of the Roman World
There are three distinct time frames in the Roman era,
which ran from 753 B.C. to about A.D. 476, or more than
1,000 years. Some dates for the beginning and ending
of periods are controversial among historians, but most
experts agree with the approximations.
The first period,
from 753 B.C. to 509 B.C., is when Rome was founded.
Romans believed that the ideal citizen was a simple
man who thought about Rome before his personal interests.
Their government had a senate and an assembly but no
executive branch. The senate (the rich and noble) and
the assembly (the common people) did not have much power
until the second period of Rome. There was no middle
class, only very rich and very poor people.
The second period
goes from 509 B.C., or the beginning of the Roman Republic,
to 31 B.C. In this era, the Romans developed a constitution
that outlined the legal rights of the citizens of Rome.
Only free male citizens were allowed to vote.
The Romans developed a democratic
government that consisted of three groups. The Assembly
of Centuries represented the wealthy people who governed
the military. The Assembly of Tribes served as the voice
of the common people but had very little power. Members
of the powerful Patrician group were elected for life
terms. They oversaw foreign matters, made laws and selected
The third period
was called the Imperial Period. This is the most familiar
period of Roman history. Free Roman citizens enjoyed
the good life. Under Augustus Caesar, Rome captured
and controlled France, Spain, Greece, Asia Minor, Palestine,
North Africa and Great Britain. There also were a lot
slaves whose lives were far different from those of
the free Roman citizens.
Christianity was born and became a
major force in the life of the citizens. The end of
the Roman Empire occurred in 476. This is when a German,
Odoacer, removed the last ruling emperor from Rome.
There are many different theories about why the Roman
Empire collapsed. A decline in morals, public corruption,
unemployment, inflation, urban decay and increased military
spending are a few of the theories cited.
About 250,000 people lived in the city of Rome at this
time. Roman society was built around status. There were
few wealthy people, but they owned one-third of the
property. They had lavish homes with several rooms and
a courtyard. Public buildings took up about one-fourth
of the city. This means that most of the people lived
in less than half of the city. They lived in multistoried
apartment buildings. There was no central plumbing so
the people had to go to communal wells. The chamber
pot, which was the Romans’ alternative to a bathroom,
often was emptied out the window. (Look out below!)
Buildings were made with wood, so fires were a problem.
The “patron” system was widely used. This
means that people were selected for government positions
because they were friends of someone in authority. Because
of this, people worked to make friends. They believed
that when people were linked together, there would be
more stability in the community. In the third period
(the Imperial Period), the government provided bread,
oil and wine to the people at no charge. In just one
year, the 250,000 inhabitants of Rome used 6 million
sacks of grain free of charge.
The father was the head of the household and had power
over his wife and children. He could sell his children
into slavery or even kill them if he chose. He could
kill his wife if she was unfaithful. Most marriages
were arranged, but the children did have some say in
the choice. The legal age for marriage of a woman was
Wives were not segregated, but rather
were considered good company and the head of the household.
They shopped and visited. They could control and inherit
In the early years, there was no public education. Children
learned about farming, training for war and more in
their homes. In the later years of the empire, the Romans
were influenced by the Greeks and had Greek tutors teach
the wealthy children about classic literature and art.
Later, schools were established with Greek teachers
for the children of wealthy parents. Literature, reasoning,
arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music were taught.
Books were very treasured items. Remember that there
were no printing presses, so books had to be copied
by hand. Some households had slaves called “copyists”
who did this work.
Slaves were generally acquired during warfare, but sometimes
fathers would sell their children into slavery. The
more slaves that a rich person had, the greater the
status that was given to him. Slaves worked as footmen,
messengers, accountants, tutors, secretaries, carpenters,
plumbers, cleaners, goldsmiths, hairdressers, etc. They
could be bought, given as gifts or inherited, and were
bound to their master. The master decided how a slave
would live. Some masters were kind and others made the
lives of their slaves miserable.
The Romans followed the medical care of the Greeks.
Most cures were herbal in nature and were passed down
through the generations. Religion also played a part
in the healing treatments. People would go to the temple,
apply or smell herbs and pay the temple god a fee. In
the later years Romans also had doctors. They didn’t
pay taxes and often made people more sick with their
During the Imperial Period (the third period), not only
did the government of Rome provide bread for the people,
it also provided entertainment. Circuses and theater
were part of the entertainment, but these were far overshadowed
by “blood sports.” Poor and rich alike watched
heavily armed men kill thousands of animals for sport.
The Circus Maximus was built and the sport was broadened
to include animals fighting each other, male and female
criminals put into the ring with starving animals and
armed men fighting animals.
Gladiators also became part of the
entertainment. The gladiators were usually criminals
or slaves who were schooled in the art of killing. There
were also boxing matches where boxers wore leather gloves
with metal studs. Sometimes artificial lakes were formed
and there were mock “sea” battles. Finally,
chariot races were held and there was much betting on
the outcome of the races.
Roman chariot racing fans resembled
modern U.S. sport or European soccer fans. They wore
the colors of their favorite racers, identified with
their favorite teams and brawled with or even killed