Legacies of Roman Literature, Language & Law

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  • 0:02 Do as the Romans Do
  • 0:27 Roman Language
  • 1:42 Roman Literature
  • 2:39 Roman Law
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the legacies of Roman language, called Latin, and the literature and law they used that language to create. Then, test your understanding about the ancient Romans with a brief quiz.

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.

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