The Age of Augustus initiated 400 years of imperial rule that was celebrated both in literature and in stone. Rome was more notable as an imitator than an innovator. Romans became Hellenized, copying Greek culture and then making their own special adaptations. In portraiture, Romans started with the Greek realistic style but by the later imperial period they moved towards idealized representations that celebrated Roman victory and achievement.
Social life in ancient Rome was centered on three institutions: associations, dinner parties, and festivals. Like many other aspects of Roman life and culture, all three institutions had roots in the earlier Etruscan civilization and were strongly influenced by Greek practices. In general, Roman social life eventually became more extravagant over time. In early Rome, associations were generally based on family and kinship. People who claimed to have the same ancestors formed kinship groups (gentes). During the Roman Republic, the number and types of associations increased steadily. Many were based on shared occupations, religious cults, or neighbourhoods. These bases often overlapped because people with the same occupation tended to live in the same part of the city and to be devoted to the same cults. Some associations were formed for the sole purpose of sharing meals, wine, and conversation. Most classes of society, except the very poor, had their own associations. Those too poor to form their own associations socialized at public places. Although women had a few of their own associations, membership in social groups was primarily among men. Men also had opportunities for formal social interactions at the Baths, which provided eating and drinking areas, as well as places to talk and play sports. The social life of emperors, senators, and other wealthy Romans centred on the dinner party. The most influential men in Roman society strengthened their social and political relationships at dinner parties. The dinner party was also the place for discussions of significant issues, romantic encounters, and extravagant displays of wealth, all of which occurred in an atmosphere of goodwill and sharing. Many public festivals that took place during the Roman year provided opportunities for feasting and entertainment to the community as a whole. By the beginning of the Roman Empire, festivals were often celebrated with several days or even weeks of festivities, including processions, chariot races, athletic competitions, and performances of plays and mimes. Nearly all festivals ended with public banquets, some of which were very lavish. Public festivals were very expensive, and many required the financial backing of the emperor. The nobility supported festivals and other public events, such as dedications of buildings. Nobles often displayed their wealth in this way to show that they were worthy of public office. Festivals not only provided the common people with a break from their daily
routines but also reinforced the importance of harmony among the distinct social classes in the community. Although the rich and the poor shared in the entertainment and feasting, the rich always had better seats and superior food.
Ancient Roman religion was a matter more of performing prescribed rituals to win the favour of the gods than of faith or personal devotion to a deity. The main purpose of ritual was to communicate with the gods. Receiving the approval of the gods was believed to be essential for any undertaking to be successful. Religion and politics were closely related in ancient Rome because the chief priests were generally political figures as well. The chief priest, or Pontifex Maximus, prescribed prayers and sacrifices in the name of the Roman people. As the Roman Empire expanded, Roman religion spread. The religion of the Romans was enriched, in turn, by the religions of the people Rome conquered. Roman religion was animistic. It was believed that these forces had to be reckoned with and that human beings should try to pacify the spirits. Gradually, under the influence of Etruscan and Greek religion, these spirits were conceived more and more as having human shape—an interpretation known as anthromorphism. The early Romans believed in many different spirits and gods, most of whom had specific functions. Each river and grove of trees had its own spirit, and each trade guild and town had its own patron god or goddess. Spirits and gods were believed to control all aspects of human existence. From the great number of spirits and gods, three emerged as most important— Jupiter, the god of the sky and the supreme god Mars, the god of war Quirinus, the god of the Roman people in assembly Later Mars and Quirinus lost their supremacy to two goddesses— Juno, the goddess of female fertility Minerva, the goddess of crafts
Of the contributions made by the Romans in government, Roman law is prominent. Roman law is the basis for the law codes of Italy, France, Scotland, Louisiana, and the Latin American countries. Roman legal principles have strongly affected the development of the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church; and international law has borrowed principles inherent in the Roman system. Roman law evolved slowly over a period of about a thousand years. At first, the law was
unwritten, mixed with religious custom, and harsh in its judgments. Democratization was also advanced by a law code, the Twelve tables (450 B.C.) Soon it became customary for newly elected praetors (judges) to announce the laws they intended to enforce and those they considered out of date. In this way, the laws remained responsive to people’s needs. These statuses, using precedents, customs, and procedures, became the basis of civil law (jus civile). By the 3rd century B.C.E., when trade had become more important, the Romans set up special courts to deal with the problem of differences between foreign and Roman laws. Jus gentium was the coalescing of Roman and foreign law. The judge in charge made decisions that seemed fair, this promoting the idea of justice over the laws of a particular country. This gave rise to the notion of jus natural (universal law). The sophistication, adaptability, and sturdiness of the Roman legal system included: A common standard of justice creating a state of laws Judgements based on evidence An enumeration of rights including those of women, slaves and property Respect for law as reflected in the Roman symbol for justice The merging of Roman civil law with laws of foreigners.
During the 3rd century BCE, Roman literature emerged as an art form, again in imitation of the Greeks. By the late-Republican era, poetic works, histories, and speeches were being written that were to have an enormous influence on writers of later centuries. The Augustan peace inspired a Roman literary flowering, the ―Golden Age‖ of Latin literature. The tone and ideal of Roman literature was humanistic and worldly. The 3 titans of the Roman literary world were Virgil (70 – 19 B.C.E.), Livy (59 B.C.E. – 17 C.E.), and Horace (65 – 8 B.C.E.). Virgil’s masterpiece is the Aeneid, an epic poem, i.e., the Latin equivalent of The Illiad and The Odyssey. It recounts the founding of Rome through the exploits of the Roman hero, Aenas, who escaped to Italy after the fall of Troy. Livy’s history of Rome is the prose counterpart of the Aeneid Horace is famous for his odes commemorating Augustus victories Together, these authors gave the Western world not just great literature, but Latin, the language of the Latin Christian church and the basis of the romance languages of Europe – Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian. Some important writing was in the field of science, a field in which Romans recapitulated Greek work rather than provide an innovative pure science. Pliny produced a multivolume encyclopaedia entitled Natural history, in which he discussed a range of topics from biology to botany Claudius Protelmy produced many works on astronomy and geography Plutarch wrote a collection of biographical sketches of 65 Greeks and Romans
The Romans learned philosophy from the Greeks. Beginning in the 100s B.C., Greek philosophers visited Rome and lectured widely. By about 100 B.C., Greek philosophy was well established among upper-class Romans, who commonly travelled to Greece to study. By 50 B.C., the first Roman philosophers had translated the works of selected Greek philosophers into Latin and had begun to create philosophical literature of their own.
ART & ARCHITECTURE
The art of ancient Rome was indebted to several influences. The art of the Hellenistic age especially that of the Greek colonies in southern Italy and Sicily, had a direct influence on Roman art. After the Roman conquest of Greece, much Greek art, particularly sculpture, came to Rome as booty. Also at that time, many Greek artists had travelled to Italy to find work. During the late Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, wealthy Romans amassed art collections containing not only booty but also works they had commissioned from Greek artists. Distinctive Roman styles gradually developed, and they, in turn, influenced artists throughout the empire. Panel paintings on wood that had come from Greece as the result of conquest were carried in victorious processions through Rome, later turning up in private collections. Very few panel paintings have survived. They are known to us mainly through descriptions in literature. Roman mosaics were closely related to Hellenistic painting because they were often copied from wall or panel paintings, which are now lost. The technique, however, was further developed by Roman artists. The tesserae, or tiny cubes, made of coloured marble or other stone, tile, or glass, were refined in size and more varied in colours. Mosaic was used principally for floors, not only in private homes but in public buildings as well. Decorations of walls and vaults were also sometimes embellished with mosaics or made entirely of them. The Roman provinces made major contributions to the art of floor mosaics, particularly North Africa and Sicily. The architecture of the Augustan Age was among the finest in the history of the empire. Rome itself was almost completely rebuilt in this period. It was, therefore, the privilege of Augustus to determine the style and extent of Rome’s reconstruction. The ancient Romans developed a distinctive architectural style that displayed the variety, power, and wealth of their culture. At first, Roman buildings and other structures were modelled largely on the architectural styles and traditions of the Greeks. However, Roman builders soon discovered new construction materials and techniques that helped them implement more complex designs. The most important idea that Roman builders borrowed from the Greeks was the use of the three Greek orders, or styles, of building. These styles were known as the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. Each order used a particular type of column and had other special features, such as a horizontal base and detailed roof structure. The Romans adopted these orders as well as the Greek method of using stone blocks for construction.
Beginning in the 300s B.C., the Roman government undertook vast building projects, including temples, civic buildings, roads, bridges, and aqueducts. This surge in construction gave builders the opportunity to improve building technology. The earliest Roman sculpture that has come to light reflects the influence of Etruscan work. It is a bronze figure of the she-wolf who, according to legend, nursed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. Roman sculptors borrowed from the Greeks in technique and style and sometimes made outright copies. During the years of the Roman Republic, families often commissioned sculpture to be placed on tombs, with portraits of family dignitaries on friezes or in the round. Roman sculptors made an important original contribution, i.e., they portrayed the individual faithfully. The Roman Empire was marked by growth and development of cities besides those of the capitals, linked by a system of roads that facilitated trade and communication throughout the empire. In the Romanized provinces of the west they had the councils like the Senate, assemblies and magistrates who considered it an honour to serve without pay. Emperors encouraged the growth of cities by passing special decrees. Cities also blossomed due to trade.
The diffusion of Roman culture is tied intimately to the economics of empire and trade system that sustained it. Trade played an important role in Rome's political success and its domination of the ancient Mediterranean world. Trade stimulated the growth of towns and cities, helped maintain Roman armies, and contributed to a rise in living standards. The vast amounts of building were funded through an imperial economic system that was selfsufficient in all essential commodities. Trade also created links between Rome and other cultures that encouraged an exchange of ideas and facilitated the spread of Roman culture. The development of Roman trade was shaped largely by three factors: the agricultural basis of Roman society, the establishment of a money-based economy, and the expansion of the empire. Geographical factors like the Mediterranean and river systems flowing into it tied the system together. Luxuries came from long-distance trade with India and China. The Roman Empire created a vast area with a single currency and low customs barriers. Commerce was protected from pirates by an elaborate network of roads and protected harbours. Wealth accumulated through war and taxation was concentrated in Rome. All areas used papyrus as a writing material. Armies stationed on the frontiers stimulated the economy in outlying areas.
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
The Romans had little scientific curiosity, but by putting the findings of Hellenistic science to practical use, they became masters in engineering, applied medicine, and public health.
The Romans pioneered in public health service and developed the extensive practice of hydrotherapy - the use of mineral baths for healing. Beginning in the early Empire, doctors were employed in infirmaries where soldiers, officials, and the poor could obtain free medical care. Great aqueducts and admirable drainage systems also indicate Roman concern for public health. Medicine was based on past knowledge and practice of the Greeks, and only began to be considered a scientific discipline at the end of the 1st century BCE. To protect their health, the Romans prayed to the goddess Salus and the god Aesculepius (the Greek Asclepius). Doctors used herbs, medicinal plants, and diets to heal the sick. Galen of Pergamum – the personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius – is the most famous name in Roman medicine. His Ars Medica remained a classic textbook for doctors. The Romans learned how to observe and study the heavens from the Etruscans and from Eastern peoples. Astrologers measured time, and strict links were established between the movements of the stars and events in the farming calendar. The Romans were the first people in ancient times to build aqueducts, used for carrying fresh water to towns. The aqueduct in Segovia (2nd century CE) was built in Trajan’s time, and is still in use today. It has a double row of arches measuring 135 feet (41 m) high. The water had to flow along a continuously gentle gradient. Where necessary, high-arched bridges carried it across dips in the land, and underground channels took it through rock to keep it at the right level. Rome had 11 aqueducts, and one of these, the Aqua Marcia, built in 146 BCE, still operates today. Surveyors were highly skilled and respected workers. Using a special instrument, they were able to trace straight lines on the ground for measuring and dividing fields. They were also indispensable for marking out the routes of new Roman roads. One of the most spectacular machines for raising weights was the treadmill crane, so-called because it was operated by the pressure of feet turning a great wheel. It produced energy by ―walking‖ around inside the wheel.