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Describe the major contributions of Roman civilization on law, literature, poetry, architecture, engineering, and technology.


Focus Question: What were Rome's contributions to law, literature, poetry, architecture, engineering, and technology?


Topics on this page:

Overview
Law
  • Roman Law -checks and balances, separation of powers, etc.; legal terminology; The Twelve Tables.
Literature and Poetry
Art
  • Classical Sculpture, influence for realism, and durability of medium.
Architecture
  • Arches, domes, amphitheaters,The Pantheon, and The Colosseum.
Engineering
  • Aqueducts, roads, bridges and dams.
Technology
  • Cranes, water mills, various types of presses, many types of grain mills, concrete, Roman numerals.


Overview

Cicero Denounces Catiline.  Painting by Cesare Maccari, 1889
Cicero Denounces Catiline. Painting by Cesare Maccari, 1889


This video on Khan Academy provides a great outline for Roman social and political structures. Click here to watch
Multimedia.pngEight minute video of Roman Timeline from its founding to eventual fall.

game_icon.svg.pngFor images and virtual reality recreations of famous Roman sites, visit Rome Reborn: A Digital Model of Ancient Rome.

Rome: Ancient SuperCity is an infographic from the History Channel about the city and its people.

Hadrian's Villa: A Virtual Tour

Q&A: Ancient Roman Art, Architecture, Inventions, Achievements

Watch this video for an insight of women in the Roman Empire, and the roles they played within society.
To further this understanding, follow this link to read on women in society

Law


Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome. The period of Roman law covers more than one thousand years from the law of the Twelve Tables to the Corpus Iuris Civilis (Body of Civil Law).


There are three widespread legal systems in the world today
  • Common Law
  • Islamic Sharia
  • Roman law

Roman law provided a systematic framework which greatly influenced present law systems in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere.
  • The Roman law system is often cited as a guiding framework for the development of legal codes in the European Union.
  • The concepts of checks & balances, the separation of powers, impeachments, term limits, and fair trials which can be seen in various constitutions today originated in Roman law.
  • Our Latin-influenced legal terminology is another legacy of Roman law. With Roman law, a new class of professional "jurists" appeared, who treated the subject of law as a science and applied the scientific method.

The Twelve Tables

In order to gain a more clear understanding of the Twelve Tables, click Here for a summary

The Twelve Tables, Leipzig, Germany
The Twelve Tables, Leipzig, Germany

To obtain an overview of Roman Law, follow this link Roman Law Q&A

The Twelve Tables were drawn up and posted in the Forum for all citizens to see. They were not a comprehensive list, but a collection of various rights and procedures. The Twelve Tables were destroyed in 390 BC and no original text exists. However, we do have fragments and excerpts as cited by other authors.

primary_sources.PNGRead Cicero's account of The Twelve Tables.

For more, see Historical Biography Page for Cicero

lessonplan.jpg A lesson plan aimed as understanding the The Twelve Tables.

Difference between civil law and common law from UC-Berkeley Law. Roman law directly influenced civil law which is used in:
  • Europe: European Union states (except UK and Ireland) and Switzerland
  • North and South America: continental Latin American (except Guyana and Belize) and Quebec
  • Asia: East Asia (except Hong Kong), Azerbaijan, Iraq, Russia, Kuwait, Turkey, Lebnon, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand
  • Africa: Congo, Egypt, and Madagascar

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 1.41.57 PM.pngUC-Berkeley explains the influences that civil law has in US law.
  • Here a PDF with printable information, a glossary, bibliography, and pictures from UC-Berkeley Law
.
A statue of Octavia minor
A statue of Octavia minor

Female_Rose.pngUnder Roman law, women were not considered citizens, and their freedoms were strictly curtailed.
  • The law of paterfamilias functioned to give the oldest living male in a family authority over all others.
    • As Rome evolved from Kingdom to Republic to Empire, women slowly gained more rights. A well-cited examination of lives of Roman women can be found here.

external image Gay_flag.svgAlthough it remains a topic of debate in the modern world, ancient Roman law actually allowed homosexual marriages which remains central to the argument in favor of allowing it in the United States today.

Literature & Poetry


Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, Livia
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, Livia

The Romans produced many works of poetry, comedy, tragedy, satire, history, and rhetoric, tracing to the traditions of other cultures including Greece.


Virgil's Aeneid
Roman literature was highly influenced by Greek literature. Virgil's Aeneid was an epic poem highly influenced by Homer in both substance and style.

Multimedia.pngWhy Should You Read Virgil's "Aeneid"? Mark Robinson, TedEd

Comedies
Comedies by the Roman Plautus were modeled on Greek comedies. Tragedy and satire were often simply Latin versions on themes already written by Greek.

Poetry
Livius Andronicus is considered by many to be the "father of Roman poetry." As an immigrant from Greece, Andronicus translated Homer's Odyssey and other pieces of Greek literature and theater into Roman as well as creating many original pieces of his own.
  • To learn more about Andronicus's impact on Roman literature, click this link.

Female_Rose.pngHistorians have discovered little work by women in Ancient Rome, but two prominent women poets went by Sulpicia.
  • The first Sulpicia, who lived during the reign of Augustus, is the only woman from Ancient Rome whose work has survived to present day. She is believed to have been from an aristocratic family, and her poems discuss themes about love.

cicero.jpg
Cicero
Cicero is often considered Rome's great orator and one of the more famous writers. His philosophical works provided the basis for morality all he way into the Middle Ages. His speeches continue to inspire politicians today. Much of his work has survived, which provides excellent sources for understanding this period of Roman history as well as theories of education and rhetoric. Click here for a half hour podcast/video about Cicero and port Catullus.

In ancient Rome, the years between 63 B.C. and 14 A.D. are known as the Augustan age, because of the ruler, or "princeps" Augustus Caeser who took great interest in literature. Because of this, the Augustan age is also known as the Golden Age of Roman Literature, and many famous works were created by writers such as Virgil, Ovid and Horace.

Long after the Western Roman Empire had fallen, the Latin language continued to play a central role in European civilization, and is still used today.
port_tree_sme_png_34KB.jpg

primary_sources.PNG
  • Read one of Cicero's most famous speeches, a political argument against a rival, here.
  • Follow these links for more on Virgil and the text of The Aeneid.

Multimedia.png
  • Podcast about children in Ancient Roman literature


Art


The Romans developed or improved their art by copying the art from

the Greeks for the statues. Statues were made of clay, marble, or bronze. Metal could be added to the statues to add strength and durability.


Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 11.48.22 AM.pngSee also AP Art History: Ancient Mediterranean

"Classical sculpture" is the term used to refer to sculpture during both the Greek and Roman periods.
  • There are many surviving statues of Roman leaders in this classical style, which continued in popularity into the Renaissance.
  • Greco-Roman sculpture's lasting influence was the potential for realism in art, and the durability of the medium allows classical sculpture to remain influential today.
Roman_Statue_Capitole1.jpg
Roman copy of Greek statue: Herakles Killing the Hydra.



Paintings and mosaics were used to advertise, to depict day-to-day activities, or to show theatrical and religious scenes. Frescoes, or paintings on wet plaster, were extremely popular, particularly in wealthier houses. The pigments were usually made from natural materials such as stones, plants, and insects. After Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, many of these frescoes were preserved in the city of Pompeii. These frescoes are also famous due to their adult themes, as described in this New York Times article.

Mosaics are said to have originated in the city of Babylon. The Romans admired their beauty and incorporated them into their walls and floors (click here for examples). They are made with stones of tiles which form images or simple geometric patterns. Mosaic art continues to be popular throughout the world.

For more examples of art work, check out this Roman art educators page from the MET.

Check out this informative 10 minute video about the origins and impact of Roman art.
Female_Rose.pngWomen were often portrayed in ancient Roman art. Click here to read a NY Times article reviewing an art exhibition that illustrated the roles of women in ancient Rome.


Colosseum at night. Author: Roberto Larcher
Colosseum at night. Author: Roberto Larcher

Architecture


The Romans are well known for their architecture, particularly the arch and domes. Romans began to use concrete, which became the main building material.


game_icon.svg.pngGo here for Virtual Romans that lets you explore digital models of Roman buildings.
  • Ancient Romans became the first to add arches systematically to buildings. As a support structure, the arch is able to replace a space which otherwise might be held up with dense rows of columns. This allowed them to build massive structures like the Colosseum and create aqueducts.
  • Romans also began the regular construction of domes, of which The Pantheon is an excellent example. The Pantheon and other domes were built utilizing concrete which incorporated volcanic mash into the aggregate. Dome construction continues today and is frequently seen in both temples and tombs throughout the world.
  • The Pantheon
    The Pantheon
    The Romans were also the first to build amphitheaters as public arenas to watch entertainment, performances and sports. Amphitheaters are still used today, and the Romans greatly influenced the entertainment industry that exists in the western world today.

Multimedia.png
external image Red_apple.jpgRoman Art and Architecture, 400 BCE to 500 CE
Multimedia.pngClick here for a great kid's website on Roman Architecture. Includes descriptions and pictures of various types of architecture, from amphitheaters to bath houses.

Click here for a useful PDF explaining different structures in Roman architecture and how they influenced the architecture of the United States.

multicultural.pngClick here to see Roman architecture left in Northern Africa.

Screen Shot 2016-10-29 at 12.06.19 PM.pngClick here to see model of ancient Rome in Lego blocks.

Engineering

The Romans were among the first to develop aqueducts, roads, bridges and dams, all ideas which were improved upon and continue to be necessary in modern engineering.

Line Drawing of an Aqueduct
Line Drawing of an Aqueduct

Romans were among the first to manipulate water through aqueducts, which provided water to baths and sewers and greatly aided in sanitation.
  • These aqueducts were supplied with water from both earthen and concrete dams built by the Romans. Click here for 'Watering Ancient Rome' from the PBS site.
  • The construction of bridges and roads helped expand the Roman Republic and Empire, and many survive today and are still usable.
  • The famous Via Appia (Appian Way) is still the longest stretch of straight road in Europe.
game_icon.svg.pngClick here to play "Roads of Rome," an interactive game which lets you build roads as the Romans did.

Click here for an article from Archeology Magazine about the function of Roman Aqueducts.

game_icon.svg.pngTo build your own aqueduct visit Secrets of Lost Empires.

Multimedia.png Click here for a video about how the Romans constructed the aqueducts.

Roman Baths:

  • Video tour of famous Roman baths in Bath, England.
  • PBS guide of Roman baths and some history behind them.

RomaViaAppiaAntica03.JPG
Via Appia Antica


Technology

The Romans developed various technologies to support engineering and commerce, including concrete for various construction projects, water-powered mills, and the abacus.


The Romans developed many different labor saving machines including cranes, water mills, various types of presses, and many types of grain mills. Cranes were widely used in ancient Rome to help support a growing Republic and Empire.

Roman concrete was derived from very durable volcanic ash, which is why the Colosseum still stands today. This brief Smithsonian article discusses its composition.

The Romans took the Babylonian abacus and created a portable version, which greatly reduced the time needed by tax collectors, engineers, and merchants to make necessary calculations.

Click here for background on Roman Numerals with a converter for changing Roman numbers into our present day number system. Click here for information about how Roman Numerals are in used for naming the Super Bowls.

game_icon.svg.pngClick here for a Roman Numeral game.
Multimedia.pngFor an interactive activity and further explanation on Roman technology visit Romans Technology.

This History.com article lists the "10 innovations that built ancient Rome".

Additional Resources:
Multimedia.pngThe BBC has a nice website on the Romans geared toward elementary- aged children but much of it would also be appropriate for middle school. It also includes teacher resources:BBC Primary History: the Romans.

multicultural.pngThe Multicultural Roman Empire features classroom activities and scenarios that emphasize multiculturalism in Ancient Rome, from SEDL




[1] Latin Literature. In Wikipedia [Web]. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_literature
[2] Roman Technology. In Wikipedia [Web]. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Roman_technology.
[3] Ancient Rome. In Wikipedia [Web]. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Roman
[4] Roman Architecture. In Wikipedia [Web]. Retrieved February 11, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_ancient_Rome http://www.main-vision.com/richard/art.shtml
[5] Photo of "Cameo Portrait of the emperor Augustus". Retrieved February 1, 2011, from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/42.11.30.