Ancient Roman Culture & Its Influence on Modern Life

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  • 0:01 Government & Law
  • 1:45 Language & Alphabet
  • 2:55 Preservation of…
  • 3:40 Religion
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

From religion and laws to language and more, the Romans have had an enormous impact on the development of Western culture. This lesson details a few of the more prominent points of the Roman legacy.

Government & Law

In the United States, the Founding Fathers looked back to the Romans and the Greeks for inspiration on how to structure the government of the new country. Perhaps the greatest impact from the Romans was the idea of a senate. The senate ruled Rome outright for 500 years, and maintained significant influence even once Rome had become an empire.

From the attitudes of the Founders, we see that the senate was supposed to be a place for more mature attitudes to prevail. This was a fitting sentiment, as the base word for senate, senex, literally meant 'old man.' Further, it is from the Romans that we get the idea of a veto, as Roman officials were allowed to counter the ruling of their colleagues if they shouted 'veto,' meaning 'I reject!'

Conversely, the greatest impact of Rome on the fields of law and government is hardly felt in the United States - outside of Louisiana - but is of paramount importance to practically every non-English speaking country in the world. This is because it was the Romans who invented the idea of civil law, which required codes of law as well as codes of uniform punishment.

Whereas lawyers in the United States and England rely on precedents of past cases to argue the law, lawyers in ancient Rome, as well as most other countries today, would instead focus on codes of law. This meant that law cases could have the potential to sound more like people arguing over a rulebook than an eloquent argument we imagine our lawyers produce, but that is how law is practiced in much of the world today.

Language & Alphabet

While the Romans definitely left a legacy in government and law, the very fact that you can read the words on this screen is evidence of the Roman impact on alphabets. While the Latin language borrowed its alphabet from the Greeks, they did polish the letters into a very similar shape as we know them today. Only a handful of letters, such as U and J, would later be added. For other languages, the impact was even greater.

While English has hundreds of words that originate in Latin, the language of the Romans had a much greater impact on the tongues of the French, Spanish, Italians, Portuguese, and Romanians. These languages are known as Romance languages due to their origin in the Roman language. There are more than 800 million speakers of these languages around the world today. The Romance languages are spoken on every continent and are evidence of the popularity of at least parts of Latin on the average people after the soldiers and grammarians left.

Preservation of Earlier Culture

Despite being very adept at conquering everything that stood in their way, the Romans had a deep respect for ancient cultures. Nowhere is this more clear than in Roman attitudes towards the Greeks; for without the Romans, it is doubtful whether or not that Greek writings would have been transmitted to modern scholars via the Arabs, Persians, or Celts. This love for the Greeks was especially apparent in Roman art, which largely seemed to copy the earlier Greek masters. It was also apparent through the literature of the Greeks: the great epic of Latin literature, the Aeneid, itself based on the Iliad and the Odyssey, and invokes the stories of both in explaining how Rome came to be.


While the Roman pantheon of Jupiter, Neptune, and others did not survive antiquity intact, Roman religion manages to still have an overwhelming impact on the lives of more than two billion people around the world. This is because the greatest impact that the Romans had on religion was by promoting Christianity.

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