Global perspectives

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• Why might we describe the Roman Empire as multicultural? What cultures most influenced Roman culture, and why?

• What was it about the period from the second century B.C.E. through the third century C.E. that allowed the opening of new routes by land and sea linking Europe to central Asia, India, and China?

• Why did the Roman Empire decline in the West? Which of the problems that Rome faced were internal, and which were external? How were the two connected?

Italy Before Rome

Who were the early political leaders of Italy?

  • Identify four groups of people who shaped Italy

  • Identify the key characteristics of the Etruscan period in Italy

Royal Rome

What patterns of Roman governance were set in the royal period?

  • Identify the three branches of Roman government

  • Discuss royal power in theory and practice

  • Describe Roman family structure and roles

  • Explain the client–patron relationship

  • Define patricians and plebeians

The Republic

What cultures most influenced Roman culture, and why?

  • Describe the distribution of power in republican Roman government

  • Understand Roman policy toward conquered peoples

  • Outline the history of the Punic Wars

  • Discuss the problems posed for Roman society and government by the acquisition of overseas territory

  • Identify Greek influences on Roman society and thought

Roman Imperialism

Why did a growing gap between the wealthy and everyone else contribute to political instability?

  • Trace the expansion of the Roman Empire

  • Discuss the impact of expansion on society in Rome and in Italy

  • Identify key leaders of the period, including Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Gracchus, Gaius Marius, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and the ideas or events with which they are associated

  • Identify key cultural figures of the period, including Cicero, Lucretius, and Catallus

The Fall of the Republic and the Augustan Principate

What were the central features of Octavian rule?

  • Identify key leaders of the period, including Marcus Licinius Crassus, Cnaeus Pompey, and Gaius Julius Caesar, and the ideas or events with which they are associated

  • Understand the structure and significance of the First and Second Triumvirates

  • Describe Octavian’s constitutional solution to the problems of governing Rome

  • Trace the transformation of Octavian’s rule into the Augustan Principate

  • Identify Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Livy, and the arts or works with which they are associated

  • Understand the links between the arts and the sociopolitical developments of the period

Peace and Prosperity: Imperial Rome (14–180 C.E.)

What role did cities play in the Roman Empire?

  • Describe the nature of Roman dynastic, imperial rule

  • Identify Augustus’s successors

  • Comment on urban living conditions

The Rise of Christianity

How did Paul resolve the central dilemma of the relationship between Judaism and early Christianity?

  • Identify important people and events in the emergence of early Christianity

  • Describe the connections between early Christianity and Roman society and governance

The Third and Fourth Centuries: Crisis and Late Empire

Why did the capital of the empire move from Rome to Constantinople, and what was the significance of this shift?

  • Identify threats to Roman rule in the third century

  • Trace the reconstruction and reorganization of the empire in the fourth century

  • Describe when and why the empire split into east and west

  • Outline the rise of Christianity in the fourth century

  • Discuss influences on late imperial culture

  • Identify Augustine and his role in the spread of Christianity

  • Outline some of the explanations historians have offered for the fall of the western empire

  • Justify your own explanation for the end of the Roman Empire in the West



  1. Roman Constitution: One of the great achievements of the Romans was their constitution. An unwritten collection of laws based upon tradition and precedent, it sanctioned a government dependent upon two principles: annuality and collegiality. That is, more than one person held each office (with the exception of the dictatorship) and they held it generally for one year only. Each citizen was allowed to vote and did in a number of traditional assemblies. Intended to govern a city-state, the constitution was appended to meet the demands of imperial administration.

  2. Struggle of the Orders: The period from 509 to 207 B.C.E. has been called the “Struggle of the Orders” since the plebeians agitated for legal equality with the patricians. Gradually the plebeians won full legal, political, and social equality with the patricians. This was achieved without bloodshed—a point that the Romans were proud of and that contrasted with the chaos and violence of the late republic.

  1. Clientage: The client–patron relationship in Rome was very important, and domestic politics involved the workings of this relationship on many levels whether it was among aristocrats or between aristocrats and the poor. The relationship was hereditary and sanctioned by religion and custom.

  2. Roman Imperialism: A much debated point in Roman history concerns Roman intentions in the acquisition of its empire. Did Rome have a blueprint for empire and consciously follow a policy of aggressive imperialism? The answer is probably no, but once Romans became involved in a dispute (especially in the Greek east and often by invitation), they found it difficult to remain neutral with their own interests and even survival at stake. Within about 120 years, Rome had expanded from control of the Italian peninsula to mastery of the entire Mediterranean—a transformation that would present great problems for the state in the second and first centuries B.C.E.

  1. The Reforms of the Gracchi: The reforms instituted by the Gracchi, which included redistribution of public land, colonies, Italian citizenship, subsidized grain, and so on, were not illegal and in some cases even had precedent. Yet it was their method, especially that of Tiberius, that aroused the hatred of the aristocracy. Many precedents for later actions proceeded from the Gracchan episode, including murder and violent intimidation. A major problem that was not solved during this period was the approval of Italian citizenship.

  2. The Reforms of Marius: In addition to changes in formation and weaponry, Marius changed the composition of the army as well. He began using volunteers, mostly dispossessed farmers and proletarians, who looked upon military service as a way of obtaining guaranteed food, shelter, clothing, and booty from victories. Most importantly, they expected a piece of land upon discharge. Rather than looking to the Senate to provide these benefits, they expected them from their commander as fulfillment of a patron–client compact. One of the main reasons the republic collapsed was because of private armies’ loyalty to their generals and not to the state.

  1. The Reforms of Sulla: These were enacted in the late 80s and were designed to reestablish the Senate as the ruling institution of Rome. They called for, among other things, restrictions on the veto power of tribunes and a halt to any advance in career after holding that office. Then only people without ambition would hold the office and the republic would be preserved from the troublesome obstructions of the Gracchi or Livius Drusus the Younger. The reforms, however, were undone by 70 B.C.E.

  2. The Assassination of Julius Caesar: Caesar’s murder by Brutus, Cassius, and about 60 senators stemmed from ideologues who believed that they were ridding Rome of a tyrant and that after liberation, the republic would automatically be restored. Thus, they made no plans to follow up their deed. It is not certain if Caesar planned to become “king” of Rome although he held the title of dictator for life. It is certain, however, that he did not court the traditional aristocracy and even abused their dignity upon occasion. His heir, Octavian, would form a coalition of supporters and conservatives that proved successful in the long run.

  3. The Augustan Principate: The Augustan settlement ostensibly restored the republic but in fact established a monarchy. Augustus controlled twenty of the twenty-six legions in the provinces with the most potential for fighting. Egypt, with its wealth and important grain production, belonged to him alone. In fact, geographically the imperial provinces practically surrounded the senatorial. However, Augustus knew that he could not rule by force alone. He built around him a coalition of supporters who owed their positions to him. Augustus respected the dignity of the senators by using them in the administration and listening to their advice. This “sham of government,” as it has been called, put a premium on efficient and equitable treatment of its citizens. The strength of the system can be evaluated in its survival even through the reigns of incompetent and cruel emperors.

  4. Persecution of Christianity: The Roman policy toward Christianity was ambivalent. After the localized persecution by Nero in Rome, there was only sporadic violence in the provinces, much of it provoked by Christians. The uncertain Roman policy is reflected in Trajan’s correspondence with Pliny the Younger contained in the text. It is only later, in 250 C.E., that the emperor Decius launched a full-scale persecution. Much of the hatred of the Christians was due to their firm denial of pagan gods and anti-Christian propaganda that portrayed them as guilty of cannibalism and incest.

  5. Constantine and Christianity: In his struggle to overcome his opponents in the civil war that followed the retirement of Diocletian, Constantine was said to have had a dream that convinced him he owed his success to the Christian god; from then on he supported Christianity (calling and presiding over the Council of Nicaea) without abolishing the imperial cult or pagan state religion. He was not baptized, in fact, until on his deathbed. His devotion has, therefore, been questioned. Some have seen a utilitarian purpose in his support of Christianity—it enabled him to confiscate the gold and silver from some of the pagan temples in order to help reestablish the currency standard.

  6. Republican and Imperial Rome in Global Perspective: The history of the Republic is a sharp departure from the common experience of ancient civilizations. In the development from a monarchy to a republic founded on equitable laws, and the subsequent accumulation and administration of empire, the Romans displayed their pragmatic character. They created something unique: an empire ruled by elected magistrates with an effective power equal to the kings and emperors of China, India, and Iran. However, the temptations and responsibilities of such a vast empire proved too much for the republican constitution. The influx of slaves led to the displacement of citizens, who served as professional soldiers in the service of generals seeking personal glory above loyalty to the state. The conquest of a vast empire led the Romans toward the more familiar path of development experienced by rulers in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Iran. Comparisons can be made with the Chinese “dynastic cycle” that included a period of strength and security fortified by impressive leadership. Like the former Han Dynasty in China, the Roman Empire in the west fell, leaving disunity, insecurity, disorder, and poverty. Like similar empires in the ancient world, it had been unable to sustain its “immoderate greatness.”



Text Sources

  • St. Augustine of Hippo, Theory of the “Just War”

  • Sidonius Apollinaris, Rome’s Decay and a Glimpse of the New Order

  • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae Letters

  • Pliny the Elder, from The Natural History

  • Paulus Orosius, from Seven Books of History Against the Pagans

  • Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Book twenty-six

  • Horace, “Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori”

  • Bishop Synesius of Cyrene, Letter to his brother

  • The Acts of the Apostles: Paul Pronounces the “Good News” in Greece

  • Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations, Book Two (167 C.E.)

  • From The Conversion of Kartli (the life of St. Nino)

  • Ammianus Marcellinus on the Huns

  • Livy, The Rape of Lucretia and the Origins of the Republic

  • Slaves in the Roman Countryside

  • Augustus’s Moral Legislation: Family Values

  • Juvenal, A Satirical View of Women

  • Gnostic Teachings of Jesus, According to Irenaeus

  • Perpetua, The Autobiography of a Christian Martyr

  • The Confession of Saint Patrick

  • Eusobius of Caesarea, selections from Life of Constantine

Visual Sources

  • Statue of Caesar Augustus

  • Roman Forum

  • Roman aqueduct

  • Armenian Monastery

  • Tombstone of a Roman soldier


  • Rome: provides an excellent and very user-friendly set of links to the myriad of Web sites concerning the Roman world.

  • Byzantine Empire: contains links to primary sources, images, and visual and audio resources.

  • Late Roman Empire: provides many helpful links to primary sources for the last centuries of the empire in the West.

  • Roman Empire: provides a wealth of links to sites that specialize in a wide variety of topics dealing with the Roman Empire in all periods.


  • Assassination of Julius Caesar. Columbia Broadcasting System. 27 min.

  • Julius Caesar: Rise of the Roman Empire. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 22 min.

  • Spirit of Rome. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 29 min.

  • The Glory That Remains: Siege of the Rock. Time–Life. 31 min.

  • Roman World. International Film Bureau. 23 min.

  • Pompeii—The Death of a City. McGraw-Hill. 14 min.

  • Pompeii—Once There Was a City. Learnex Corporation of Florida. 25 min.

  • Legacy of Rome. American Broadcasting Company. 50 min.

  • In Defense of Rome: Roman Law. McGraw-Hill. 18 min.

  • Christianity in World History—to 1000 C.E. Coronet. 14 min.

  • The Christians: Faith and Fear. McGraw-Hill. 39 min.

  • In Defense of Rome. McGraw-Hill. 16 min.

  • Decline of the Roman Empire. Coronet. 14 min.

  • Lost Civilizations (510 minutes). Discovery Channel series that includes Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Aegean world, Greece, China, Rome, Maya, Inca, Africa, and Tibet.

  • The Romans in North Africa (50 minutes). Kultur.

  • The Surprising History of Rome, with Terry Jones (51 minutes). FHS.

  • Christianity: The First Two Thousand Years (400 minutes) A&E Home Video.

  • Peter & Paul and the Christian Revolution (110 minutes) PBS Paramount.

  • From the Mists of the North, the Germanic Tribes (52 minutes). FHS.

  • Baalbek: Roman Temple Complex (30 minutes). FHS.

  • The Republic: Plato’s Utopia (48 minutes). FHS.

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