Unit 6 Ancient Rome; organization and disintegration Be able to locate on a Map: Europe, Italy, Rome, Roman Empire, Carthage, Alps, Constantinople

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Unit 6 - Ancient Rome; organization and disintegration

Be able to locate on a Map: Europe, Italy, Rome, Roman Empire, Carthage, Alps, Constantinople



The continent of Europe is a large peninsula of Eurasia. Europe is sometimes called a

“peninsula of peninsulas.” The Ural Mountains of Russia are considered to be the dividing line

between Europe and Asia. Western civilization originated in southern Europe - in ancient Greece and

Rome - and our culture in the United States is based largely on European culture.

Rome is the present day capital of Italy, seat of the Roman Catholic Church and one of the

world’s great centers of art, history and religion. According to legend, Rome was founded in 753

B.C. by two orphan brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she wolf. Rome was only a

small town when Athens was at the height of its glory, but Rome became a strong city-state at about

the time of Alexander the Great. Rome was the capital of the Roman Republic (4th to 1st century

B.C.) and the Roman Empire (1st century B.C. to 5th century A.D.). The empire completely

encircled the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the Middle East to the British Isles.

Rome is centrally located in Italy and Italy is centrally located in the Mediterranean, making

it a good location from which to build a Mediterranean empire. Due to Rome’s position at the center

of the empire, it was said, “All roads lead to Rome” Because of its geography, Rome is referred to as

the “City of Seven Hills.” Its most famous landmark is the Colosseum. A thousand years after the

fall of the Roman Empire, Rome again became important as a leading center of the Renaissance

which helped Rome to earn the title of “The Eternal City.”

Roman Empire

Covering territory of 40 modern countries, the Roman Empire was the first Western

superpower. It began as a small settlement on the Tiber River, grew to include the Italian peninsula,

then spread to all lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and to much of Europe. At first, Rome

was ruled by kings; then, about 500 B.C., the Roman Republic was established with a Senate which

every year chose two of its members to serve as co-rulers, or consuls. Later, during a time of turmoil

in the republic, Julius Caesar took control of the government and was proclaimed dictator for life.

His successors took the title of emperor.

Rome grew to its greatest size during the first two centuries of the empire when Rome was

mostly at peace. Conquered peoples were not made slaves, but were welcomed as trading partners

and contributing members of the empire. The Roman Empire was known for its extensive

international trade and for its organizational genius including a well-developed legal system and a

strong central government that produced massive public works such as roads, government buildings

and aqueducts (water transport structures). Romans adopted Hellenistic culture; their gods resembled

those of the Greeks and their artists copied the work of Greek sculptors. Christianity was born in the

Roman Empire, eventually becoming the official religion.

As the years passed, the Roman Empire weakened, was divided into two parts, and eventually

fell to barbarian invaders. Perhaps the two greatest contributions of the Roman Empire were its legal

system and Christianity.


Carthage was an ancient city in north Africa and a powerful rival of Rome. From 264-146

B.C., Carthage and the Roman Republic fought three Punic Wars. Cato, a Roman politician ended

all of his speeches in the Senate with the words, “Carthage must be destroyed.” In the third and final

Punic War, Roman armies took Cato’s advice and burned Carthage to the ground, plowed under the

remains and salted the furrows so nothing would grow there again.


Hannibal was a brilliant general from Carthage who attempted to conquer Rome during the

second Punic War by invading Italy from the north. Hannibal led an army of 100,000 men,

supported by war elephants, from Spain through the Alps into Italy, a troop movement considered

one of the greatest in history. Hannibal won several victories and was threatening Rome when Roman

armies attacked Carthage, forcing Hannibal to return to protect his homeland. Following a later

defeat in a battle at sea, Hannibal poisoned himself rather than become a prisoner of the Romans.
Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar is one of the best-known historical figures of all time. He was a successful

general who gained power from military victories that extended Roman rule over the province of

Gaul (present-day France). Fearing his growing strength, the Senate ordered Caesar to disband his

army, but Caesar refused. Civil war broke out when Caesar boldly crossed the Rubicon River in

northern Italy with his Roman legion (a large military unit) and headed toward Rome. Caesar won

the civil war and made himself dictator for life in 48 B.C., thus ending the Roman Republic which

had lasted for over 400 years. “Crossing the Rubicon” is now an expression which means taking a

dangerous and irreversible step. On a later campaign in Asia, Caesar reported his victory to the

Senate with the few words, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” In Latin the words are “veni, vidi, vici.”

Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March (March 15th) in 44 B.C. by his friend Brutus

and other senators opposed to Caesar’s dictatorship. As Brutus stabbed him, Caesar is said to have

uttered the words, “Et tu Brute?” (“Even you, Brutus?”). This phrase was later made famous in

Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. Brutus and his fellow assassins wanted to end Caesar’s

dictatorship so Rome could return to being a republic. It didn’t. Although Shakespeare portrayed

Caesar as an arrogant tyrant, others give Caesar credit for trying to restore order at a time when

Rome’s republican government was no longer functioning effectively. Julius Caesar was responsible

for adoption of the 12-month calendar we use today, and the month of July is named after him.


Cleopatra is famous as the last pharaoh of Egypt and for her love affairs with two of the most

powerful men of the Roman world. Descended from one of Alexander the Great’s generals,

Cleopatra became queen of Egypt when she was seventeen years old, sharing power with her younger

brother. Later, her brother took control and drove Cleopatra from Egypt. When Julius Caesar met

Cleopatra, he fell in love with her and helped her overthrow her brother to become sole ruler of

Egypt. She went with Caesar to Rome and became his mistress before returning to Egypt.

After Caesar was assassinated, and civil war broke out again, two of Caesar’s supporters took

control of the Roman Empire, Octavian in the west and Mark Antony in the east. When Antony met

Cleopatra, he too fell in love with her and went to live with her in Egypt. Back in Rome, Octavian (the

adopted son of Julius Caesar) declared war on Antony and Cleopatra, and he eventually defeated their

combined military forces. Hearing a false report that Cleopatra had committed suicide, Antony

killed himself. After his death, Cleopatra killed herself, reportedly by letting an asp - a poisonous

snake - bite her (although some say she took poison). After her death, Egypt became a province of

the Roman Empire, ending the 3,000 year reign of the pharaohs. Much later, the romance between

Antony and Cleopatra became the basis for Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra.

Augustus Caesar

After he defeated the combined armies and navies of Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian became

sole ruler of Rome. He took the name Augustus, which means “Exalted One,” and he proclaimed

himself Rome’s first emperor. He and later emperors viewed themselves as gods and required their

subjects to do the same. Augustus quietly stripped the Senate of much of its power, turning Rome

into an empire disguised as a republic.

The rule of Augustus ended nearly a century of political unrest in the Roman world, and the

empire enjoyed peace, prosperity and a golden age of literature. The month of August is named

after Augustus, and Jesus was born during his reign.

Pax Romana

Pax Romana is Latin for “the Roman Peace,” a period which began with Augustus and

lasted for 200 years, when Roman rule brought peace, order, and prosperity to an empire stretching

from the Euphrates River in the east to Britain in the west, an area equal in size to the continental

United States. From one end of the empire to the other, Romans were protected by a uniform system

of law. Roman judges were required to weigh the evidence fairly, and accused persons were

considered innocent until proven guilty, principles later adopted by our legal system in the United

States. Roman law was one of the greatest achievements of the empire.


Latin was the language of ancient Rome which spread throughout the empire. Later, during

the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Latin was the language of the Roman Catholic Church and the

universal language of educated people. Even in modern English, many scientific and legal terms are

derived from Latin, such as habeas corpus, Homo Sapiens and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The modern

languages of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese are called Romance languages because they are

derived from the Latin language of the Roman Empire.
Phoenician alphabet

Carthage in North Africa was one of the colonies established by brave sea traders from the

ancient country of Phoenicia, located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. From their travels,

the Phoenicians learned about Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Phoenicians

developed an alphabet of 22 letters, with no vowels, which they used to record their business

transactions. The alphabet differed from all other known writing systems in that the letters stood for

individual sounds, not for whole words or syllables like cuneiform or hieroglyphics. Because the

alphabet was simpler and more precise than picture writing, it spread to many cultures. The

Phoenician alphabet was adopted by the Greeks who added vowels, and then by the Romans who

modified the letters to become the alphabet we use today.


An arch is a curved opening that spans a doorway, window or other space. The arch was a

great architectural achievement which made it possible to span much greater distances than the

column-and-beam architecture of the Egyptians and Greeks. The arch was adopted on a large scale

by the Romans who used it to build impressive structures such as palaces, arenas and baths. Arches

built side-by-side could create aqueducts; arches placed in front of one another could form large

“vaulted” ceilings, and arches arranged in a circular pattern created domes.

The Romans also developed the use of concrete as a construction material. With large interior

spaces made possible by the arch and concrete, public buildings could now be used for practical

purposes, not just as shrines and temples. The type of arch is sometimes used to distinguish one style

of architecture from another. For example, Romanesque buildings usually have round arches while

the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages used pointed arches.


Christianity is a major world religion based on the teachings of Judaism from the Old

Testament of the Bible and on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ who was a Jewish holy man born

in the Middle East during the reign of Augustus Caesar. Jesus encouraged his followers to be kind to

others and to prepare for a day of judgment by giving up sin. Christians believe that all those who

accept Jesus may attain everlasting life in God’s kingdom in heaven.

Jesus’s followers believed he was the Messiah (leader and savior) sent by God. Jewish leaders

disagreed and placed Jesus on trial for claiming to be the son of God. Roman officials ordered Jesus

to be executed by nailing his body to a cross.

Jesus had said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things

that are God’s.” Nonetheless, Christianity was declared illegal, and Christians were persecuted in the

Roman Empire because they refused to worship the Roman emperors as gods.

Our calender is based on the birth of Christ; all years before the Christian era are designated

B.C. (before Christ) and those after the birth of Christ are designated A.D., an abbreviation for the

Latin term anno Domini which means “in the year of the Lord.” Some historians now refer to B.C.

as B.C.E. (before the common era) and refer to A.D. as C.E. (common era).


Born to the family of the Caesars, Nero and Caligula are considered to be two of Rome’s

“bad emperors.” Cruel and insane, Caligula murdered many of his relatives, had people tortured

and killed while he ate dinner and appointed his favorite horse to the Roman Senate to humiliate the

senators. After being assassinated by his own guard, Caligula was succeeded by Nero, the great great

grandson of Augustus.

Although historians have their doubts, legend says that Nero caused a great fire which

destroyed two-thirds of the city of Rome. It is said Nero played a stringed instrument while watching

Rome burn. To say that someone is “fiddling while Rome burns” means that the person is

unconcerned in the midst of disaster. Historians believe it is true that Nero persecuted Christians,

blaming them for the great fire in Rome, that he had his wife and mother killed, and that he kicked

his pregnant mistress to death. Nero died by taking his own life. Nero and Caligula illustrate the

kinds of problems which can result when leaders are chosen based on royal birth.


Pompeii, on the western coast of Italy, was a resort city for wealthy citizens of the Roman

Empire until 79 A.D. when it was buried in ash and cinders by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a

nearby volcano. Although most inhabitants fled the city before it was buried, the remains of more

than 2,000 people have been found in the ruins. The city lay undisturbed for more than 1500 years

until excavations in the mid-1700s uncovered the public buildings, temples, shops, and private homes

of Pompeii. Pompeii provides an unequaled glimpse into daily life during the Roman Empire.

The Colosseum is a great arena of ancient Rome which seated 50,000 spectators. Bloody

contests were staged in the Colosseum for the entertainment of Roman citizens. Using a variety of

weapons, gladiators fought wild beasts and each other to the death. Although the Colosseum is now

in ruins, it remains impressive. It is the best-known structure of the Roman Empire and the symbol of

the present day city of Rome. The Colosseum also symbolizes the decadence, or moral decay, of the

later years of the Roman Empire.

Bread and circuses” is a phrase that describes the policy used by Roman emperors to keep

their people happy by providing free food (bread, wine, bacon, etc.) and entertainment such as the

bloodthirsty spectacles held at the Colosseum. The phrase has come to mean government policies

that seek to divert attention from problems which might cause public unrest.

Constantine the Great

By the fourth century A.D., the Roman Empire was in a state of confusion; it was running

short of money and facing increasing pressure from barbarians pushing in from the borders. In one

50-year period, 26 emperors reigned and only one of them died of natural causes. At about this time

a strong general named Constantine took control of the empire and tried to stop its deterioration. He

is remembered as Constantine the Great, one of Rome’s “good emperors.” Although Christianity

had long been outlawed and Christians persecuted, Constantine legalized Christianity and made it the

official religion of the Roman Empire in place of the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses. Thus,

the Christian church became the Roman Catholic Church. The Romans spread Christianity

throughout the empire thereby making Christianity a central feature of Western civilization.

Constantine also ended the blood sports in the Colosseum, and he established

Constantinople as the capital of the stronger eastern part of the Roman Empire, while Rome remained

capital of the weakened western part of the empire. Constantine ruled over both parts of the empire

from Constantinople which was strategically located on the Bosporus, the strait that connects the

Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Today, Constantinople is called Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city.


Despite the best efforts of Constantine, the Roman Empire continued to decline after his death

as barbarians made repeated attacks against the empire. Barbarians were nomadic warrior tribes

considered by the Romans to be ignorant and culturally inferior. They included the Huns who

invaded Europe from western Asia, pushing other barbarian tribes ahead of them. Their infamous

leader, Atilla the Hun, was called the “Scourge of God.” The Goths from central Europe sacked

Rome in 410 A.D. The Vandals from northern Europe plundered Rome in 455; they were so

destructive that the term vandalism comes from their name. Near the end, the Roman Empire was in

chaos, hiring barbarians to fight other barbarians.

Fall of Rome

The collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century (400s) is considered to be the end of

ancient times and the beginning of the Middle Ages. With the fall of Rome, civilization came to an

end in Europe for several centuries.

Although the Roman Empire had been in decline for a very long time, the year 476 A.D. is

usually given as the date for the Fall of Rome; this is when the last emperor of the western Roman

Empire gave up power to the barbarians. It should be remembered, however, that the eastern Roman

Empire - later called the Byzantine Empire - lived on for another thousand years. Historians have

long debated the causes of the Fall of Rome. Factors leading to the Fall included the decline of

agriculture, reliance on mercenary soldiers, heavy taxes needed to maintain the empire, weak and

corrupt emperors, a decadent upper class devoted to luxury and greed and probably boredom.

Perhaps the more important question is not why Rome fell, but why it lasted so long.

the Dialectic in history

Georg Hegel was a modern German philosopher of the 1800s who believed that history is

constantly involved in a process of change, and that these changes gradually move toward greater

freedom. Hegel said historical progress is the result of a “dialectic,” or the conflict of opposite

ideas. Examples include freedom versus slavery and civilization versus barbarism.

Hegel saw a pattern in history which has been described as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

According to Hegel, any existing historical condition, called the thesis, is always imperfect and gives

rise to its opposite idea, the antithesis. As a result of conflict between the two, a third condition arises,

the synthesis, which combines the most useful parts of the thesis and antithesis. This synthesis

becomes the new historical condition or thesis, which will generate a new antithesis, and so on. In this

way, according to Hegel, history advances over time.

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