The term Ancient Rome refers to the city of Rome, which was located in central Italy; and also to the empire it came to rule, which covered the entire Mediterranean basin and much of western Europe. At its greatest extent in stretched from present-day northern England to southern Egypt, and from the Atlantic coast to the shores of the Persian Gulf.
Rome’s location in central Italy placed it squarely within the Mediterranean cluster of civilizations. The most famous of these was that of the Ancient Greeks, but others included those of the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and the Etruscans, plus several lesser-known peoples such as the Lycians. The civilization of Ancient Rome was rooted, directly or indirectly, in all these earlier culture.
In its early centuries Rome was particularly influenced by the powerful Etruscan civilization to its north, from which it acquired many aspects of its culture. As Rome’s reach expanded, it came into direct contact with the Greeks. From then on Greek influence would become an increasingly important element within Roman life. However, the Romans would give Greek culture their own slant, giving it a new grandeur which can be seen in Roman remains throughout the empire.
Ancient Roman society originated as a society of small farmers. However, as it grew more powerful and more extensive, it became one of the most urbanized societies in the pre-industrial world.
At the height of its empire, Rome was probably the largest city on the planet, with more than a million inhabitants. The empire had a handful of other cities with several hundred thousand inhabitants, and many other large and wealthy urban settlements.
These cities had some features which would have looked very familiar to us: high rise apartment blocks, overcrowded slums, busy streets, plazas, imposing public administrative buildings, and so on.
In the context of art and architecture, what is true for art is even more true for architecture. One can see Greek influences powerfully at work in the buildings of Ancient Rome, but transformed into a uniquely Roman style. There was nothing in Greek architecture similar to the arched facades of the Colosseum or of the theater of Pompey; nor to the arched construction of the great Roman aqueducts, or the triumphal arches which adorn many Roman cities. The arch is a new innovation in Roman architecture, reflecting Roman engineering capabilities in solving the problem of carrying greater weight. The same is true for the dome, which appeared most famously in the Pantheon, in Rome, and which allowed Roman architects and builders to span much greater spaces than before. The theme here is size and grandeur – the Romans built big to reflect their power and confidence.
Coming to philosophy, Roman thinkers looked to Hellenistic philosophy for inspiration. The Stoic school of thought, which taught that it was duty for individuals to bear life’s trials with dignity and calm, was particularly popular in Rome. From Cicero, in the late Republic, though Seneca and later Marcus Aurelius, under the Empire, Stoicism continued to exercise a strong attraction over Roman minds.
Epicureanism was also popular in some circles, with poets such as Lucretius championing its teachings. Like Stoics, Epucureans believed that life is ultimately without hope, and that one should focus on living daily life in a positive spirit.
A major philosophical strand of thought in the later Roman empire was Neoplatonism. This taught that there was a “being beyond being” who created and ordered all things, and that humans should strive to become one with this being through practicing virtue and asceticism.
The rise and fall of Ancient Rome formed a crucial episode in the rise of Western civilization. Through Rome the achievements of ancient Greek civilization passed to Medieval Europe – with unique Roman contributions added. Roman architecture, sculpture, philosophy and literature all built on Greek models, developed their own distinct elements, and then left a legacy for later periods of Western civilization to build on.
However, it was in law and politics that Roman influence can be felt most strongly today. Much European law is still derived from Roman law. The ideas of equity (true justice), equality before the law, citizens’ rights and elected officials, whilst originating with the Greeks, were all taken further by the Romans and have came down to us in a basically Roman form.
Thus, Rome was truly an eternal empire that never truly fell and still lives on in one form or the other, whether via the blood of the present day descendants of the Roman times or it’s massive impact on the world, it’s cultures and the global state.
Rome, and most importantly the spirit of Rome, still stands and shall live on forever!