Roman Empire

Summary

The Roman Empire (Latin: Imperium Romanum) was the post-republican period of ancient Roman civilization, characterized by an autocratic form of government led by an emperor and by extensive territorial possessions around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The republic that preceded it over five centuries was in a highly unstable situation following several civil wars and political conflicts, during which Julius Caesar was appointed perpetual dictator and was assassinated in 44 BC. The civil wars culminated in the victory of Octavian, Caesar”s adopted son, over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Wielding unquestioned authority, in 27 BC the Roman senate granted Octavian absolute powers and the new title Augustus, thus marking the end of the republic.

The imperial period lasted for about 500 years. The first two centuries were marked by a period of unprecedented prosperity and political stability called the Pax Romana. Following the victory of Augustus and the subsequent annexation of Egypt, the size of the empire increased considerably. After the assassination of Caligula in 41 AD, the senate considered restoring the republic, which led the praetorian guard to proclaim Claudius emperor. This period saw the greatest expansion of the empire since the time of Augustus. After Nero”s suicide in 68, a brief period of civil war began, during which four generals were proclaimed emperors. In 69, Vespasian triumphed over the rest, establishing the Flavian dynasty. His son, Titus, inaugurated Rome”s Colosseum shortly after the eruption of Vesuvius. After Domitian”s assassination, the senate appointed the first of five good emperors, during which time the empire reached its territorial peak in the reign of Trajan.

The assassination of Comodo in 192 set off a period of conflict and decline called the year of the five emperors, from which Septimius Severus emerged triumphant. The assassination of Alexander Severus in 235 led to the crisis of the third century, during which the senate proclaimed 26 emperors over fifty years. The imposition of a Tetrarchy provided a brief period of stability, although it ultimately sparked a civil war that ended only with Constantine”s triumph over his rivals. Now sole ruler of the empire, Constantine moved the capital to Byzantium, renamed Constantinople in his honor, which remained capital of the east until 1453. Constantine also adopted Christianity, which would later become the official religion of the empire. Following the death of Theodosius, imperial rule went into decline as a consequence of abuses of power, civil wars, barbarian migrations and invasions, military reforms, and economic depression. The deposition of Romulus Augustus by Odoacer is the generally accepted event to mark the end of the Western Empire. However, the Eastern Roman Empire lasted for another millennium and was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

Roman expansion began in the 6th century BC, shortly after the founding of the republic. However, it was not until the 3rd century BCE that Rome began annexing provinces outside the Italian peninsula, four centuries before it reached its greatest territorial extent, and in that sense it already constituted an “empire,” although it was still ruled as a republic. The Roman Republic was not a nation-state in the contemporary sense of the term, but rather a network of cities, each with different degrees of autonomy from the Roman senate. The republican provinces were administered by former consuls and praetors, elected for a one-year term. The military power of the consuls was based on the legal notion of imperium, or military command. Occasionally successful consuls were awarded the title imperator (commander), which is the origin of the term “emperor.

Augustus and the transition from republic to empire

From the end of the 2nd century BC, while Rome experienced a series of internal conflicts, conspiracies and civil wars, its influence extended beyond Italy. The 1st century BC was a period of instability, marked by several political and military revolts that paved the way for the implementation of an imperial regime. In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was acclaimed perpetual dictator before being assassinated. The following year, Octavian (future Augustus), Caesar”s great-nephew and adopted son and one of the most prominent republican generals, became one of the three members of the Second Triumvirate – a political alliance with Lepidus and Mark Antony. The division of the empire between Antony and Octavian was short-lived. Tensions between the two in the period following the Battle of Philippi (42 BC) led to the dissolution of the triumvirate in 32 BC and a confrontation at the Battle of Actium (31 BC), from which Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra were defeated. The subsequent confrontation at Alexandria (30 BC) provided for the annexation of the Ptolemaic Kingdom by Octavian.

Principality

In 27 BC, the Senate and People of Rome proclaimed Octavian prince (romaniz.: lit. “first “) with imperium proconsular and the title Augustus (Latin: augustus , lit. “the venerated”). This event marks the beginning of the Principia, the first epoch of the imperial period between 27 BC and 284 AD. Augustus” rule ended a century of civil war, ushering in an unprecedented era of social stability, economic prosperity, and Pax Romana (“Roman peace”), which lasted for the next two centuries. Revolts in the provinces were infrequent and quickly brought under control. Now the sole ruler of Rome, Augustus initiated a series of large-scale military, political, and economic reforms. The senate gave him the power to appoint his own senators and authority over provincial governors, effectively creating the office that would later be called emperor.

Augustus implemented principles of dynastic succession, being succeeded in the Julius-Claudian dynasty by Tiberius (r. 14-37), Caligula (r. 37-41), Claudius (r. 41-54), and Nero (r. 54-68). By 54, Rome was ravaged by a Great fire and by 68, Nero committed suicide without leaving any successors. In 69 AD, during the year of the four emperors, Vespasian (r. 69-79) rose to power and founded the short-lived Flavian dynasty, best remembered for the construction of Rome”s Coliseum, succeeded by the Nerva-Antonine dynasty, which included the emperors Nerva (r. 96-98), Trajan (r. 98-117), Hadrian (r. 117-138), Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161) and Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180). In 212, during the reign of Caracala (r. 211-217), Roman citizenship was granted to all free citizens of the empire. But despite this gesture of universality, the severe dynasty was marked by various upheavals throughout the crisis of the third century, a time of invasions, social unrest, economic hardship, and plague. In the context of the periodization of history, this crisis is generally considered the moment of transition between Classical and Late Antiquity.

Dominato

Diocletian (r. 284-305) renounced the role of prince and adopted the title domine (master or lord), marking the transition from principality to dominion-a state of absolute monarchy that would last from 284 until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Diocletian prevented the collapse of the empire, although his reign was marked by the persecution of Christianity. During his reign, the empire was divided into a Tetrarchy of four regions, each ruled by a separate emperor. In 313, the Tetrarchy collapsed. After a series of wars of succession, Constantine (r. 306-337) emerged as sole emperor and the first to convert to Christianity, establishing Constantinople as the capital of the Eastern Empire. Throughout the Constantine and Valentinian dynasties, the empire was divided into a western and an eastern half, with power shared by Rome and Constantinople. The succession of Christian emperors was briefly interrupted by Julian (r. 361-363), who tried to restore the Roman and Hellenistic religions. Theodosius (r. 378-395), the last emperor to rule the eastern and western empire, died in 395, after having decreed Christianity the official religion of the empire.

Fragmentation and decline

From the early fifth century the Roman Empire began to fragment, as the high number of migrations of Germanic peoples was greater than the empire”s capacity to assimilate the migrants. Although the Roman army was effective in repelling invaders, most notably Attila the Hun (r. 434-453), the empire had so assimilated Germanic peoples with dubious loyalty to Rome that the empire began to dismember itself. Most historians date the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the year Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476) was deposed by the Herulean leader Odoacro (r. 476-493). However, instead of assuming the title of emperor for himself, Odoacro submitted to the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire, thus ending the line of Western emperors. Over the next century, the eastern empire, known today as the Byzantine Empire, progressively lost its hold on the western part. The Byzantine Empire ended in 1453, with the death of Constantine XI (r. 1449-1453) and the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire.

The Roman Empire was one of the largest in history and dominated a continuous territorial expanse throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, from Hadrian”s Wall in rainy England to the sunny banks of the Euphrates River in Syria, from the fertile plains of Central Europe to the lush banks of the Nile valley in Egypt. The notion of imperium sine fine (“empire without end”) manifested the Roman ideology that their empire was not limited in space and time. Most Roman expansion occurred during the republic, although some parts of northern and central Europe were conquered in the 1st century AD, a period that corresponds to the consolidation of Roman power in the provinces. The Res Gestae, a narrative of Augustus” conquests, highlighted the number of peoples and regions in the empire. The imperial administration frequently conducted censuses and kept meticulous geographical records.

The empire reached its greatest territorial extension during the reign of Trajan (r. 98-117), corresponding to an area of about five million square kilometers and currently spread over forty countries. The population of this period is traditionally estimated to be between 55 and 60 million, which corresponded to between 1

The language of the Romans was Latin, which Virgil singled out as the source of Roman unity and tradition. Although Latin was the common language in courts and public administration in the Western Empire and in the army throughout the empire, it was not officially imposed on the peoples under Roman rule. When conquering new territories, the Romans preserved local traditions and languages, gradually introducing Latin through public administration and official documents. This policy contrasts with that of Alexander the Great, who imposed Hellenistic Greek as the official language of his empire. This resulted in Ancient Greek becoming the lingua franca of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor. In the West, vulgar Latin progressively replaced the Celtic and Italic languages, for which it shares the same Indo-European root, which facilitated its adoption.

Although the Julius-Claudian emperors encouraged the use of Latin in conducting official business throughout the empire, Greek remained the literary language among the Roman cultural elite, and most rulers were fluent in Greek. Claudius tried to limit the use of Greek, even revoking citizenship for those who did not know Latin, although in the senate itself there were native Greek ambassadors. In the Eastern Empire, laws and official documents were regularly translated from Latin to Greek. The simultaneous use of both languages can be seen in bilingual inscriptions in Greek and Latin. In 212, when citizenship was granted to all free men in the empire, citizens who did not know Latin were expected to acquire some basics of the language. In the early fifth century, Justinian strove to promote Latin as the language of law in the East, although Latin progressively lost influence and existence as a living language.

The constant reference to interpreters in literature and official documents indicates the commonness and prevalence in the Roman Empire of a multitude of local languages. Roman jurists themselves were concerned to ensure that laws and oaths were correctly translated and understood in the local languages, such as Punic, Gaulish, Aramaic, or the Coptic language, prevalent in Egypt, or the Germanic languages, prevalent in the Rhine and Danube regions. In some regions, as in the province of Africa, Punic was used on coins and inscriptions on public buildings, some bilingual with Latin. However, the predominance of Latin among the elites and as the official language of written documents compromised the continuity of several local languages, since all cultures within the empire were of a predominantly oral tradition.

The three main elements of the Roman imperial state were the central government, the armed forces, and provincial governments. The military forces imposed dominion over a territory through military campaigns. However, after a city or people signed treaties of cooperation, the military missions converted to policing missions, protecting Roman citizens and, from 212 on, all free men in the empire, the farmlands and religious sites. Without modern resources for communication or mass destruction, the Romans did not have enough human capital to impose their rule through force alone. Cooperation with local elites was necessary to maintain order, gather intelligence, and collect taxes. The Romans often exploited internal political divisions among assimilated peoples, supporting one faction against another. Communities that demonstrated their loyalty to Rome could maintain their own laws, collect their own taxes, and in exceptional cases were exempt from central taxation. The legal privileges and relative independence provided an incentive that it was in the interest of the population to maintain its reputation before Rome. Thus, the power of the Roman central government was limited, though efficient in its use of available resources.

Central Government

The emperor was the supreme religious and political authority of the empire, reserving for himself powers that during the republic were the responsibility of the senate, such as the right to declare war, ratify treaties, and negotiate with foreign leaders. The emperor”s authority was based on the concentration of the powers of several republican offices, including the inviolability and authority over civil power of the tribunes of the plebs, the authority over the army of the proconsuls, and the authority of the censors to manipulate the hierarchy of Roman society and control the senate. Although the emperor”s functions were defined during the principality, over time the emperor”s power moved away from the constitutional model and progressively toward the model of despotism characteristic of the dominatum. The death of an emperor caused a period of uncertainty and crisis. Most emperors appointed their successor, usually a close family member or adopted heir. The new emperor was expected to secure the loyalty of the state apparatus to stabilize the political landscape.

The emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty were assisted by an informal body of advisors, which included not only senators and equestrians, but also trusted slaves and freedmen. After the reign of Nero, the influence of this council was viewed with suspicion, and the consilium (consilium) became chosen by official appointment. Although until the end of the Antonine dynasty the senators took the leading role in political decisions, the influence of equestrians on the council gradually increased. Women from the emperor”s family often intervened in his decisions. Outside his reserved circle, access to the emperor took place during a daily reception (salutatio), inspired by the Roman tradition of daily homage by clients to their patrons, and during which religious ceremonies and public banquets were held in the palace. Common citizens without access to these receptions could demonstrate in groups during the games held in the large venues. By the fourth century, as urban centers declined, Christian emperors became public figures, issuing general decrees and no longer responding to individual petitions.

The senate survived the restoration of Augustus and the turbulent year of the four emperors, retaining during the principality the political prestige it held in the republic, although it did not have enough political power to oppose the will of the emperor. It was the senate that legitimized the emperor”s rule, and the emperor needed the senators” experience as legates for the roles of generals, diplomats, and administrators. The army was the pragmatic source of the emperor”s power and authority. The legionaries were paid from the imperial treasury and each year swore allegiance to the emperor during the sacramentum. No emperor could reign without the support of the praetorian guard and the legions, so it was common to pay a donativum to ensure their support. In theory, the senate was free to choose the new emperor, although in practice it did so according to the wishes of the praetorians.

Provincial Government

For an annexed territory to become a province, an inventory of towns, a population census and a topographical survey were required. The administration then proceeded to keep various records, including births and deaths, property transactions, and legal proceedings. The provinces were administered by Roman governors. The senatorial provinces were governed by magistrates elected in Rome on behalf of the Roman people. Imperial provinces, excluded from the control of the senate, were governed by members of the equestrian order who administered the imperium on behalf of the emperor. A governor had to be accessible to the governed population, although he could delegate various tasks, for which he had a cadre of civil servants: aparitores (civil and military legates, usually of the equestrian order; and an unofficial council of trusted persons.

Public finances were overseen by officials appointed to the position. During the empire, a reform of the tax system took place, separating it from the courts and the public administration, since during the republic exploitation of the local population was common. The procurators, whose authority was extra-judicial and extra-constitutional, managed not only the property of the state, but the vast property of the emperor (res privata). Since there were few officials in local governments, if a provincial administrator needed support in a legal dispute or criminal case, he could summon any Roman citizen with some administrative competence, such as a procurator or a military officer, from a centurion to the lower ranks.

The three main military divisions were the garrison of Rome, including the praetorian guard and the vigiles (and the Roman navy. The ubiquity of military garrisons throughout the empire was a major influence on the Romanization process. Each legion was organized into ten cohorts, each with six centuries, which in turn were divided into ten contuberni. It is estimated that each legion averaged 5,000 soldiers. During and after the Second Civil War of the Roman Republic, Augustus reduced the number of legions from over 60 to only 28. For the next three centuries, the total number of legions remained at thirty.

Augustus also created the Praetorian Guard, nine ostensible cohorts garrisoned in Italy and tasked with maintaining public order. Praetorians were better paid and served less time than legionnaires, retiring after sixteen years of military service. Auxiliary troops (auxilia) were recruited from among non-citizens and were organized into small units about the size of a cohort. The soldiers were paid less than the legionnaires, although after 25 years of service they and their children were offered Roman citizenship. The auxiliary troops numbered about 125,000 men, distributed among approximately 250 auxiliary regiments. During the early empire, Roman cavalry came mainly from Hispania and Celtic and Germanic regions, influencing some aspects of Roman training and equipment.

The Roman navy (classis) supplied and transported the legions, helped protect the borders along the rivers, protected the maritime trade routes against pirate attacks, and patrolled the Mediterranean, parts of the Atlantic coast, and the Black Sea. However, the army was considered the most prestigious branch. During the early days of the principality, the navy was organized similarly to a centuria. Volunteers could enroll in the naval infantry or as rowers, sailors or craftsmen, although all were considered milites (soldiers). Most of the crew were the rowers (remiges), who during the empire were mostly pilgrims (peregrini) from the provinces with a maritime tradition The centuria was led by a centurion, assisted by an optio and a beneficiarius (beneficiarius), who supervised the administrative officials, midshipmen, and specialists. Each ship was commanded by a trierarch and each squadron of ten ships led by a navarch. The generic term for a rowing warship was navis longa, distinguishing it from merchant sailing ships (navis oneraria) or small vessels (navigia minora). The navy had many different types of vessels, from small scouting barges, such as the liburnas, to large warships, such as the hexarreme. The ship”s main weapon was the rostrum, used to sink or immobilize enemy ships by piercing their hulls. Ballistas and catapults were also mounted on the deck.

Law

Roman courts had jurisdiction to rule on cases involving Roman citizens throughout the empire, although there were few officials to enforce the law uniformly among the provinces. For those without Roman citizenship, the policy of the empire was to respect the mos regionis, the “local tradition” or “laws of the land” of the Romanized peoples, viewing them as a source of legal precedent and social stability. Compatibility between Roman law and local law was seen as a reflection of the Ius gentium, the law of the gentiles or international law common among all human communities. When certain aspects of provincial laws conflicted with Roman law or custom, appeals could be made to Roman courts, with the emperor having the authority to issue a final decision.

Most of the territories in the eastern part of the empire had implemented codes of law and legal procedures. In the west, law had been administered on a tribal basis and private property rights may have been a novelty of the Roman era, especially among the Celtic peoples. Roman law facilitated the acquisition of wealth by the pro-Roman elite, who saw advantages in their new privileges as citizens of the empire. The extension of citizenship universally to all inhabitants of the empire in 212 required the uniform application of Roman law, replacing local codes of law that were applied to non-citizens. Diocletian”s attempt to stabilize the empire after the crisis of the third century included two notable legal compilations in just four years, the Gregorian Code and the Hermogenian Code, designed to assist provincial administrators in implementing consistent legal standards.

Finance

The tax law was confusing and contradictory, and determined a complex system of direct and indirect taxes, some paid in cash and others in kind. Taxes could be specific to a particular province, could be levied only on certain types of property, such as fishing or salt marshes, or could be imposed only during a certain period of time. In regions with little money, payments in kind were accepted, especially those that produced cereals or goods to supply the military camps. Taxes also financed the army, so taxpayers were entitled to a refund when the army captured spoils or surpluses.

The Roman Empire was a multicultural society, with a surprising capacity for cohesion, capable of creating a sense of common identity while assimilating the most diverse peoples into its political system. The Roman concern to create monuments and community spaces open to the public, such as the forums, amphitheaters, circuses, or the baths, helped establish the feeling of Romanness. Roman society had a complex system of multiple hierarchies, which the contemporary concept of social class does not precisely define.

The two decades of civil war preceding Augustus” rule left traditional Roman society in a state of confusion and upheaval. However, the dilution of the rigid hierarchy of the republic led to increasing social mobility among Romans, both upward and downward, and more expressive than in any other society of documented antiquity. Women, freedmen, and slaves now had economic opportunities and opportunities to exercise influence through means that had previously been closed to them. The social life of the empire, particularly for those with limited resources, was further boosted by the proliferation of voluntary associations and confraternities (collegia and sodalitates) formed for various purposes: professional and commercial guilds, veterans” groups, religious associations, gastronomic clubs Under Nero it was not unusual to find a slave who was richer than a freeborn citizen, or an equestrian (eques) more influential than a senator.

Citizenship

According to the jurist Gaius, the main distinction between people in Roman law was between free citizens (liberi) and slaves (servi). The legal status of free citizens could be further specified according to their citizenship. During the early empire, only a limited number of men were fully entitled to Roman citizenship, which allowed them to vote, to stand for election, and to be ordained priests. Most citizens had only limited rights, but they were entitled to legal protection and other privileges that were denied to those without citizenship. Free men who lived within the empire, but were not considered citizens, had the status of pilgrims (peregrini, or non-Roman). In 212, through the Edict of Caracala, Emperor Caracala extended the right of citizenship to all inhabitants of the empire, repealing all laws that distinguished citizens from non-citizens.

Roman slavery was not based on racial discrimination. During the Republican expansion, when slavery became widespread, the main source of slaves were prisoners of war of the most diverse ethnicities. The conquest of Greece brought to Rome a large number of extremely skilled and educated slaves. Slaves could also be sold in markets and occasionally by pirates. Other sources of slaves included child abandonment and self-slavery among the poorest. Vernas (vernae) were slaves who were the children of a slave mother who had been born and raised in the home of their owners. Although they had no particular legal protection, the owner who mistreated or did not take care of his vernas was frowned upon by society, since they were considered part of his family, and could even be sons of the free men in the family.

Slavery legislation was quite complex. Under Roman law, slaves were considered property and had no legal personality. A slave could be subjected to forms of corporal punishment forbidden to citizens, be sexually exploited, tortured and summarily executed. In legal terms, a slave could not be considered rape, since rape could only be carried out on free persons; a rapist of a slave would have to be charged by the owner for property damage. Slaves had no right to enter into marriage, although sometimes unions were recognized and could marry if both were freed. Technically, a slave could not own property, although a slave who conducted business could have access to an individual fund or account (peculium), of which he could freely dispose. The terms of this account varied depending on the relationship of trust between the owner and the slave. A slave with business aptitude could have considerable autonomy to manage businesses and other slaves. Within a household or a workshop, a hierarchy of slaves was common, with one slave managing the others. Successful slaves were able to accumulate enough money to buy their freedom or be freed for services rendered. Manumission became so frequent that in the 2nd century BC, a law limited the number of slaves an owner could free.

In the wake of the Serf Wars, legislation attempted to lessen the threat of slave rebellions by limiting the size of work parties and by prosecuting runaways. Over the centuries, slaves gained increasing legal protection, including the right to file a complaint against masters. A purchase contract could have a clause stating that the slave could not be assigned to prostitution, since a large number of prostitutes were slaves. The growth of the eunuch slave trade during the late 1st century promoted legislation that prohibited the castration of a slave against his will.

Unlike the Greek city-states, Rome allowed freed slaves to become citizens, including the right to vote. A slave who obtained the libertas was called a liberto (“freed person,” fem. liberta) in relation to his former master, who then became his patron (Latin: patronus). However, the two parties continued to have customary and legal obligations to each other. The social class of the freedmen was called libertines (libertini), although later the terms liberto and libertino (libertinus) were used interchangeably. A libertine could not hold office in the public administration or the state priesthood, although he could exercise priesthood in the imperial cult. A freedman could also not marry a woman from a family of the senatorial order or legitimately be part of that order himself, although during the early empire freedmen held high places in the administration.

Orders

In the context of the Roman Empire, an order (pl. ordine) means an aristocratic class. One of the purposes of censuses was to determine the order (pl. ordine) to which a particular person belonged. In Rome, the two orders of highest status were the senatorial order (ordo senatorius) and the equestrian order (ordo equester). Outside of Rome, the decurions (ordo decurionum) represented the local aristocracy. The position of “senator” was not an elective office. A citizen was admitted to the senate after being elected and serving for at least one term as a magistrate. A senator should also have a wealth of at least one million sesterces. Not all men who met the criteria for the senatorial order accepted a seat in the senate, which required domicile in Rome. Since the senate comprised 600 seats, emperors often filled vacant seats by direct appointment. The son of a senator belonged by right to the senatorial order, although he had to qualify on his own merit to be admitted to the senate. Senators could be expelled for violating the rules of moral conduct; for example, they could not marry a freedwoman or fight in the arena. In Nero”s time, the senators were mainly from Rome and other parts of Italy, with some from the Iberian Peninsula and southern France. During Vespasian”s rule, senators from the eastern provinces began to be added. During the severe dynasty, the Italians were already less than half of the senate.

The position of senator corresponded to the highest position of prestige and the culmination of the political path (public course). However, members of the equestrian order often possessed greater wealth and power. Admission to the order was based on a person”s wealth and possessions, which were qualified by a census of 400,000 sesterces and at least three generations of free births. The eques progressed through a military career (tres militiae) in order to become prefects and procurators in the imperial administration.

Integration into the provincial orders of men reveals the social mobility that existed in the first three centuries of the empire. The Roman aristocracy was based on competition and, unlike the later European nobility, a Roman family could not maintain its status only through inheritance of titles or land. Admission to the top orders brought with it not only privileges and prestige, but also a series of responsibilities. Maintaining status required large personal expenses, since the financing of public works, events, and services of Roman cities depended on their most prominent citizens rather than on collected taxes, which were primarily intended to finance the army.

Women

Throughout the republic and during the empire, free Roman women were considered citizens, although they could not vote, hold political office, or serve in the army. Roman women retained their maiden surname throughout their lives. Most of the time, children chose to receive their father”s surname, although in the imperial period they could also keep their mother”s surname. Roman women could own property, enter into contracts, and conduct business, including manufacturing, transportation, and bank loans. It was common for women to finance public works, indicating that many of them owned or managed considerable fortunes. Women had the same rights as men to inheritance, should their father die without leaving a will. The right to own and manage property, including the terms of their own will, provided Roman women with enormous influence over their children, even as adults.

Wedding

The archaic form of marriage cum manum, by which the woman was subject to the authority of her husband, fell into disuse during the imperial period. A Roman woman who married continued to own the property she brought to the marriage. Technically, even after moving in with her husband, she was still under the authority of her father, and only when her father died was she legally emancipated. This principle demonstrates the relative degree of independence of Roman women compared to other cultures in antiquity and even into the modern age. Although she had to answer to her father in legal matters, the Roman woman was free to manage her daily life and her husband had no legal power over her. Although it was a matter of social pride to have married only once, the social stigma towards divorce or second marriages was practically non-existent.

The economy of the Roman Empire was based on a network of regional economies, in which the state intervened and regulated trade in order to ensure its own revenues. The conquest of territory allowed the large-scale reorganization of land use, which provided the production of agricultural surpluses and a progressive division of labor, particularly in North Africa. Some cities asserted themselves as major regional centers of a particular industry or commercial activity, and the scale of buildings in urban areas indicates a fully developed construction industry. The papyri reveal complex accounting methods that suggest elements of economic rationalism in a very monetized economy. During the 1st and 2nd centuries road and transportation networks expanded significantly, rapidly connecting regional economies. Economic growth, while not comparable to modern economies, was greater than most societies prior to industrialization.

Currency and Banking

The economy of the Roman Empire was universally monetized. The standardization of money and forms of payment throughout the empire boosted trade and the economic integration of the provinces. Until the fourth century, the basic monetary unit was the sestertius, although in the early severe dynasty the silver denarius was also used, which was worth four sestertii. The lowest value current circulation currency was the bronze asse, which was worth a quarter of a sestertius. Ingots were not considered currency and were only used for business in the frontier regions. The Romans of the 1st and 2nd centuries counted coins rather than weighing them, indicating that the value of the coin was assigned according to its fiduciary value rather than the value of the metal.

Rome had no central bank, so regulation of the banking system was minimal. The reserves of banks in Classical Antiquity were generally less than total customer deposits. Most banks had only one branch, although some of the larger ones had as many as fifteen branches. Commercial bankers called argentiaries (argentarius) received and held deposits for an indefinite term or on a forward basis, making loans to others. The holder of a debt could use it as a form of payment, transferring it to another party and without exchanging money. The Roman banking system was present in all regions of the empire and made it possible to exchange large sums of money anywhere without the need for physical transfer of coins, which reduced the risk associated with transportation. Throughout the history of the empire, only one credit crisis is known to have occurred in 33 AD, during which the central government intervened in the market with a bank rescue (mensae) of 100 million sesterces.

The central government did not borrow money: since there was no public debt, the deficit had to be financed from monetary reserves. During the crisis of the third century, the decline of long-distance trade, the interruption of mining, and the transfer of valuables abroad by invaders significantly reduced the money in circulation. The emperors of the Antonine and Severe dynasties drastically devalued currency, particularly the dinar, due to the pressure with paying salaries to the military. Sudden inflation during the reign of Comodo (r. 180-192) put the credit market at risk. Although Roman currency had always had fiduciary value, during the reign of Aurelian (r. 270-275) the economic crisis reached its peak, causing bankers to lose confidence in money issued by the central government. Although Diocletian (r. 286-305) implemented several monetary reforms and introduced gold soldering, the credit market never regained its former vigor.

Transport and communications

The Romans favored transporting goods by sea or river, since transport by land was more difficult. The Roman Empire encircled the Mediterranean, which they called Mare Nostrum (“our sea”). Roman sailing vessels navigated not only the Mediterranean, but all the major rivers of the empire, including the Guadalquivir, the Ebro, the Rhone, the Rhine, the Tiber, and the Nile.

Overland transportation made use of a complex and advanced network of Roman roads. In-kind taxes paid by local communities required frequent movement of administrative officials, animals, and vehicles from the public course – the state postal and transport system implemented by Augustus. The first road was created in 312 B.C. by Appian Claudius the Blind to connect Rome with the city of Capua: the Appian Way. As the empire expanded, the administration adapted the same scheme in the provinces. At its height, the Roman road network reached 400,000 km of roads, 80,500 km of which were paved.

Every seven or twelve Roman miles there was a mansion (mansio), a service station intended for the public course and government officials and maintained by the state. Among the employees at these stations were conductors, secretaries, blacksmiths, a veterinarian, and some letter carriers and military police. The distance between the mansions was determined by how far a wagon could travel in the course of a day, and some could grow into small villages or trading posts. In addition to the mansions, some taverns offered lodging, catering, animal feed, and possibly prostitution services. The most common draft animals were mules, which traveled at a speed of four miles per hour. To get an idea of the communication time, a messenger needed nine days to travel between Rome and Mogoncirus in the province of Upper Germania. The roads were marked by milestones (miliaria) placed at intervals of about a thousand steps (1,480 meters).

Work and professions

The inscriptions record 268 different professions in the city of Rome and 85 in Pompeii. There were professional associations (collegia) for the most diverse professions, such as those of fishermen (olivarii), artists (aurifices), conductors (lapidarii).

Textile production was one of the main sources of employment. Fabrics and ready-made clothing were two of the main barter commodities between the provinces. The best quality clothing was exported by businessmen (traders), who were often wealthy residents of the production centers. Ready-made clothing could be sold through traveling salesmen (vestiarii) or merchants. Textile producers often ran small businesses, employing apprentices, free wage workers, and slaves. Both spinners (coloratores) had their own guilds. Centonarians (centonarii) were workers who specialized in textile production and the recycling of patchwork fabrics.

The work performed by slaves was divided into five categories: domestic, for which the epitaphs record at least 55 occupations; public or imperial service; urban trades; agriculture; and mining. Convicts performed much of the work in mines and quarries, in which conditions were notoriously violent. In practice, there was little division of labor between slaves and free men, and much of the empire”s workers were illiterate and unskilled. Most of the unskilled workers were employed in agriculture. In the agricultural production system in Italy, workers were mainly slaves, although in the other provinces their percentage was much lower than other dependent workers.

Trade

Although much of the trade took place between the various provinces of the empire, the trade routes extended far beyond the borders of the empire, reaching as far away as China and India Trade with China was conducted mainly through intermediaries along the Silk Road, while trade with India was also conducted by sea from Egyptian ports on the Red Sea. The main commodity traded was grain, but other foodstuffs such as olive oil and garo (fish sauce), slaves, ore, metal utensils, cloth, natural fibers, wood, pottery, glassware, marble, papyrus, spices, medicinal plants, ivory, pearls, and precious stones were also traded.

Although most provinces were capable of producing wine, the Romans had a preference for certain regions and grape varieties, which led to wine becoming one of the main products traded. Wine shortages were rare. The main suppliers of wine to the city of Rome were the western coast of the Italian peninsula, southern Gaul, the Tarracon region, and Crete. Alexandria, the second largest city, imported wine from Lataquia in Syria and the Aegean Sea. At the retail level, wine was sold by the glass or in bulk in taverns or proper stores (vinaria), consumed on site or transported, the price varying according to quality and provenance.

Agriculture

The central government had an intervening role in the promotion of agricultural production. Food production had the highest priority in the organization of the territory. The larger farms (latifundios) achieved such an economy of scale that they were able to sustain urban life and the division of labor typical of advanced economies. Small producers benefited from the creation of local markets in towns and trade centers. Various advanced agricultural techniques, such as crop rotation or artificial selection, were practiced throughout the imperial territory, and the introduction of new species between provinces, such as peas and cabbage in Britannia, was common.

Mining and Metallurgy

It is estimated that in the whole empire 82,500 tons of iron, 15,000 tons of copper, 80,000 tons of lead, 9 tons of gold and 200 tons of silver were extracted annually, figures that would only be equaled during the Industrial Revolution. The main mining regions of the empire were Hispania (Britannia (iron, lead, tin), the Danube provinces (gold, iron), Macedonia and Thrace (gold, silver), and Asia Minor (gold, silver, iron, tin). Large-scale mining occurred between the reign of Augustus and the beginning of the 3rd century, a period when the instability of the empire affected production.

Part of the extraction process was mechanized, using the power of water mills to saw stone, fragment ore, or drain the mines. The Romans introduced a sophisticated system of copelation to separate gold and silver from other metals, although it was the invention and application of hydraulic mining that enabled extraction on an unprecedented scale. The fuel most commonly used in smelters was charcoal, although in some regions mineral coal was mined in large quantities. However, the most significant contribution of the Romans to metallurgy was the introduction of mass production. The main method for mass production of metal objects was molding, in which the desired shape was carved out of wood, wax or metal and then pressed against a ceramic mold, into which the molten metal was introduced.

After the republican crisis and the transition to empire, state religion adapted in order to support the new regime. Augustus implemented a vast program of religious revivalism and reforms. Public vows, which previously asked the deities for the security of the republic, were now geared to the emperor”s well-being. The cult of personality again vulgarized the practices of ancestor and genius veneration – the tutelary deity of each individual. It was possible for the emperor himself to become a state deity while still alive by a vote in the senate. The imperial cult, influenced by Hellenistic religion, became one of Rome”s main ways of announcing its presence in the provinces, cultivating throughout the empire loyalty and sharing the same cultural identity.

The Roman religion

Religion in Ancient Rome encompasses not only the practices and beliefs that the Romans saw as their own, but also the various cults imported into Rome and the cults practiced in the provinces. The Romans saw themselves as deeply religious, attributing their economic and military prosperity to their good relationship with the gods (pax deorum). The archaic religion believed to have been instituted by the early kings of Rome provided the foundation for the mos maiorum, or “tradition,” the basic social code in Roman identity. No principle analogous to the church-state separation existed, and priestly positions in the state religion were filled by the same people who held positions in the public administration. During the imperial period, the highest pontiff was the emperor himself.

Roman religion was practical and contractual, based on the principle of do ut es (“I give you what you can offer”). Religion had as its principles the knowledge and correct practice of prayer, rituals, and sacrifice, rather than faith or dogma. For the average citizen, religion was part of everyday life. Most households had a domestic altar, at which daily prayers were held and libations offered. Cities were punctuated by neighborhood altars and places considered sacred, such as water springs and caves, and it was common for people to make a vow or offer some fruit when passing by a place of worship. The Roman calendar was organized around religious celebrations. During the imperial period, there were 135 days of the year dedicated to religious festivities and games (ludi).

One of the characteristics of Roman religion is the large number of deities they worshiped and the parallel reverence of Roman deities with local deities. The Roman policy of conquest consisted of assimilating the deities and cults of the conquered peoples, not eradicating them. Rome promoted stability among the various peoples by supporting the different religious heritages, building temples for local deities that accommodated the indigenous practices within the hierarchy of Roman religion. At the height of the empire, international deities were worshiped in Rome, whose cult had spread to the most remote provinces, among them Cybele, Isis, Epona, and the gods of solar monism, such as Mithra and the Invincible Sun.

Mystery religions, which offered initiates salvation after death, were practiced in a complementary way to family rituals and participation in public religion. However, the mysteries involved secrecy and exclusive oaths, which Roman conservatives viewed with suspicion and as characteristic elements of magic, conspiracy, and subversive activity. Several attempts were made to suppress sects that appeared to threaten traditional unity and morality, some of them violently. In Gaul several attempts were made to control the power of the Druids, initially by banning Roman citizens from belonging to the order and then by banning Druidism altogether. However, the Celtic traditions themselves were reinterpreted in the context of imperial theology, giving rise to a new Gallo-Roman religion.

Christianization

The strict monotheistic nature of Judaism posed difficulties for the Roman policy of religious tolerance. The Jewish religion, unlike the Christian one, was considered legitimate (religio licita). However, when political and religious conflicts became irreconcilable several revolts between Jews and Romans arose. The siege of Jerusalem in 70 led to the sacking of the city”s temple and the dispersion of Jewish political power. Christianity emerged in the province of Judea in the 1st century A.D. as a Jewish religious sect, with Pope Linus in 76 playing an important role in this period. The religion gradually expanded as far as Jerusalem, initially establishing important centers in Antioch and Alexandria, and from there throughout the empire. Official persecutions were very few and sporadic, and most martyrdoms occurred at the initiative of local authorities.

During the early 4th century, Constantine became the first emperor to convert to Christianity, ushering in an era of Christian hegemony. The Emperor Julian made a brief attempt to revive the traditional religions and to reaffirm the special status of Judaism. However, in 391 and during the rule of Theodosius, Christianity became the official religion of the empire, excluding all others. Beginning in the second century, the Church Fathers began to condemn the remaining religious practices, calling them collectively “pagan.” At the same time, calls for religious tolerance from traditionalists were rejected, and Christian monotheism became a feature of imperial rule. All heretics and non-Christians were subject to persecution or exclusion from public life. Nevertheless, Christian practices were influenced by much of the Roman religious hierarchy and many aspects of Roman rituals, and many of these practices still survive through local Christian festivals and traditions.

The network of cities along the imperial territory (colonies, municipalities, civities or, in the Greek term, polis) was an element of cohesion that fostered the Pax Romana. Romans of the 1st and 2nd centuries were encouraged by imperial propaganda to respect and enjoy peacetime values. Even the polemicist Tertullian declared that the world of the 2nd century was more orderly and cultured than in previous times: “Everywhere there are houses, everywhere there are people, everywhere the res publica, the cause of the people, everywhere there is life.” Many of the features associated with imperial culture, such as public worship, games and festivities, competitions for artists, orators and athletes, as well as the vast majority of art and public buildings, were privately funded, whose expenditures for the benefit of the community helped justify their economic power and legal and provincial privileges. The decline of cities and civic life in the fourth century, when the wealthy classes were no longer able to finance public work, was one of the signs of the imminent dissolution of the empire.

Life in the Cities

In classical antiquity, cities were seen as territories that fostered civilization if they were properly designed, ordered, and adorned. Roman city planning and urban lifestyle were influenced by the Greek civilization of earlier periods. In the eastern part of the empire, Roman rule accelerated the development of cities that already had a strong Hellenistic character. Some cities, such as Athens, Aphrodisias, Ephesus, and Grasa, modified some aspects of architecture and urban planning in accordance with the imperial canons, while also expressing their individual identity and regional prominence. In the westernmost areas of the empire, inhabited by Celtic-speaking peoples, Rome encouraged the development of planned urban centers, endowed with temples, forums, monumental fountains, and amphitheaters. These new cities were often designed near or on the very site of preexisting walled settlements (opidos). Urbanization in North Africa expanded the Greek and Punic cities along the coast.

Augustus carried out a vast building program in Rome that served as a model for the rest of the empire”s cities, financing public artworks that expressed the new imperial ideology and reorganizing the city into neighborhoods (vici) administered at the local level, with police and fire departments. One focus of monumental architecture was the Field of Mars, a bare area on the outskirts of the center that had previously been intended for equestrian sports and exercise by young people. The Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis) and the Montecitorium obelisk were built there, imported from Egypt, which formed the pointer (gnomon) of a monumental sundial. Endowed with public gardens, the Campo de Marte became one of Rome”s main attractions.

The Romans were pioneers in engineering and building sophisticated infrastructure such as pipelines, aqueducts, roads, and bridges. The works extended throughout the empire, which was made possible in large part by the extensive road network. In addition to sanitation, the infrastructure included facilities such as baths, forums, theaters, amphitheaters, and monuments. Aqueducts built throughout the empire supplied farms and cities with drinking water. The drainage was generally with a free surface, with a minimum slope so that the water could flow, and were built in masonry. The crossing of valleys was done on arched structures. They also had the aid of hydraulic pumps. The wastewater was collected in a sophisticated sewage system, an example of which is the cloaca Maximus in Rome, one of the oldest sewage systems in the world, built in Rome in the late 6th century BC, initiated by Tarquinus Prisco, who used the experience developed by Etruscan engineering to drain the sewage into the Tiber. The operation of the cloaca Maximus and other Roman sewage systems, such as that of Eboraco (now York City, England) continued for quite some time after the fall of the Roman Empire.

In the city of Rome, most of the population lived in multi-story apartment buildings (insulae), which offered very little safety from fire. Public facilities such as baths (Latin: termae), toilets (latrinae), and drinking water fountains, as well as mass entertainment, were primarily for the common citizen who resided in the insulae.

Wealthy families in Rome generally owned two or more dwellings: an urban dwelling (domus, plural domūs) and at least one country house (villa) in the province. The domus was a private single-family dwelling that could include private baths. Although in some of Rome”s neighborhoods there was a large concentration of wealthy dwellings, the upper classes did not live in segregated enclaves and wanted their houses to be visible and accessible to the population. The atrium was the reception area, where the head of the family (pater familias) received clients and visitors every morning, from wealthy friends to needy dependents who received alms. It was also the stage for the families” religious rituals, where altars and images of their ancestors were present. The urban dwellings were usually located on busy public roads, so that the first floors facing the street were often rented as stores (tabernae). In addition to a small vegetable garden, which on insulas could be replaced by flowerbeds, domūs usually had a formal garden framed by a peristyle.

On the other hand, the village corresponded to an escape from the urban bustle, portrayed in literature as a symbol of a lifestyle that balanced appreciation for art and culture (otium) with appreciation for nature and the agricultural cycle. Villages were usually located in agricultural production centers or in bathing regions along the coast. Ideally, they would have a view of the surrounding region, carefully framed by the architectural design. The interior of the dwellings were often decorated with paintings of gardens, fountains, landscapes, plant motifs, and animals, particularly birds and marine species, which were depicted with such precision that contemporary archaeologists can sometimes identify the species.

Public baths had hygienic, social and cultural functions. The public baths were the focus of daily socializing after the working day, in the evening before dinner, and were open to both men and women. The spa tradition is related to the worship of the Greek goddess Hygia (Roman equivalent: Salus) and Panacea, daughters of Asclepius, goddesses of health and cleanliness, and to the recommendations of Hippocratic medicine. The oldest known Roman spas date from the 5th century B.C. at Delos and Olympia, although the best known are the Baths of Caracala. The development of aqueducts allowed the widespread construction throughout the imperial territory of spas (thermae: large public thermal complexes) and bathhouses (balneae: small spas, public or private).

Roman spas had services that ensured bodily hygiene and hydrotherapy. The different rooms offered communal baths at three different temperatures, which could be complemented by various services such as exercise and training rooms, sauna, exfoliation spa (in which the skin was massaged with oils, which were removed with a styrene), playground, or an outdoor swimming pool. The baths were heated by hypocaust: the floor was laid over pipes in which hot air circulated. Although some spas offered segregated facilities for men and women, mixed nude bathing between the sexes was relatively common. Public spas were part of urban culture throughout the provinces, although from the late 4th century onwards communal spas began to give way to private baths. Christians were advised to frequent the baths for hygienic and health reasons, not for pleasure, although they were also advised not to attend the public games, which were integrated into religious festivals that they considered “pagan.”

Education

Traditional Roman education was moral and practical. Stories about great personalities, or lessons about individual failures, were intended to instill Roman values (mores maiorum) in the young. Parents and family were expected to act as role models, and parents with a profession were expected to pass on this knowledge to their children, who could then become apprentices. Urban elites throughout the empire shared a literary culture imbued with Greek educational ideals (paideia). Many Greek cities funded higher schools, and in addition to literacy and numeracy, the curriculum also included music and sports. Athens was the destination for many young Romans who sought out the most reputable schools of rhetoric and philosophy in the empire. As a rule, all daughters of members of the equestrian and senatorial orders were educated. The level of qualification varied, from educated aristocrats to women trained to be calligraphists or scribes. Augustinian poetry extols the ideal of the educated, cultured, independent, and well-versed woman, and a highly qualified woman was an asset to any family with social ambitions.

Formal education was accessible only to families that could afford it. The more privileged children could take lessons at home with a private pedagogue. Younger children were taught by a pedagogue (pedagogus), usually a slave or former Greek slave. The pedagogue was responsible for the children”s safety, taught them self-discipline and notions of behavior in public, and gave lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic. The remaining children attended a private school run by a master (ludi magister), financed by monthly fees from the various parents. The number of schools gradually increased during the empire, creating more and better educational opportunities. Classes could be held regularly in a rented space of their own or in any available public space, even if outside. Primary education was given to children between the ages of 7 and 12, and classes were not separated either by years or by sexes.

At the age of 14, the men of the wealthier classes performed the rite of passage into adulthood. From this age on they began to be trained for eventual political, religious, or military leadership, usually by an older member or friend of the family. Secondary education was taught by grammarians (grammatici) or rhetors (rhetores). The grammarians taught mainly Greek and Latin literature, supplemented by explanations of the text which served as a pretext for teaching history, geography, philosophy and mathematics. After the reign of Augustus, Latin authors also became part of the curriculum. The rector was a teacher of oratory and rhetoric. The art of good speaking (ars dicendi) was highly valued as an indicator of social and intellectual superiority, and eloquence (eloquentia) was considered the aggregating element of any civilized society. Higher education provided opportunities for career advancement, especially for members of the equestrian order. Eloquence and culture were considered fundamental characteristics of cultivated men and worthy of reward.

Between the first and third centuries there was a significant increase in literary audiences, and although they remained a minority among the population, they were no longer restricted to a sophisticated elite. This led to the appearance of consumer literature, intended for the entertainment of the masses and reflecting the social mobility existing in the imperial period. Illustrated books, including erotic ones, were quite popular. Literary works were often read at dinner parties or among reading groups. However, literacy abruptly went into decline during the crisis of the third century. During the fifth and sixth centuries, the ability to read became increasingly scarce, even among those in the Church hierarchy.

Recreation and Shows

During Augustus” rule, public spectacles occupied 77 days of the year, a number that by the reign of Marcus Aurelius rose to 135. One of the main events of the Roman religious festivals was the staging of games (ludi), especially horse and chariot races. In the plural, ludi almost always refers to games with spectators on a large scale. The Latin singular ludus (“game, sport, training”) had a wide range of meanings, from word games, theatrical performance, board games, elementary school, and even gladiator training schools, such as the Ludo Magno, the largest of these camps in Rome.

Circus games (ludi circensis) took place in performance venues called circuses, inspired by the Greek hippodromes. The circuses were the largest regularly built structure in the Roman world and the stage for horse racing, chariot races, staging of hunts (veação), athletic competitions, historical re-enactments, and gladiatorial combats. The games were preceded by a very elaborate parade (pompa circensis) that ended in the arena. Competitive events were also held in smaller venues, such as amphitheaters and stadiums. Among the sports, inspired by Greek models, were foot-racing, boxing, wrestling, and the pankration. There were several sports that took place in their own pools, such as naumachia and a form of water ballet. Theatrical events (ludi scaenici) took place on the steps of temples, in large stone theaters or in small theaters called odeon. Although the games had their origins in the religious celebrations of antiquity, over time their recreational significance was superimposed on their religious significance. The patronage of the arenas” events and spectacles was in charge of the local elites. Despite the heavy financial burden, their organization was a source of prestige and social status.

The Circus Maximus was the largest of Rome”s performance venues, with an audience of around 150,000. Opened in the 1980s, the Colosseum became a regular arena for violent sports in the city, with over 50,000 seats and another 10,000 standing. The physical layout of the amphitheater represented the hierarchy of Roman society: the emperor presided in his opulent pulpit; senators and military high-ups had the best seats reserved; women sat shielded from the action; slaves sat in the worst seats, and the rest of us sat wherever there was room between the two groups. The crowd could demand a result by whistling or clapping, although it was the emperor who had the final word. The spectacles could quickly become sites of political and social protest, so emperors often resorted to force to subdue the population. One of the most notable cases was the Nika Revolt in 532, when the army under Justinian massacred thousands of citizens.

The chariot teams were differentiated by the colors they wore, blue and green being the most popular. The loyalty of the fans was fierce, often converging on scenes of violence. The competition was dangerous, but the drivers were among the most celebrated and rewarded athletes of antiquity. One of the sporting stars was Diocles of Lusitania (now Portugal), who drove chariots over 24 years and amassed earnings of 35 million sesterces. Horses were also popular, celebrated in art and remembered in inscriptions, often by their own names. The design of Roman circuses evolved to ensure that neither team had any advantage and to minimize the number of collisions, which nevertheless remained frequent and satisfied the crowd”s desire for spectacularity. The races were shrouded in an aura of mystery because of their association with kthonic rituals: the circus images were considered protective or good luck, and the drivers often suspected of witchcraft. Chariot racing continued throughout the Byzantine period, still with imperial patronage, although the decline of the cities in the sixth and seventh centuries precipitated their demise.

The Romans believed that gladiatorial contests originated from the funeral and sacrificial games of antiquity, in which prisoners of war were selected and forced to fight each other to atone for the deaths of noble Romans. Some of the earliest styles of gladiatorial fighting had ethnic designations, such as Thracian or Gaulish. The staged fights were considered mullions (services, offerings, benefactions) and were initially distinct from festival games. Over the course of his forty-year reign, Augustus funded eight gladiatorial shows, in which a total of ten thousand men fought, and 26 hunting shows that resulted in the death of 3,500 animals. To mark the opening of the Colosseum, Emperor Titus offered 100 days of events in the arena, during which as many as 3,000 gladiators competed in a single day. The Roman fascination with gladiators can be seen in the way they are often depicted in mosaics, wall paintings, and utensils such as lamps.

Roman gladiators were trained fighters, and could be slaves, convicts, or simply volunteers. In this type of combat, it was not necessary, nor even desirable, that the opponent be killed. Gladiators were extremely skilled fighters whose training represented an expensive investment of time and money. On the other hand, the nóxios (noxii) were condemned to fight in the arena, with little or no training, often unarmed and without any expectation of survival. The physical suffering and humiliation were considered compensatory justice for the crimes committed. These executions were sometimes organized as mythological re-enactments, and the amphitheaters equipped with stage props in order to create special effects. Tertullian considered the arena killings to be nothing more than a disguised form of human sacrifice.

Contemporary historians conclude that the pleasure that the Romans had with the “theater of life and death” is one of the most difficult perspectives of this civilization to explain and understand. Pliny the Younger argued that gladiatorial spectacles were beneficial to the people and a way to inspire them to despise death, by manifesting a love of glory and a desire for victory, even in the bodies of slaves and criminals. Some Romans like Seneca were critical of these brutal spectacles, although they saw virtue in the courage and dignity in the defeated fighter rather than the victor, an attitude that finds its highest expression in Christians martyred in the arena. Yet the literature on the martyrs itself offers detailed and lustful descriptions of bodily suffering, becoming a popular genre sometimes indistinguishable from fiction.

The most commonly practiced activities among children and young people included hooping and playing the trough. Children”s sarcophagi often depicted them playing games. Girls played with dolls, usually 15-16 cm long and made of wood, terracotta, bone or ivory. Among ball games trigon was a favorite, which required dexterity, along with harpsichord, a more violent sport. In children”s memorials and literature there are frequent references to pets, including birds, cats, goats, sheep, rabbits, and geese. After adolescence, much of the physical exercise intended for men was of a military nature. The Mars Field was originally a training camp where young men could perfect their warfare and cavalry techniques. Hunting was also considered an appropriate pastime. According to Plutarch, conservative Romans disapproved of Greek-style athletics that promoted the perfection of the body free of charge, condemning Nero”s promotion of Greek-style gymnastics.

Some women practiced gymnastics and dance. The famous mosaic of “girls in bikinis” shows young women in positions that can be compared to rhythmic gymnastics. Women were generally encouraged to promote health through physical activities, such as ball games, swimming, walking, reading aloud (as a breathing exercise), and traveling.

Board games between two opponents were played by people of all ages. Among the most popular were latrine, a strategy game in which opponents coordinated moves and captured several pieces, and ludus duodecim scriptorum (twelve marks), played with dice in order to arrange pieces in a grid of letters or words. A dice game known as álea or plank, to which the emperor Claudius became addicted, and which may have been similar to backgammon, using a dice cup (pyrgus), was also common.

Feed

Most apartments in Rome had no kitchen, although stoves were often used. Taverns, bars, inns, and thermopolis sold ready meals, although eating in these places or taking food home was common only among the lower classes. The wealthier classes preferred reserved meals in their own residence, which usually had a chef (archimagirus) and kitchen helpers at their disposal, or else at banquets organized in private clubs.

Clothing

In a status-conscious society like the Roman, clothing and personal accessories offered an immediate indication of the etiquette to be observed when interacting with the wearer. Dressing properly was supposed to reflect an orderly society. The toga was the characteristic national garment of the Roman man, although it was heavy and impractical, being worn mostly for dealing with political matters, religious rituals, and attendance at courts. Contrary to popular notion, the informal clothing of the Romans was dark or colorful, and the most common ensemble among men during everyday life would be a tunic, a cloak, and pants in some regions. It is difficult to study how the Romans dressed in everyday life due to the lack of direct evidence, as portraiture usually presents the person in clothing of a symbolic nature and surviving fabrics from this period are rare.

The basic garment for all Romans, regardless of gender or social status, was a simple tunic with sleeves. The length was differentiated according to the wearer: men”s tunics reached halfway between the knee and the ankle, although those for soldiers were shorter; women”s tunics fell to the ankle and those for children to the knee. The tunics for the poor and slaves were made of carded wool and the length determined according to the type of work performed. The best tunics were made of wool or processed linen. A man who belonged to a senatorial or equestrian order wore a tunic with two purple ribbons (clavi), and the longer the length, the higher the status of the wearer.

The imperial toga was made of white wool and, due to its weight, it was not possible to wear it properly without assistance. In his work on oratory, Quintilian describes in detail how a public speaker should orchestrate his gestures in relation to his toga. In art, the toga is shown with the longer end dangling between the feet, a curved fold in front, and a protruding flap halfway down. Over the centuries, the drapery becomes more intricate and structured, and by the end of the empire, the fabric formed a firm fold around the chest. The toga pretexta (toga praetexta), with a purple band representing inviolability, was worn by children up to the age of ten, executive magistrates, and state priests. Only the emperor was allowed to wear a full purple toga (toga picta).

In the 2nd century, emperors and men of status were often depicted wearing the pallium, a robe of Greek origin folded around the body, occasionally depicted on women as well. Tertullian considered the pallium a suitable garment for Christians, unlike the toga, and also for literate people, because of its association with philosophers. By the mid-fourth century, the toga was virtually replaced by the pallium as a garment symbolic of social union.

The fashion and style of Roman clothing changed over time. During the Dominate, the clothing of soldiers and administration bureaucrats became increasingly decorated, with embroidered fabric stripes (orbiculi) applied to tunics and robes. These decorative elements usually consisted of geometric patterns, stylized vegetal motifs and, in some cases, animal or human figures. The use of silk became increasingly common, and silk cloaks were common among courtiers in the late empire. The militarization of Roman society and the decline of urban cultural life were reflected in dress habits; in addition to the abandonment of the toga, military-style girdles became common among civil servants.

Sexuality

The idea of unrestricted sexual libertinism in the Roman Empire is essentially a later Christian interpretation. In reality, sex in the Greco-Roman world was governed by sobriety and the art of managing sexual pleasure. Sexuality was one of the topics of the mos maiorum, the set of social norms that guided public, private, and military life, and sexual behavior was moderated by notions of modesty, shame, and modesty. Roman censors, magistrates who determined each person”s social class, had the power to remove the citizenship of men of the equestrian or senatorial order who engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct. Moral legislation introduced during the reign of Augustus attempted to regulate women”s conduct as a way to promote family values. Adultery, which during the republic had been a private matter, was criminalized and defined as an illicit sexual act (stuprum) occurring between a man and a married woman.

Roman society was patriarchal. Masculinity was associated with the ideal of virtue (virtus) and self-discipline, while the female counterpart was modesty (pudicitia). Roman religion promoted sexuality as a sign of prosperity, and private religious or magical practices to strengthen erotic life or reproductive health were common. Prostitution was legal, public and quite common in the cities. Pornographic paintings or mosaics were prominent pieces among art collections, even in the wealthiest and most respectable houses. Homosexuality was not condemnable and it was considered natural for men to be attracted to adolescent girls of both sexes, as long as they belonged to a lower social status. However, hypersexuality was condemnable in both men and women.

Rome formed a society that gave great space to the arts in their most varied manifestations. Besides having a decorative function, the arts also played an important educational and socializing role in a context in which a large part of the population was illiterate or had little access to more sophisticated literature. Art enshrined ideologies, narrated historical events, integrated civic festivities and religious rituals, and glorified eminent personages, acting in fact as a lingua franca to which the entire population had access. Roman art initially developed from the Etruscan tradition, and throughout the process of Rome”s territorial expansion it absorbed references from Greek culture, making its art to a large extent an extension and variation of that, and making the Romans the main preservers of the Greek artistic legacy for posterity.

However, although they copied many Greek techniques and formal models in literature, the visual arts, theater, music, and other specialties, the Romans were able to develop a tradition that in the late Republican and long Imperial period took on innovative and original characteristics, gaining significant independence from the received heritage and forming an identity of their own. Even so, in the Empire there were several phases of oscillation between more Hellenizing and imitative tendencies and others that were more progressive and creative. This, added to the many regional variations, the incorporation of orientalizing influences, the important changes introduced in the Christianization phase of the Empire, and the strong and permanent Roman love of eclecticism, make the art of Imperial Rome a complex mosaic of sometimes quite divergent tendencies, making it impossible to characterize it as a monolithic aesthetic block. Despite the enormous value placed on works of art, artists held an inferior social status, even even the most renowned ones. The Romans and Greeks saw artists and craftsmen as manual laborers, although at the same time the expertise required to produce quality art was recognized, and was even considered a divine offering.

Architecture

Perfectly round arches, vaults and domes are characteristics of Roman architecture that make it distinct from Greek architecture. The introduction of these elements, unprecedented in history, was made possible by the invention of concrete by the Romans. Concrete (opus caementicium) was made from volcanic ash discovered in the vicinity of Vesuvius, called pozzolanas, which were crushed and mixed with lime. The concrete core of the buildings was usually covered with stucco, brick, stone or marble. In some cases gilded sculptures were added to create a dazzling effect and ostentation of power and prosperity. The construction quality introduced into Roman architecture significantly increased its durability. Many of the Roman buildings are still intact and in use, most of which are buildings converted into churches during the Christian era. However, in many of the ruins the marble covering has been removed, so they do not represent the grandeur of the original appearance, such as the Basilica of Constantine.

Cupolas were a common presence in spas, villas, palaces, and tombs. The audience halls of many of the imperial palaces were topped by domes, and they were also very common in garden pavilions. They were usually hemispherical in shape and were totally or partially concealed from the outside, in many cases topped by an oculus and sometimes covered by a conical or polygonal roof. With the collapse of the western half of the empire, dome construction went into decline. However, the east became a major feature of Byzantine architecture.

It was during the reigns of Trajan (r. 98-117) and Hadrian (r. 117-138) that the empire reached its greatest extent and that Rome reached its artistic apogee, having started an immense program of construction of monuments, assemblies, gardens, aqueducts, baths, palaces, pavilions, sarcophagi and temples. The introduction of the arch, the dome, and the use of concrete allowed the construction of large span vaulted ceilings in public spaces and complexes such as baths or basilicas. Among the most notable examples of domes are the Pantheon of Rome, the Baths of Diocletian, and the Baths of Caracala. The Pantheon, dedicated to all the planetary gods, is the temple of antiquity in the best state of preservation and still preserves its dome intact. The last major building programs in Rome took place during the reign of Constantine (r. 306-337), including the Arch of Constantine near Rome”s Colosseum.

Painting

Painting was one of the most popular arts of the Roman Empire, but little is known about it, as the vast majority of records have been lost over time. Much of what is known about Roman painting is based on the decoration of the interior of private residences, in particular the frescoes that have been preserved in Pompeii. This city, discovered in the 18th century, was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, which allowed it to be preserved relatively intact. From this group of works – which, although rich and varied, is a tiny fraction of what was produced and covers a very limited period – a chronology of styles has been established that has been controversially applied to the whole of the imperial pictorial legacy. According to this proposal, Roman painting evolved from Greek examples of purely geometric parietal decoration, progressively incorporating figurative elements in architectural or landscape settings, often using Greek models or citing famous Greek works in creative reinterpretations, coming to present in some examples great sophistication and sumptuousness, in sets organized according to a large integrated program and distributed in various environments, while in others simplicity and popular taste predominate. Besides the decorative friezes and panels with geometric and vegetal motifs, the mural painting represents scenes from mythology and theater, landscape and gardens, recreation and shows, work and daily life, and erotic scenes. Birds, animals, and marine life are often depicted with special care for artistic detail.

However, through literary records and scarce remains distributed throughout the extension of the Empire, it is known that mural painting was only one of the practiced modalities of painting, and there are reports of works produced on fabric, metal, stone, ivory and other supports, using various pigments of vegetable and mineral origin. Portraits painted on wood planks and metal plates were much appreciated, especially in funeral contexts, but also as glorification of illustrious characters, presented in processions that reaffirmed the prestige of the patrician families and in other public festivities. Ordinary citizens could also have their faces eternalized, since the technique was relatively inexpensive. A good number of Egyptian encaustic funeral portraits have survived, showing refined technique and great realism. Faium”s portraits are an indicator of why ancient literary sources marveled at the realism of artistic representations. Another popular genre was triumphal paintings, executed on large panels depicting battles and maps of military campaigns, presented in the processions of victorious generals. It is also worth noting the production of illuminations to illustrate manuscripts, of which very few copies survive.

Much of the portrait sculpture would have been painted, although paint rarely survived over the centuries. From the second century on, with the spread of Christianity, a whole new thematic emerged allusive to this religion – Paleo-Christian art – observing at the same time an increasing simplification and geometrization in the forms. However, one can still find some refined examples of late-imperial painting that refer to the classical tradition, mainly at Dura Europo, with Hebrew themes, and at Luxor, with Christian themes.

Sculpture

Sculpture was one of the most important artistic expressions of the ancient Romans and was present in all aspects of their lives, from domestic to public, from religious to civilian and military, in large and small dimensions, in stone, metal or ceramic, performing decorative, magical, propitiatory, consecratory, memorial, celebratory or educational functions. The most important part of imperial sculpture is figurative, but it is also applied to utilitarian objects. It was common to apply a decorative painting on the surface of the sculptures.

The Greek tradition remained a central reference throughout the trajectory of sculptural art in Rome, but as in other artistic expressions, several innovations were introduced, visible especially in portraiture, which since the Republic enjoyed special esteem, with specimens of intense expressiveness and great realism, and in the decoration of the great public monuments, such as the triumphal arches, the Altar of Peace, and Trajan”s Column, where a narrative style developed that was configured as typically Roman.

Throughout the Empire, Eastern influences caused a slow but increasing shift away from the Greek canon toward a formal simplification that laid the foundations for Byzantine, Paleochristian, and medieval sculpture. Even so, there were several phases in which classical archaisms were recovered, as happened in the age of Augustus, elements that reinforced continuity with a prestigious past and at the same time served as links of political and cultural cohesion in a territory that was expanding and absorbing diverse aesthetic influences, acting as a language of common understanding. With the rise of Christianity new themes appeared, but the classical heritage continued to offer important models for the constitution of a renewed iconography.

During the Augustan period, portraits used classical proportions and youthful features, later evolving to a combination of realism and idealism. The portraits of the Republican period show intense realism, although after the 2nd century BCE the concept of heroic nudity was progressively adopted, often for the portraiture of conquering generals. Imperial sculpture might feature an adult face, sometimes aged, atop a young nude or semi-nude body with perfect musculature. In fact, it was common for busts to be placed on a body created for another purpose. Dressed in the toga or military uniform, the body communicates the rank or sphere of activity, not the characteristics of the portrayed. The women of the imperial family were often depicted dressed similarly to goddesses or divine personifications, such as Pax.

Marble and limestone sarcophagi are characteristic of the period between the 2nd and 4th centuries, of which there are at least 10,000 surviving examples. Although mythological scenes are those whose study is more thorough, the reliefs on sarcophagi are the richest source of Roman iconography, and may depict the occupation of the dead during life and military scenes, among other themes. The habit of copying and re-reading Greek models was essential for the preservation of the legacy of Greek sculpture, whose originals have mostly been lost, and Roman production was an important influence in the Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods.

Decorative arts

Among the most common decorative arts objects, intended for affluent consumers, were pottery, silver and bronze vessels and utensils, and glass artifacts. The production of ceramics of various qualities and the metal and glass industries played a significant economic role in trade and employment. Imports stimulated new regional production centers, such as southern Gaul, which became the main producer of terra sigillata, high quality pottery and one of the main items traded in Europe during the 1st century. The Romans also mastered the glassblowing technique, which originated in Syria during the 1st century B.C..

Mosaics are one of the most enduring forms of Roman decorative art, and can be found on the surfaces of floors, walls, ceilings, and columns of public or private spaces. Figurative mosaics share many of the themes with painting, and in some cases represent the same subjects in virtually identical compositions. While geometric patterns and mythological scenes are recurring motifs throughout the empire, there are also several local expressions. In North Africa, a particularly rich source of mosaics, the preferred themes on private estates were scenes from daily life: hunting, farming, and local wildlife. A mosaic workshop was run by the master (pictor). The most common technique is the opus tessellatum, created from uniform pieces (tesserae) of materials such as stone and glass. Mosaics were usually produced on site, although they were sometimes produced and marketed in prefabricated panels. Opus sectile is a related technique in which plain stone, usually colored marble, is cut into precise shapes that make up geometric or figurative patterns. This more complex technique was particularly valuable and became extremely popular during the 4th century.

Performing Arts

Music and dance have been popular artistic manifestations since the founding, having probably developed from imitation of Greek precursors. What little is known about them derives from bibliographic and iconographic sources. The presence of music was common at virtually all social events and at funeral ceremonies. At sacrifices it was customary to play a tibia, a wind instrument whose sound was believed to scare away bad influences. Music was believed to reflect the order of the cosmos, and was associated with mathematics and knowledge. Among the most common musical instruments were woodwind, brass, percussion instruments, and strings, such as the Greek zither. The horn (cornu), a metal wind instrument that bowed along the musician”s body, was used in military parades and signaling. The hydraulic organ called hydraulo (hydraulis) was one of the most significant musical and technical achievements of antiquity, accompanying fights between gladiators, events in amphitheaters, and stage performances.

The exclusively male mask theater of Greek tradition continued during the Roman Empire, bringing to the stage the tragedies and comedies of Latin literature. However, the most popular form of theater was mime, a genre characterized by plays that mixed a written script with improvisation and used sometimes bawdy language, humor, sex scenes, action sequences, and political satire. They were also interspersed with dance numbers, acrobatics, juggling, funambulism, striptease, and even dancing bears. The mime was performed without masks and promoted stylistic realism on stage. The female roles were played by women, not by men in disguise. This genre was related to another called pantomime (pantomimus), an early form of narrative ballet, instrumental music and musical libretto, often on mythological themes that could be tragic or comic.

Although some forms of dance were not accepted in the empire and were seen as foreign or unhuman, dance was incorporated into the religious rituals of archaic Rome. Ecstatic dances were a feature of mystery religion, in particular the cult of Cybele practiced by her eunuch priests and the cult of Isis. On the secular side, the dancers of Syria and Cadiz were extremely popular. Like gladiators, entertainers were infamous in the eyes of the law and had little higher status than slaves, even though they were technically free. The big stars could, however, enjoy considerable wealth and status, and were allowed to become involved with the upper classes and even emperors, often sexually. Artists supported each other by forming guilds. Theater and dance were often condemned by Christian polemicists during the late empire, and Christians who integrated dance or music into their religious practices were viewed by the Church Fathers as pagans.

Literature

In the Western literary canon, literature during the period from Augustus to the end of the republic is seen as the golden age of Latin literature, embodying the classical ideals of unity of the whole, proportion between parts, and careful articulation of composition. The three most influential Latin classical poets – Virgil, Horace and Ovid – belong to this period. Virgil wrote the Aeneid, creating a national epic for Rome in the same way that Homer”s epics were for Greece. Horace perfected the use of Greek metrics in Latin poetry. Ovid”s erotic poetry was extremely popular, although a victim of Augustus” moral program, which led to his exile to Tomis, where he remained for the rest of his life. Ovid”s Metamorphoses is a continuous poem over fifteen books, covering themes from Greco-Roman mythology to the imperial cult of Julius Caesar. Ovid”s versions of Greek myths have become one of the main sources of classical mythology. His was so influential on medieval literature that the 12th and 13th centuries were called the “Age of Ovid.””

The period between the middle of the first century and the middle of the second century is conventionally called the silver age of Latin literature. During Nero”s rule, writers reacted against augustianism. The three main writers – the philosopher and playwright Seneca; Lucanus, his nephew, who turned the Second Civil War into the epic Pharsalia; and the novelist Petronius, author of Satyricon – all committed suicide after falling out of favor with the emperor. Seneca and Lucanus were from Hispania, as was the epigram writer Martial. The work of the poet Estacius would come to exert an enormous influence on Renaissance literature.

Books were expensive, since each copy had to be handwritten on a papyrus roll (volumen) by specialized scribes. The commercial production of books began during the final period of the Republic. By the 1st century some quarters of Rome were known for their bookstores (tabernae librariae), which also existed in many of the western provincial cities. The quality of the editions varied significantly and some authors complained of copies full of errors, plagiarism or forgery, since there was no copyright. The codex was still a novelty in the 1st century, but by the late 3rd century it had replaced the volume and was the most common medium among books with Christian content. However, while the book format emphasized the continuity of the text, the codex encouraged piecemeal reading, fragmented interpretations, and the creation of maxims. Although the Church Fathers were learned, they considered classical literature dangerous and worthless, so they often reinterpreted it through metaphors and allegories. Julian, the only emperor to reject Christianity after Constantine”s conversion, forbade Christians from teaching the classical curriculum on the grounds that it corrupted the young.

Imperial notions of autocracy, law, and global citizenship profoundly influenced European history. The sense of sharing a common culture and identity in the West, rather than language or literature, was due to the very nature of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, several states claimed to be its successors, a concept called translatio imperii. The Holy Roman-Germanic Empire, an attempt to resurrect the empire in the West, was founded in 800 after Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne King of the Franks as Roman emperor, although the empire would not be formalized until decades later. In the East, the Byzantines maintained an empire they called “Roman” until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. When the Ottoman Empire, whose state was based on the Byzantine model, conquered Constantinople, Mohammed II the Conqueror established his capital there and claimed to have ascended the throne of the Roman Empire. He also started an invasion of Italy to reunite the empire and invited several Italian artists to his capital, including Gentile Bellini. After the fall of Constantinople, the Grand Duchy of Moscow, heir to the Byzantine Orthodox tradition, named its capital Third Rome. Roman domination of the Italian peninsula also influenced the unification of Italy in 1861.

In the medieval West, the term “Roman” was associated with the church and the Pope of Rome. The Greek form romaioi continued to be associated with the Greek-speaking population of the eastern empire and is still used by Greeks. The Pax Romana created a huge region of stability and political unity that allowed the spread of Christianity. The Catholic Church itself is an absolute monarchy based on the model of Rome and the popes assume the title of the highest Roman priest, pontiff maximus (Pontifex Maximus) and proclaim themselves heirs of Caesar. In the early churches of Rome and Ravenna, the basilica, a traditional Roman building, was adapted for Christian worship, influencing the church model to the present day.

Roman art significantly influenced Renaissance architecture and Romanesque architecture in southern Europe. Late Roman painting significantly influenced Byzantine painting, medieval painting, and Orthodox Church painting. Many of the classical Roman elements formed the aesthetic basis of the Renaissance and Neoclassicism. For example, the Tuscan order, the overlapping of different orders, and the arrangement of perfectly turned arches along a line of columns.

In the Romanized regions of the Western empire, pre-Latin languages became progressively extinct and Latin became the native language of most of the inhabitants. Latin developed into several regional branches that would evolve into modern Romance languages, such as Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, or Romanian, and exerted an enormous influence on the English language. Nevertheless, Latin remained the international language par excellence in teaching, literature, diplomacy, and intellectual life until the 17th century, and in legal and ecclesiastical works to the present day. In the Middle Ages classical authors were respected authorities. Although in the Byzantine Empire Greek remained the lingua franca, the distribution of regional languages is much more complex. Most Greek speakers lived on the Greek peninsula and islands, in western Anatolia, in the major cities of the empire, and in some coastal regions. Like Greek and Latin, the Thracian language and several extinct languages of Anatolia had Indo-European roots. Several Afro-Asiatic languages, mainly the Coptic language in Egypt and the Aramaic language in Syria and Mesopotamia, were never replaced by Greek.

Sources

  1. Império Romano
  2. Roman Empire
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