Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Do as the Romans Do
'Do as the Romans do.' People say this all the time. 'Do as the Romans do.' Well, the Romans did some pretty incredible stuff, so I guess it's good advice. The ancient Romans were an Italian civilization from roughly 509 BC to 476 AD. Although they were based in the city of Rome, the Roman Empire stretched across most of Europe and the Mediterranean region, from Britain into Africa.
Legacies of Roman Language
The official language of the Romans was Latin. According to the Rome's first historian, named Virgil, Latin unified the first inhabitants of Rome together as one people. Therefore, the language was very important to the Romans who maintained strict rules about grammar and spelling. Think your grammar classes were strict? Well, there's one legacy you can thank the Romans for.
Across the Roman Empire, Latin became a shared language so that conquered people in different areas could conduct business together. The Romans preferred to let conquered people adopt Latin of their own will, rather than legally require it. The Roman Empire also had a relatively high literacy rate for the time period, up to 30% of the population could read and write Latin. The Latin alphabet was influenced by ancient Italian languages, the Greeks, and the Phoenicians, sea-faring merchants who devised the modern alphabet.
The widespread use of Latin made it one of the first shared languages in Europe. Thus, it was used as the official language for kingdoms, churches, and scholars throughout history. Latin quickly became associated with all things important. Even today, when scientists make a new discovery, they give it a Latin name. State and national mottos are often written in Latin. Many church services are still given in Latin as well.
Legacies of Roman Literature
With their excellent Latin, Roman poets and authors composed many important works of literature. Some of the greatest Roman authors were Cicero, Horace, Virgil, and Ovid. These authors wrote about Roman society, politics, philosophy, mythology, and history. Most commonly, they wrote in poetic styles that blended reality and mythology, reflecting how the Roman religion saw the gods as interacting with people in daily life.
Roman literature had important cultural legacies. Cicero's writings about morality and philosophy helped define modern standards of right and wrong. Horace set standards of style for poetry. Virgil and Ovid both provide important historical accounts of Rome and established the stories of classical mythology that influenced artists for millennia. Together, these authors and their works are part of classical civilization, meaning the culture that is seen as the foundation of modern civilization.
Legacies of Roman Law
As part of the moral and philosophical standards in Roman literature, the Romans developed a complex legal system. Law and philosophy were both closely tied to the Roman political system called the republic. In a republic, the people elect officials to represent their interests. The representatives, called senators, debate politics and law in the Senate, the most important institution in Rome. Even when Rome transitioned from a republic to an empire in 29 BC, the emperor was subject to the will of the Senate in most matters.
The Roman laws with the most long-lasting legacies are those that defended democracy. The Romans were obsessed with the idea of preventing one person from achieving absolute power, like a king, and developed legal practices to limit the power of rulers and protect the rights of the people. Some examples include term limits, the separation of powers, the system of checks and balances, impeachment, and even elections. Many of these should sound familiar since they are still used here in the United States today. We elect our own senators. We limit presidents to two terms. We tried to impeach Nixon.
One other important piece of Roman law was citizenship. Roman citizenship defined who could receive the rights of Roman law. In other words, only citizens could vote. The Romans were the first to truly institutionalize citizenship rights and define who could and could not call themselves Romans. Citizenship has remained a critical aspect of modern nations. For example, to be able to vote in the USA, you must be an American citizen. The same is true of England, Korea, Turkey, Mexico, and dozens of other nations.
Ancient Rome, the Italian civilization that lasted from roughly 509 BC to 476 AD and spread across Europe, had a sophisticated system of language and law. The basis of this was the Latin language, spoken by Romans since the founding of Rome. Latin was the first shared language across Europe, after the conquest by the Roman Empire, so it was used for all important documents and speeches. That is why Latin is still occasionally used today for science, politics, and religion.
The Romans used Latin to write incredible masterpieces of literature and poetry that set the foundations for European civilization. Roman literature harmoniously blended facts and mythology together because, in the Roman religion, gods and monsters were parts of real life.
Another very real part of Roman life was their law. Roman law was centered around the rights of the people, specifically, the official members of Rome called citizens. Roman government was a representative system called a republic, and elected officials represented the will of the people. This system was made to ensure that no single person could hold too much power over the people. We still use many of these systems in our modern government, from elections to impeachment. Doing as the Romans do turned out to be a pretty good idea.
Complete this lesson with the intention of accomplishing these goals:
- Identify the official language of the Romans and note its importance to Roman culture
- Name some famous authors of Roman literature and discuss their works
- Understand the legal system of the Romans
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