, a theater and an outdoor amphitheater.  Throughout the city were markets and shops.  Aqueducts provided water for public buildings and fountains.

The Romans were the first to use cement to bind bricks and stones together.  The strength of cement enabled them to build complex structures with arches, vaults and domes.

Wealthy people lived in villas or large houses, usually made of brick.  These houses had courtyards, several rooms, and often a garden.  Poorer people lived in apartment-type buildings which were made of wood and could be five or six stories tall.


The main Roman gods were Jupiter, the king of gods and the sky god; Juno, his wife; and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom.  Only priests were allowed to enter the temples, where statues of the gods were kept.  Homes had small chapels with sacred flames and small wax statues of gods of the hearth (house) and family.  People gave offerings to the gods at their home chapels.

Specific gods and rituals were designated for specific tasks, and the proper completion of the ritual was important.  Books contained all of these rules and also calendars and instructions for religious festivals.


Wheat, barley, grapes, beans, lentils, cabbage, leeks, olives, and fruits were principal crops.  Cattle were kept for milk and cheese.  Porridge was a staple dish, and honey cakes were popular.  Livestock included mules, pigs, horses, sheep and goats.


Both men and women wore tunics (loose gowns) of wool or linen.  Men wore togas or hooded cloaks over their tunics.  A wealthy woman might have a robe or shawl and scarf over her tunic.  Men's tunics were usually white, while women's were colored.  Street shoes were made of leather.  Slippers made of plant fibers were worn indoors. Women used cosmetics and jewelry, including rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, pendants and crowns.


· Romulus - according to legend, the founder of Rome in 753 BC.

· Augustus (emperor 27 BC-AD 14) - the first Roman emperor.


Regal Period - The Kings (753-509 BC)

Rome was said to be founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. The two quarrelled and Remus was killed.  The city was named Rome and Romulus was the first king. It is not certain whether Romulus and Remus actually existed, but their story lives on.

Six other kings ruled between 715 and 509 BC.  In the 500's BC Etruscan rulers from the north controlled Rome and influenced Roman architecture. The Romans rebelled against the Etruscans in 509 BC, and established a republic form of government.

The Republic (509-264 BC)

During the Republic, two leaders were chosen each year. They were first called praetors and later consuls.  Since their power was shared and only lasted from year to year, potential abuse of power was limited. When the plebs became discontented and struggled for more power, wealthy plebs were allowed to serve in the Senate and one of the consul positions went to a pleb. Between 509 and 264 BC, the Roman Republic conquered the entire Italian peninsula.

The Punic Wars (264-146 BC)

Carthage, a Phoenician colony on the north coast of Africa, was the strongest naval power in the world.  Rome fought Carthage for control of the sea in the Punic (Phoenician) Wars.

· First Punic War (264-241 BC) - Colonies of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica fell to Rome.

· Second Punic War (218-201 BC) - Carthage lost Spain and its Mediterranean islands to Rome.

· Third Punic War (149-146 BC) - Rome destroyed Carthage.

Civil Wars (133-27 BC)

Between 133 and 67 BC, the Romans fought amongst themselves. Gaius Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great and Crassus formed a ruling triumvirate (group of three) in 59 BC.  After Crassus' death, Caesar and his  armies took control of Rome. He was elected consul with Marc Antony. Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Marc Antony formed a second triumvirate with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Octavian.

The Roman Empire (27 BC - AD 476)

In 29 BC, Octavian became ruler of the Roman Empire, taking the name of Augustus in 27 BC.  He instituted social reforms, and built temples, basilicas, and other civic buildings, beginning about 200 years known as the time of Pax Romana (Roman Peace).

The emperors who followed Octavian were not as civic minded nor as well liked. They were Caligula (AD 37-41) who was insane and tyrannical, and Nero (AD 54-68) who was accused of setting fire to the city and later committed suicide. Tiberius (AD 14-37),Claudius (AD 41-54), Vespasian ( AD 69-79), and Titus (AD 79-81) were more effective but duller.

Domitian (AD 81-96), a cruel tyrant, was murdered. He was succeeded by the "five good emperors:" Marcus Cocceius Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. Each was chosen for his ability, rather than inheriting the throne.

In AD 180, Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by his son, Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus, who was cruel and murderous.  Rome began a period of decline which lasted for over a hundred years.

Under Diocletian (AD 284-305), Rome regained some of its earlier splendor but civil war returned again after he left the throne.  In AD 312, Constantine the Great became emperor.  He adopted Christianity as the state religion and founded a new seat of government at Constantinople (now Istanbul, in Turkey). 

After Constantine's death in AD 337, the empire returned to war and unrest. In AD 395, the Empire was divided The East Roman Empire survived as the Byzantine Empire until 1453. The West Roman Empire continued to decline until AD 476, when the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was overthrown by invaders from the north.


Romans were the first to make wide use of the arch to support roofs, roadways, and aqueducts.  Aqueducts like this one were built to carry water from mountain springs down into the fountains and public baths of the cities.  One Roman aqueduct was more than 50 miles long.  The aqueducts were made of stone, brick, or concrete.  The channel along the top where the water ran was lined with hard cement.

One of the finest examples of Roman architecture and engineering is the Colosseum, a huge outdoor theater completed in AD 80 under the Emperor Vespasian.  Its official name is the Flavian Amphitheatre (Flavian was the dynasty name of Emperor Vespasian).  The Colosseum covered 7½ acres and could hold 50,000 spectators. There were 80 entrances so all those people could enter or exit within ten minutes.  It was made of brick and concrete with a stone covering on the exterior, and was oval in shape (620 feet by 510 feet) and 157 feet high.  The arena, which was 285 feet by 180 feet, was separated from the spectators by a 15-foot wall. 

The entertainment in the Colosseum was often gladiators (fighters) matched against lions, bears, or each other.  The wild animals were kept in cages under the floor, which was made in sections to allow for scenery changes.  Also, the arena could be flooded and actual ships could take part in mock naval battles there! Seating was divided by social class, with ring-side seats reserved for the elite (senators and wealthy noblemen). Ordinary people (farmers, laborers, soldiers, shopkeepers) sat further up. The top level was a place where the lowest class, the slaves, could stand and watch.


1000 BC People settle near Tiber River
753 BC City of Rome founded
509 BC Beginning of Republic
265 BC Rome gains control of Italian peninsula
27 BC Roman Empire born
AD 395 Empire divided
AD 476 Roman Empire overthrown




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